Some good news for everyone that is expecting their Oculus Rift developer kit like me. The team at Oculus has shared some interesting information about final units and their production and has confirmed that they have finished the first pilot run at the factory for 40 complete units and are on track for starting the mass production by plan and have Oculus Rit dev kits start shipping in March. Hopefully there will be no extra delays caused by the upcoming Chinese New Year that starts in a few days. The delay that has moved the initially announced November/December 2012 release to March this year caused by the need to change the display used in the Rift has apparently also allowed the team at Oclulus to implement some new and interesting features in the final dev kits of the device and now that is is already finalized and in production they have shared more details about these as well.
One of the more serious concerns about the device was that it may not be suitable for people wearing contact lenses or prescription glasses, something that has been a bit of a problem for pretty much all consumer-oriented HMD devices we’ve seen so far becoming available on the market. It is not an easy task to properly block the external light and allow for the use of glasses and compromising with any of these can lead to compromises with the experience and when you are designing a device intended for better immersion such compromises are not a good idea. It is a fact that our eyes are not able to focus properly at objects very close to them, so that is why HMD devices have to use optics to allow our eyes to be able to properly focus on the displays inside them. And if you are having problems with your vision as many of us do nowadays you need to wear contact lenses or prescription glasses in order to be able to properly see the image produced by an HMD device such as the Rift.
The initial prototype of the Oculus Rift did not directly address the needs of people that wear contact lenses or prescription glasses, but the extra time that the team at Oclulus had due to the screen delay has allowed them to work on that issue. So the final dev kits will come with three pairs of removable eyecups, instead of just a single, permanent set. The different eyecups should allow to switch the focal distance of the developer kit between three predefined settings, so if you are nearsighted and your vision isn’t too bad, you may be able to use the developer kit without glasses or contacts.
Here is how the interchangeable eyecups will work:
– If you have normal vision (20/20 or 6/6 vision) or you wear contacts, your vision inside the Rift will match your vision in real life. You’ll have to use eyecup set A.
– If you’re farsighted, you’ll have no visual problems in the Rift because the optics are focused at infinity (which makes your brain think it’s looking at something far away). You’ll also have to use set A.
– If you’re nearsighted, the additional eyecups, B and C, should allow you to see inside the Rift as if you were wearing glasses. Again, this is because the lens cups change the focal distance. If you’re moderately nearsighted, you’ll have to use set B. If you’re very nearsighted, you’ll have to use set C.
Unfortunately there is no word yet what diopter ranges are the sets B and C going to cover, so it is hard to know if these will work for you or not and even if they work how well will they do. And while this solution is not perfect, it is better than nothing. The interchangeable eye cups with different lenses will be suitable only for nearsighted people, if you have other issues with your eyes such as astigmatism these will not help you. There however is another thing that may allow you to use the device with the standard eyecup set and your prescription glasses, this is the Adjustable Assembly solution – a geared mechanism that should allow you to extend and retract the assembly that holds the screen and the eyecups to position it comfortably. This means that you will be able to extend the assembly to provide extra clearance for glasses or a larger brow, though the size of the prescription glasses would probably matter much and you will be able to fit only smaller ones, though this could also lead to reduction of the FOV you get. If however you don’t need to wear glasses or need extra space you should be able to retract the assembly, bringing the lenses closer to your eyes, and thus increasing the field of view you will be getting.
If you have missed to join the effort in Kickstarter, you are still able to pre-order the Oculus Rift developer kit at the official website for $300 USD with estimated shipping date currently set for April 2013. Have in mind that this is for the same dev kit that everyone else will receive in March. The consumer version is apparently being worked on, but we are probably not going to be seeing it anytime this year, as developers will also need some time to implement support for the Rift in various games and applications, as currently there are only a few already announced.