Eric Johnson

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Here’s How the Oculus Rift Will Work on Mobile

Oculus Rift, the much-hyped virtual reality gaming console interface that debuted at E3 2012, is still seemingly some time off from a consumer release.

But at PAX Prime, the gaming convention being held this weekend in Seattle, the Oculus VR team is showing off a new HD version and talking more about how the gadget might work on mobile devices as well as PCs.

Currently, the only Rifts in the wild are $300 dev kit versions, made for game developers. The HD iteration of the hardware, currently unavailable to those developers, improves on the VR headset’s screen resolution, which is all-important for convincing the wearers that they’re physically in a virtual world. In a demo with co-founders Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey on Friday morning, I piloted a PC-connected HD Rift around and through a gargantuan volcano and used it to sit in a virtual movie theater (yes, really), where I watched the trailer for “Man of Steel.”

But as CEO Brendan Iribe told Edge Magazine last month, the company is internally working on mobile support for the Rift. In other words, instead of requiring gamers to be tethered to a PC, Oculus wants to be able to power the virtual reality experience from a mobile device’s hardware.

Luckey said that currently, the Rift only works with Android devices that have video output and can “host” the Rift via USB connectivity.

Oculus VR co-founders Palmer Luckey, left, and Nate Mitchell, right, calibrate Oculus Rifts before a demo at PAX.

“We’re about mobile gaming hardware,” Luckey said. “We don’t want to play [casual] mobile games in VR.” However, Mitchell then jumped in to say that he’d seen a Candy Crush-esque match-three game playing on the Rift, and that it worked well, even if it didn’t fully take advantage of VR’s capabilities.

Mitchell added that he didn’t want to close off the potential catalog to only the games that will work in hardcore virtual reality: “I think it’s going to be lot like Steam,” he said, in reference to the Valve-operated PC gaming store, with a mix of serious AAA titles available at prices competitive with those of console games, and simpler experiences that might be sold for as little as a few dollars.

“We’ve seen vacation simulators” among developers’ early work, he said. “I dropped my father into one, and he was like, ‘This is great!'”

Luckey enthused that the Rift itself could one day become an Android device, with a chip that might currently be found in one of those high-end phones embedded in the headset itself. The company chose to start with Android because of the operating system’s openness as compared to iOS, but isn’t completely ruling out the latter.

And what’s next? About 150 games now work natively with the Rift, the co-founders said. The company still hasn’t yet publicly committed to a launch date for the consumer version, but Luckey coyly mentioned that Oculus has “exciting developments [ahead] through the next three quarters,” including some with consumer implications.

For more about the Rift, check out Mitchell and Luckey’s Q&A with AllThingsD from May.

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