While I wouldn’t count out the Oculus project just yet, Sony may have already tipped the scales.
VR is what will help facilitate the industries next steps toward truly immersive environments. Actually, I’ve been beating that drum for some time now. Specifically, I’ve had my eyes on the new Oculus Rift headset, which promised to be the first real advancement in the field that could legitimately take hold (and revolutionize how we play in the future). While I knew Sony had something brewing on the DL in this regard, I never gave it much credence as the “next big thing”. After all, they’ve released 3D goggles before. In my mind, that ship had sailed, and the company didn’t really have any new rabbits to pull out of that hat, as they had seemingly hopped away long ago.
Boy…was I wrong.
As we've recently covered here on the site, the Game Developers Conference provides yet another platform for Sony to kick the doors open and steal the show (much as they did at CES). With the announcement of “Morpheus” (think less Matrix and more Greek mythology), I can honestly say I was completely surprised. I mean, I just didn’t expect such a polished piece of tech from the company so soon. If you could make a list of all the areas that Sony would have needed to hit in order for people to turn their attention away from the Oculus and focus it on them, I’d say they hit virtually every single one. This is a headset unlike any Sony has produced before. Aside from its crystal clear, full-HD display (clocking in at 1080p) and surround sound, it also FINALY cracks the nut that other “video glasses” have failed to do; it succeeds in providing an immersive experience the wraps AROUND the eyes. By filling your peripheral vision with its 90+ degree field of view, this could be the first device to suck you into the game rather than forcing you to stay stationary in your couch. From its ease of use (interchangeable with your favorite ear buds and ultra-sleek design), Sony’s product has a level of shine that only a big-budget R&D department can pull off.
But is that their Achilles heel? Will the Oculus ultimately win out due to its grass-roots nature at heart?
I sure hope that plays a factor. I certainly don’t want to see all the great work done by those developing the Oculus tech to simply get swept under the rug due to Sony planting their flag firmly in the sand. After all, the indie scene is huge right now and many are pointing to digital titles available on Xbox and PlayStation as the last real bastion of creativity left in the industry. The Oculus originates from the same pool of hungry, driven developers and engineers, which is something that may be lacking at a huge conglomerate like Sony’s global empire. Not to take anything away from the creativity of those who may work at Sony, there is no doubt that the Oculus started as a labor of love. While everyone wants to make money in our industry, you get the impression that the Oculus uses were designed for the betterment of mankind (while Sony’s has a distinctive corporate look). You can almost feel the passion in their words recently, as one Oculus rep believes advancements in the field are “…going to continue to evolve rapidly in the coming years…we truly believe virtual reality will change the world - Thanks for being part of the journey with us.”
Ultimately, this isn’t like the competition between two rival game consoles. When it comes to this type of technology (and its VERY specific purpose), there really can only be one victor. After Sony’s announcement, I felt myself feeling truly sorry for the other guys/girls. Glance over to your DVD shelf right now and notice how many Sony Blu-ray discs you own; nary an HD-DVD is likely to be found. Also, don’t forget that Sony can pump their own money endlessly into this project, while Oculus started as a crowd-funded venture. My worry is that the sheer size and scale of Sony’s resources will push their piece of tech over the top, thus leaving the once hot Oculus slapped with a “Yesterday’s News” sticker.
But as Sony has yet to prove themselves in this particular field, I’m still willing to give Oculus a chance to step-up and smash one into the stands. Never count out the little guy (even if they are perhaps on borrowed time).