Oculus 'many months away,' but virtual reality sunglasses will take a little longer

Willie Grace | 11/6/2014, 1:23 p.m. | Updated on 11/6/2014, 1:23 p.m.
Faster, lighter and equipped with headphones, the prototype offers the best performance to date, says Iribe, and a convincing peek ...

DUBLIN (CNN) -- We might still not have jetpacks and flying cars, but another dangling promise of the technology world now seems one step closer. Virtual reality (VR) is a serious business, as confirmed by Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR for $2 billion earlier this year. Now, the makers of the highly anticipated Oculus device seem on track to deliver a consumer model, which they say is "many months," but not years, away.

"This is the beginning of consumer virtual reality," said Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus VR, referring to the company's latest prototype, called "Crescent Bay."

Faster, lighter and equipped with headphones, the prototype offers the best performance to date, says Iribe, and a convincing peek into the world of virtual reality. "It has very low latency, so when you're moving around it's not catching up with you, it's all happening instantaneously," Iribe told CNN, from the Web Summit technology conference, in Dublin.

"Suddenly you get to that threshold where everything comes together, a switch in your brain flips, and you're comfortable, you feel like you're there. We call it the power of presence."

Brave new world

Describing what VR feels like is a bit like explaining romance to someone who's never been in love. It is a difficult task.

Going from traditional computer graphics and interactive environments -- such as those found in today's most advanced video games -- to the virtual reality offered by Oculus' latest technology is like stepping into a brave new world, where the senses are completely invested rather than simply engaged.

There is a feeling of suspension and inevitability. The closest equivalent that one might have experienced before is something called "the broken escalator phenomenon." When you approach a broken escalator, despite being fully aware that it's not moving, your body still relays an odd sensation of imbalance as your stride, involuntarily, tries to conform to your experience of a moving one. Scientists have found this to be due to a "dissociation between knowledge and action" in the brain, and the process is in full swing when using the Oculus.

You know full well that it is just a simulation, but when you are placed on top of a skyscraper, high up in the evening canopy of a rainy metropolis, your steps become uncertain and you seek the safety of a railing to hide behind. Vertigo can easily occur. A pet T-Rex viewed through the Oculus is at the same time endearing and terrifying, and a curious alien gives you the impression that you might become best friends in a matter of minutes. The short circuit in your senses makes the experience, well, technically real.

It is a remarkable sensation, and probably the closest thing to lucid dreaming this side of falling asleep.

"The next step is to bring other people in there with you. Your friends will be there, and you'll believe they're there," Iribe told CNN.

The ambition is to revolutionize the way we communicate. "Imagine a pair of virtual reality sunglasses in the future, and everybody in the world is inside," said Iribe. "All you have to do is put them on and you can be face to face with anyone. Think about the power and the impact that the telephone has had. The potential for this new platform is that it may be the biggest future platform of all time, maybe the final platform, because once you have virtual vision, what's next? It's hard to imagine what's next."