We’ve been told time and time again that virtual reality (VR) is for absolutely everyone. We’re assured that anyone can slip on a headset such as the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus and enjoy a wide variety of experiences. But many times we hear this comment from developers or enthusiasts it refers to content and demographics. By ‘everyone’ they mean ‘not just gamers’, as VR is set to be utilised for films, virtual tourism and is already at work in medical and military sectors, with a range of other possibilities yet to be explored. What the answer usually dismisses is compatibility.
VR headsets take a pair of lenses and push them up against our eyes to make for an immersive 3D experience. But what if the user has to have something between their eyes and those lenses to see clearly? Simply put, can people that wear glasses use VR headsets? Won’t the combination of glasses and device make for a bulky, uncomfortable experience? Even if they get the headset comfortable, will the VR effect still work through 2 pairs of lenses? These are the questions that headset manufacturers have to ask themselves if they don’t want to alienate a considerable portion of the market.
It’s a problem that’s been flagged up by a number of VR enthusiasts over the past year. The original Oculus Rift developer kit (DK1) tried to combat the issue by including a number of lenses in its box. These lenses could be switched out so that, theoretically, anyone could adjust the headset in a way that best suits them, regardless of if they wear glasses or not. It’s certainly been an effective means of combating the issue for some users, but many have still reported issues. Some have found, for example, that even the frames of their prescription glasses do not fit inside the Oculus Rift, making it virtually impossible to use.
It’s not just a problem for those that want to use the device, but the companies that want to sell it to those consumers as well. A huge portion of today’s market wears glasses to some extent. In fact, personally speaking, I’m one of two people in a family of six that doesn’t wear any glasses. Will the rest of my family have to simply miss out on this amazing platform?
Right now the answer is a hopeful ‘no’. Though the first Oculus Rift doesn’t seem to be compatible with everyone, makers Oculus VR hope to slim down that margin dramatically with the release of the consumer version of the kit (CV1). Just this week company founder Palmer Luckey stated that the consumer release ‘should work for about 95% of people, including glasses wearers’. The company hasn’t commented on any specific revisions for that market just yet, though has emphasised that the device will be undergoing a redesign following the release of the second developer kit (DK2) this July.
Don’t forget that many of the figureheads at Oculus VR are glasses wearers too. It’s hard to think of Chief Technology Officer John Carmack without a pair of specs attached to his face, and the company’s Michael Abrash spearheaded Valve’s own VR prototype before coming to work with Oculus VR. If VR wasn’t going to work for glasses wearers, it wouldn’t have two high-profile developers championing it.
As for Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) and its Project Morpheus headset for PlayStation 4, the company has suggested that the device is designed to work with glasses users. Again, specifics haven’t been mentioned and the device is also due a redesign, but for the thousands of Game Developer Conference (GDC) 2014 attendees that tried the kit out in March, few complaints about compatibility were raised.
It comes down to something of a waiting game, then. No, the current Oculus Rift DK1 doesn’t seem to have the perfect solution for glasses wearers, but don’t forget that it doesn’t really have the perfect solution for anything. Practically every aspect of the kit is due to be revamped for DK2/CV1 and both Oculus VR and SCE’s quiet confidence about glasses compatibility reassures us that these complaints will be a thing of the past in a year’s time.
‘VR vs’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes an issue currently challenging the VR industry and discusses how to fix it. Looking at everything from the videogames in development to the strength of the technology, we highlight the problems and try to come up with the best solutions.