The Oculus Crystal Cove Prototype Makes VR Better Than Reality

Today at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, Oculus - the fine folks behind the Oculus Rift VR headset - unveiled a new prototype which promises to further advance an already-revolutionary product. Dubbed "Cyrstal Cove," the new headset features positional tracking, less motion blur, an OLED display, and an overall more comfortable experience for players. Though the added features will require a bit of additional hardware (a camera will be necessary to track the IR dots on the headset for positional tracking), Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has assured consumers this won't impact the final price of the unit.

"Cost has always been at the crux of the entire Oculus platform, if the hardware is not affordable, it might as well not exist. We made sure this is a low-cost solution without sacrificing any quality," explained Nate Mitchell, VP of Product at Oculus, "This is a top-notch positional tracking system." 

Said system will add an extra three degrees of movement to the Rift, allowing the player to move their head about in three-dimensional space. It will not be included as a separate purchase, but instead will ship with the base model. This unlocks a number of extremely exciting opportunities for a product which already held within it the potential to change the way we game. 

According to Polygon, one of the demos at CES will ahve the player sitting across from a character in the Unreal Engine 4, with a table between the two upon which rests a tower defense game. Using the headset's positional tracking, the player will be able to lean forward and study the board and unit details. Players could also lean out windows, peek around door-frames and basically move their head in whatever fashion they could in the real world, and the Rift will respond to it.

According to Luckey, that awesome feature actually pales in comparison to low persistence. Unfortunately...the reason for that isn't exactly simple to describe. Basically, it means that the OLED display on Crystal Cove runs at an extremely high refresh rate; faster than virtually any other monitor on the market. Pixels on the display only remain lit up for a fraction of each frame. 

"Low persistence doesn't sound really exciting, but it's incredible what a difference it makes," explained Luckey. "You really have to see it. It's mind-blowing. Our new OLED panel in the prototype switches in well under a millisecond, so it's faster than any LCD monitor on the market. What we're doing is we're taking the image and flashing it on when it's correct, and only keeping that on for a fraction of a millisecond and then turning it off and then going black until the next pulse." Layman's terms, uh...what

"Basically, the pixels blink," explained Mitchell. "It's not something any OLED panel can do, but it effectively eliminates motion blur and judder. This means a more comfortable experience, it's closer to how we perceive the real world. It makes the scene look more real, which increases immersion." 

That was all the two men were willing to say about Crystal Cove at the time, save for promising that they'll have much, much more to show in the very near future. Unfortunately, they also declined to establish when the final retail version of the Rift will be available for purchase. As such, we're just going to have to wait with bated breath to see what else Oculus has got under its hat. 

"We have nothing further to announce at this time,"concluded Mitchell; "but I think 2014 is going to be a big, big year for VR."