At E3, creators highlight virtual reality's progress
It's really happening. At this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, the video game industry's annual trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, several hardware and software creators highlighted the evolution of forthcoming virtual and augmented reality systems.
A look at the technology's latest advances:
Oculus, which jump started the latest VR trend in 2012, allowed attendees to go hands on with Oculus Touch, the pair of controllers it unveiled ahead of E3 last week for its Oculus Rift system.
The doodads feel like a mash-up of the Wii Remote and PlayStation Move controllers with a twist: sensors surrounding users' hands can detect basic motions like pointing an index finger or giving a thumb's up.
Equipped with analog sticks and pairs of trigger buttons, the Touch controllers are intended to simulate users' grabby hands in virtual environments.
In the Oculus "Toy Box" demo, for example, one hand could grip a lighter to ignite a Roman candle held in the other, resulting in virtual fireworks comically blowing up in a wearers' face—all without a trip to the emergency room.
After exhibiting several prototypes of the Rift at E3 and other events over the past three years, Oculus boasted a sleeker version of the headset intended for consumers at this year's E3.
"Last year, we were showing off just development kits, things for game developers to use to develop," said Oculus founder Palmer Luckey earlier this week. "This year, we're showing off the final consumer Oculus Rift, which is going to be shipping really early next year."
There's still no word on the system's final release date or price.
Microsoft demonstrated another rendition of its HoloLens augmented reality headset after originally debuting the device in January.
Unlike VR headsets, HoloLens doesn't block a wearer's vision to immerse them in a virtual world. Instead, a visor-like screen on the headset displays three-dimensional imagery that appears as if it's in the real world.
An untethered HoloLens was shown off with a holographic "Halo" battlefield map appearing on a table, an interactive shooting game called "Project X-Ray" simulating alien bug-like creatures popping out of walls and a version of "Minecraft" that seemingly constructed the beloved blocky franchise in the real world.
"The hope is that game developers will now see HoloLens and come back with great ideas and ways to take advantage of it," said Shannon Loftis, head of publishing at Microsoft Game Studios.
While a demonstration of HoloLens broadcast with a special camera on stage at Microsoft's E3 briefing wowed many viewers, the reality is the imagery inside HoloLens doesn't completely envelop a user's field of view. It's more akin to looking at a 3D smartphone screen than actually being surrounded.
There's currently no release date or price set for HoloLens.
Sony showcased several games coming to Project Morpheus, the VR headset that works in concert with the PlayStation 4 console. A few of the titles on display highlight the system's multiplayer capabilities—both on TV screens and with other headsets.
For instance, "Rigs" pits teams of three Morpheus-clad gamers against each other as mechanized laser-blasting combatants in a futuristic arena, while the latest version of "Playroom VR" casts one Morpheus wearer as a Godzilla-like creature who must chase and evade three other gamers portraying robots on a TV screen.
"I think being in VR with someone else is a really different experience than being alone," said Richard Marks, senior director of research at Sony Computer Entertainment America. "With something like 'Rigs,' it's just like a regular multiplayer game except the other players feel like they're right there with you. It's a very compelling feeling."
As with Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus is set to be released in early 2016, with no specific date or price announced as of yet.
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