When we launched our Kickstarter campaign in August, we hoped to sell a few hundred kits to game developers and virtual reality enthusiasts around the world. Instead, we were blown away by the overwhelming response from a community of almost 10,000 backers, who raised nearly $2.5 million dollars to help us develop the Oculus Rift.
Designing, sourcing, and manufacturing thousands of developer kits is no small feat. Since our Kickstarter, we’ve been up against the wall, working around the clock to produce and distribute over 7,500 units in just 4 short, crazy months. We’ve had to modify our original design for mass-manufacturing and, at the same time, balance additional features with our tight schedule.
We wanted to have the developer kits to all our backers before the holidays; but more than that, we want to ship the best Oculus Rift developer kit possible. In order to accommodate the required changes, new features, and manufacturing duration, we had to shift our ship date.
We’re happy to be able to finally announce that the Oculus Rift developer kits will begin shipping in March 2013.
We want to thank everyone for their patience and support. Know that we’re pouring our hearts into this project.
We’d like to share a few details about why we’ve pushed the estimated delivery and what we’ve done behind the scenes to improve the Rift since our Kickstarter’s launch.
Manufacturing 7,500 Developer Kits
The majority of the remaining work is now in the hands of our manufacturer, who’s currently making the injection mold tooling used to create the Rift’s plastic shell (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Injection_molding if you’re interested in learning more). We waited to make an official announcement until we had a firm schedule from our manufacturer.
Here’s the latest timeline, as of Nov. 27:
Larger version of chart available here
All together, preparing the factory for mass production of a product like the Rift takes approximately 90 days and the factory can’t begin until design and feature set has been locked down. Our manufacturer is already underway with the first tooling (T1), which takes roughly 50-70 days. Once the primary tooling is complete, we’ll do a series of pilot runs for minor tweaks and adjustments before mass production. Simultaneously, we’ll be testing and certifying the device for public use.
If you’re interested in learning more about why tooling a plastic product like the Rift can take up to 70 days, check out this 5 minute video from the Discovery Channel on how plastic injection molds are made: “How It’s Made: Injection Molds”.
Once the tooling has been finalized and the factory is full throttle with production, we’ll be able to produce over 500 developer kits each day. We’re looking forward to having that sort of volume rolling out to the developers everywhere.
We’ll be shipping out the developer kits in the same order as the Kickstarter pledges were received (first come, first served). Based on this current schedule, the goal is to ship the majority of the rewards by mid-March. We may not have all 7,500 kits in the first shipment, but we’ll continue shipping out kits as soon as they arrive. We’re estimating that we can have all the rewards sent out by mid-April. Any pre-orders taken post-Kickstarter (through www.oculusvr.com/preorder/) are expected to ship in late April 2013, after we’ve delivered all the Kickstarter rewards.
Once we’ve put your rewards in the mail, US residents should expect to receive them within 5-7 business days and international backers should receive theirs in 2-3 weeks, depending on the destination.
Finding the Right Display
One of the toughest challenges was finding the right display for mass production. Many of you already know that the Oculus Rift prototypes we’ve been showing use a 5.6’’ LCD. While not perfect, it’s been sufficient for early research and development, including the work John Carmack did with DOOM 3: BFG Edition. Unfortunately, production of that display was recently discontinued, a fact we learned after trying to source (buy in bulk) enough to meet the incredible response from the developer community.
When we set out to find a new display, there were a number of key factors to consider for the best experience. The ideal screen would have a refresh rate of least 60hz, a resolution of 720p or better, a low response time, and a viewing area between 5.5’’ and 7’’ diagonally.
We tested every available (non-proprietary) display we could get our hands on. Surprisingly, there aren’t many available screens in a 5.5’’ – 7’’ form factor that meet our requirements.
Ultimately, we selected a modern, 1280×800 7’’ display for the developer kit. The bright side is that the new display beats the old display in almost every key area including response time, switching time, contrast, and color quality. The improved switching time of the panel actually alleviates most of the motion blur people saw in earlier prototype demos. The downside to our new 7’’ is the weight differential: approximately 30g more than the 5.6’’.
A New Sensor Designed for VR
The original Oculus Rift prototypes used an off-the-shelf sensor from one of the leading sensor vendors in the country. While the original sensor was high quality, we made the decision to develop our own 9DOF motion sensor that excels in VR-critical areas. These new sensors should be part of the developer kits shipping in March.
The new Oculus VR™ sensor supports a refresh rate of up to 1000hz, which is several times faster than the previous sensor. In addition to the accelerometer and gyroscope, it also includes a magnetometer, which opens new doors in terms of sensor data and head-tracking. The data coming from the new sensor will be accessible using the Oculus SDK in easy to manipulate formats (quaternion, matrix, Euler angles). The raw sensor data is also available for those that want to do the math themselves.
Building a new motion sensor is a major undertaking. There are plenty of challenges we’re working on, particularly sensor calibration and multi-platform driver development, but we’re confident the new sensor will be worth the engineering effort in the long run and we’re happy with the results thus far.
Latest Working Prototypes from Factory
This is a fully functional prototype of the Rift developer kit. The cable shown here is similar in width and weight to the actual 6ft custom cable used for the developer kits, which was designed specifically for the Rift.
Here’s a snapshot of the latest control box model for the headset. This little guy combines the video, USB, and power lines into the single, custom cable running to the headset. This helps reduce weight and extra cabling from the Rift.
Please understand that the designs above are subject to change; though you can expect these to be very close to the final versions.
3D Engine Integrations
The Unreal Engine 3 and Unity integrations are coming together well. The Unreal integration is in a completely playable/usable state, including the Unreal Tournament 3 sample game which is now a great Oculus-ready example for developers.
The Unity integration is getting underway with the latest Oculus SDK codebase. We’ll post another update in the near future with footage of Oculus VR inside Unity.
We’re working closely with Epic and Unity on integrating support for the Oculus Rift in the free versions of their engines and will keep the community posted on the progress.
Oculus Developer Center Coming
We’re in the process of bringing the Oculus Developer Center online. The Developer Center will have the latest Oculus SDK, engine integrations, official forums, support system, and ways to send hardware/software feedback directly to the Oculus engineering team.
All developers will be invited to join the Developer Center and start discussing Rift development before the kits begin shipping.
Developer Kits, Consumer Rifts, and Virtual Reality
We’re planning a handful of Kickstarter updates dedicated to more detailed information regarding the sensor, the screen, the display controller, and the headset itself. These should be posted over the next few weeks.
Plans for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift are already underway. Due to time constraints for the developer kit, we had to push several exciting features to the consumer version. We’ll continue to keep everyone posted on our progress as we move from research and development into confirmed features.
We’re also counting on you, the community, to help us shape the future of VR and the Oculus Rift. We hope you’re as excited as we are!
Palmer and the Oculus VR™ team