If anyone knows what's going to happen to virtual reality it's Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR and inventor of the Oculus Rift. So I asked him.
Looking way, way into the future Palmer sees a very different kind of Rift to the current set up full of wires and straps. "In the long run these headsets aren't even going to be plugging into PCs, they're going to have dedicated chip sets on the headset itself that are able to render a lot of different experiences. So when you can do that and you can make an easy user experience, you can make content that the average person is interested in, not a first-person shooter".
For the time being however there's a reason behind the game heavy content driving the tech: "the games industry is the only industry with the tools and the talent to build immersive 3D real time environments," explains Palmer, something that will change, but not how you might expect. "As time goes on it’s not so much that VR is going to expand to other industries, it’s that the games industry is going to expand to do things in other industries. Whether it’s architecture or virtual holidays or film, the people that are making games, or making VR games today, are going to be doing these types of thing in the future".
As this future approaches he sees a near technological stablemate joining forces. "Virtual reality and augmented reality are going to end up using a lot of the same technologies and probably converge into the same hardware. And it will probably get to a point where it's something you can wear all day everyday. That's going to take a long time though".
To give you some idea of how long before we're all wandering around with augmented VR headsets like a terminator with Skype you only have to look at the key interface for the Oculus Rift: the human eye. "We need to be about 10-15 times higher resolution before we're maxing out the capacity of the human eye," Palmer points out. The screens required to achieve this virtual reality holy grail are years away. "There are limits but we're not even close to them," he says. "We have a long time to go".
"There are limits but we're not even close to them. We have a long time to go"
Another popular idea often mentioned in the same breath as VR is the idea of motion control or body tracking, but as far as Palmer's concerned "no one has created a good solution yet". Although that doesn't mean he and Oculus VR aren't looking into the idea. The issue is that "it's not as fast or precise as it needs to be for virtual reality" he explains. "It's going to take some time but we’ve been putting a lot of research and development into virtual reality, and with body tracking, hand tracking, finger tracking. All these things that you need to actually make it feel like your body has been transported into to the virtual world and to be able to interact with it in a natural way".
So while that sci-fi future is a while off, what are Palmer's immediate plans? "Keep shipping DK2s to the developers and continue working on the consumer product and try to get it out the door as fast as possible". When that illusive consumer unit is going to be out is still unannounced but Palmer does confirm a previous interview quote where he said he would be disappointed if it wasn't out before the end of 2015. "I did say that," he agrees. "We've got a vague idea". He also mentions that the current DK2 is the final dev kit Oculus plans to release before the consumer version.
While there's no date to talk about yet, the final form of the consumer device is something Palmer's sure of, stating the final device is "higher frame rate, higher resolution, smaller, lighter, cheaper". One thing it won't be just yet though it 'in the shops'. "We'll definitely be selling it on our website but I don't know about retail," he states. "Retail’s kind of pointless for certain products, especially ones that are targeting hardcore gamers used to buying things online".
That's not to say the Rift won't end up as a ubiquitous product eventually. "We see one in every home," thinks Palmer, "just at launch we need to be realistic. The people who are going to be buying this initially are going to be gamers, probably hardcore gamers, and they're going to be the ones with PCs most capable of running it. As time goes on it'll become more and more mainstream, but at launch we're going to be targeting that core. Basically let's target it to the people whom we know are going to be buying and then let's go for the people who are going to take some convincing".