Oculus Rift – 10 reasons why all eyes are back on virtual reality

  1. Oculus Rift is trying to reboot virtual reality
    For many, virtual reality (VR) brings to mind images of people in the 1980s wearing headsets and gloves to interact with games and virtual worlds. There was plenty of hype, but the technology didn't catch on – a pattern matched in the mid-1990s with Nintendo's Virtual Boy VR device and then a decade later with headset-less virtual worlds such as Second Life. The US company Oculus VR is young – it was founded in 2012 – but its biggest achievement has been to get people excited about VR again.
  2. This is about more than games for Facebook
    This is just the start. After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," wrote Zuckerberg as he announced the deal. "Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home." Oculus VR is often seen as a games hardware company, but its founder, Palmer Luckey, has made it clear that he, too, sees a wider future for VR.
  3. Some people are spitting fury at the deal
    Not everyone is happy about Facebook buying Oculus, and many of those worry that Facebook doesn't care enough about the gaming potential of VR and may pull the team in different directions.
  4. Oculus isn't the only player in gaming VR
    The week before the Facebook announcement, Sony unveiled its own VR headset for the PlayStation 4, Project Morpheus. It is only a prototype for now, working with the PS4's Move motion controller – the latter is the equivalent of the VR gloves from the 1980s. A startup called True Player Gear has been fielding intense interest in its equally prototype Totem VR gaming headset this month. And Microsoft? For now, its focus on new interactions with games revolves around its Kinect system of camera-based motion control, although it has one of the most-respected VR gurus, Jaron Lanier, working as a "partner architect" in its research division. The point is that even if Oculus's commitment to games falters in the years ahead, its early work making VR exciting for developers again should spur more innovation from elsewhere.
  5. This is a big deal for Kickstarter
    Oculus Rift's $2bn deal is also big news for Kickstarter: the biggest "exit" yet for a company initially funded by its crowd of backers, and a reminder of the site's potential as a springboard for innovative new ideas.
  6. The market for VR has yet to be proved
    How mainstream is VR going to be? History suggests caution: early VR was ahead of its time and expensive; the Nintendo's Virtual Boy was a flop; and Second Life had a community of a million or so users who were loyal before, during and after its hype, but it remained a niche idea. This is the challenge for Oculus: to prove that VR is more than just a niche product but a new boss.
  7. You'll be able to enjoy those 'don't try this at home' experiences
    A technology for social interaction that involves strapping on a headset that isolates us from the real world around us. Questions about whether VR is an antisocial technology have been posed since its earliest days, but are brought into sharper focus now. Oculus sees things differently. Virtual reality is a medium that allows us to share experiences with others in ways that were never before possible
  8. VR has huge potential for healthcare applications
    Indeed, VR has potential for people who are isolated in the real world, from general social anxiety to various phobias. Exposure therapy – whether to spiders, snakes, planes (or, indeed, snakes on planes) – could be one area to benefit. The benefits aren't proved, but this is the point: as VR technology gets more powerful, accessible and affordable, it will spur a new wave of software and studies to understand just how effective it can be for these forms of treatment.
  9. Facebook may have a porn problem to solve
    As soon as any new technology emerges, one of the first questions is how the pornography industry will make use of it. Usually they're already at it, so to speak.
  10. The wider trend of big hardware bets by internet giants
    Facebook is still a software and services company, but it is making big bets on hardware too. Days after the Oculus Rift announcement, it revealed it was also buying British aerospace company Ascenta and, in Zuckerberg's words, "working on ways to beam internet to people from the sky" with a mixture of drones, satellites and lasers. This is the time when Google is working on its own Project Loon – a network of balloons floating on the edge of space beaming down internet access to remote areas – while also working on Google Glass, and buying a succession of robotics companies. Meanwhile, Amazon is working on a project called Prime Air that would use flying drones to deliver packages. VR, drones, space balloons, augmented eyewear and robots – it's the stuff of science fiction, but also of the next big bets on connectivity from the internet's largest companies.