The faceputers are coming

  • Rajiv Makhni, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 06, 2014 19:58 IST

Of late, the phrase “The Next Big Thing” has started sounding like one of those terrible jokes your back-slapping uncle likes to crack. It’s old, it’s been repeated too many times and frankly, wasn’t even funny the first time around. The pipe that brings in really jaw-dropping new technology seems to have run dry. Until the Oculus rifted in!

The Oculus is born
Virtual Reality (VR) devices, VR Headgear and all other kind of helmets that you strap onto your face have always been very exciting at announcement stage and truly terrible to use when finally out in the market. The level of technology at that time was really clunky, the screens were blocky and pixelated, the user interface was appallingly bad and the experience was far from immersive.

Thus VR Headgear died its own natural death and not many mourned that loss. One company did and brought it back with a bang. Oculus Rift was born off a Kickstarter (a funding platform) campaign and thus already had the backing of those that would actually use it.

The technology was brilliant and the execution flawless. A low-latency full-HD screen on a device that was light and fitted well, a screen that looked like a cinemascope movie hall right in front of your eyes, and software and content that was perfectly tuned to its capabilities. But it was the human interface that made everyone giddy with excitement.

As you strapped on an Oculus Rift, the screen in front of your eyes shifted as you turned your face. It didn’t matter where you looked, the screen would naturally align and show you a lot more than a flat 2D fixed screen – thus giving you the exact experience you got when you looked right or left, up or down or even behind in real life.

As human as you can get: As you strap on an Oculus Rift, the screen in front of your eyes shifts as you turn your face.

In a game you could look up and see a missile coming from the sky and immediately turn to your left, see a building and jump in.

In a movie, you could be right in the middle of a spaghetti Western shootout and check the position of the sun and then look down at your gun before letting off the fatal shot. In a sports telecast, you could be in the middle of the field and run with the players while looking up into the stadium. It was fascinating and magical.

The Next Big Thing was finally here.

The zucky effect
Then Facebook went and bought Oculus Rift. To many, it was the death knell as Facebook would do its famous ‘Zucky’ twist to a good product and make it into one more way getting more personal data out of you.

Here’s where I differ from most analysts. I think Facebook buying Oculus is a good thing. On its own, Oculus would have been a niche gaming product and thus wouldn’t have had the financial or marketing muscle to become a mainstream product used in daily life. Facebook and the Zuck have shown enough street smarts with their purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp and have let them run as independent products.

Thus Oculus could well be doing that and becoming the de facto standard for lifelike video conferencing, a tourism alternative, a virtual reality tour device for things that need to be experienced first hand (a walk through a museum, a factory visit, browsing through a mall) and more.

And while we wait for Facebook to take Oculus to that level – more fun stuff that wants to be attached to your face is being released. You can try them out right now to have your socks blown out of the water – and they don’t cost an arm or a leg, they just need small parts of your face!

Google Cardboard
While Facebook was working on acquiring Oculus for billions, Google was doing a DIY for pennies. And thus was born the Google Cardboard or as it’s more popularly known as – the Oculus Thrift! A piece of cardboard, some lenses, a magnet button, NFC tag and your smartphone – and boom, you’ve got a VR headset all set to wow your eyes and mind.

Easy does it: A few simple steps to make Google Cardboard on your own.

It works surprisingly well, has its own app and costs nothing. That’s because Google doesn’t actually sell these but gives them away at a few conferences. But ‘make-it-yourself’ Google Cardboard instructions are all over plus Cardboard-like kits are available in many places for as low as $9.99.

Boxight Kit and Pro
An Indian company figured that a DIY cardboard kit should not be more than about Rs 500. And thus that’s what the Boxight Cardboard costs. Order a DIY kit and assemble it in minutes, slip in your phone and you are set! It’s built even better than Google Cardboard. If you don’t like DIYs, then buy the Pro version.

This is a good-looking virtual headgear that is lightweight and well-built and comes with better lenses that can do 3D too. Once again all you need is your smartphone. This one costs about Rs 2,599.

Check eBay or Amazon or Snapdeal and you’ll see many other options and cardboard kits plus new apps, games and virtual tours are popping up in thousands every day. You owe it to yourself to experience what a faceputer can do to your mind. Strap one on and get lost!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

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