On March 28, 2016, virtual reality headset developer Oculus VR of Menlo Park, CA, announced on its official blog that it had begun shipments of its Oculus Rift headset. This immersive VR headset has been highly anticipated since a successful Kickstarter campaign wrapped up in September 2015, after raising 947 percent of its original goal after a little more than one month. Of the virtual reality options currently on the market, the Oculus Rift is arguably built upon one of the most technologically robust VR platforms. Oculus VR is a subsidiary of parent online social media company Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB)
Many have focused on how the Oculus Rift will enable immersive video gaming experiences but there are other valuable applications for the technology in a wide swath of industrial sectors. For example, architectural design applications such as IrisVR or Arch Virtual seek to use the Oculus Rift platform to bring computer-aided design from two-dimensions to three, improving how architects are able to communicate spatial design. The immersive nature of the Oculus Rift’s virtual reality environment is also proving attractive to behavioral researchers who want to use virtual reality immersion to treat psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety. Three-dimensional (3D) design also has growing manufacturing applications in a world where 3D printing is rapidly becoming a larger market.
Unlike other virtual reality products developed by Samsung Electronics (KRX:005930) or Alphabet Inc.’s Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), many of which are headsets requiring users to insert a compatible, portable electronic device, the Oculus Rift is its own standalone product with many components which contribute to the perception of an intricate, virtual world. To process the data which creates robust 3D environments, the Oculus Rift need only be paired with a computer that has a good deal of processing power, such as the Xbox marketed by Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). The headset itself contains a gyroscope and an accelerometer which work to detect a person’s motion. Instead of splitting a smartphone screen in half, the Oculus Rift has twin active matrix OLED (AMOLED) displays, each having a resolution of 1200-by-1080 pixels and a refresh rate of 90 hertz (Hz). Integrated audio components further improve the wearer’s sensation while experiencing a virtual environment.
Capturing the movements of a person wearing the Oculus Rift headset is a sensor which tracks infrared LED constellations projected onto a user. Each Oculus Rift unit comes with the IR LED sensor, a mounting stand, and a cable to connect the sensor to a personal computer for processing resources. Users can also use an Oculus Rift remote or a compatible remote controller, such as an Xbox game controller, to input commands and interact with the virtual world.
Oculus VR has been assigned at least one utility patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect its headset-based virtual reality technologies. A problem in video playback where the display sometimes pans further right or left than a wearer’s head is turning is addressed by the invention protected by U.S. Patent No. 9063330, entitled Perception Based Predictive Tracking for Head Mounted Displays. It claims a method of predictive tracking for a head mounted display based on actual measurements from the user’s movements that are then used to generate a rendered image corresponding to the predicted orientation for presentation on the head mounted display. The inventor purports to provide better overall predictive moving tracking accuracy by only applying predictive tracking techniques to a head mounted display in motion, preventing the screen jitter experienced by users who are standing still. Oculus VR also holds a trio of design patents protecting the design of its Oculus Rift headset.
Oculus VR also has a number of patent applications filed at the USPTO which may yet result in a patent, one of the most recently filed of which is U.S. Patent Application No. 20160070103, titled Corrective Optics for Reducing Fixed Pattern Noise in a Virtual Reality Headset. It would protect a virtual reality headset with an improved display. This innovation is reported to reduce the “screen door” effect which can result from the arrangement of different colored sub-pixels separated by dark space by blurring light from the sub-pixels using the diffractive surface of the corrective optics block.
Oculus Rift bundles–which include the headset, other VR components, and the PC to provide the required processing power–are being retailed starting at $1,500, a rather costly investment even by consumer gadgetry standards. The headset alone sells for $599. At the moment, at least, the high price tag does not appear to be scaring off consumers. A series of tweets from Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey indicated that the first hour of Rift pre-orders almost crashed Oculus’ credit card processing servers. It appears that consumers are willing to pay for the perceived value that comes with a technological product designed to be state-of-the-art in the growing VR sector.