Eric Johnson

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Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe on Raising $75 Million, the “Oh My God” Demo and Working With Valve

Last night, news leaked out that Oculus VR had raised $75 million from Andreessen Horowitz to help it release its first product, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

In an interview with AllThingsD, CEO Brendan Iribe said the company first talked with Andreessen Horowitz shortly before it closed a $16 million Series A with other investors in June. The two teams hit it off, but what sealed the deal was a demo meeting in November.

That month, the Oculus founders and CTO John Carmack demoed the latest internal prototype of the Rift, which Iribe describes as a significant leap ahead of what the company has publicly shown off so far.

“You feel like you’re looking through the lenses to a different world,” Iribe said, summarizing the reactions of the demo recipients as “Oh my God, this is it.”

Iribe said Marc Andreessen had expressed enthusiasm earlier in the year, but needed to be convinced that a consumer version was feasible. The November demo — in which Andreessen was one of the people to try the headset — was evidently good enough, as the room then hashed out a $75 million investment intended to cover inventory, marketing and sales for the version-one Rift.

However, launching any new hardware is tricky without stuff to use it for, and Iribe said Oculus VR is also using the new funds to invest in content. The goal is to ensure that the Rift will not only have games at launch, but also a calendar of games to expect post-launch, so that consumers will know what’s coming.

So, what has changed that suddenly makes an expected 2014 consumer release a possibility? Iribe repeatedly praised Valve’s R&D head Michael Abrash. He and others in that department helped Oculus reach a “breakthrough” that lowered the headset’s latency, meaning that when a player turns his or her head, the view of the 360-degree virtual world will update accordingly within 10 to 20 milliseconds. What that means in real-world terms is a lower risk of nausea.

As Iribe noted in October at the Gaming Insiders conference, earlier versions of the hardware made him feel sick within two minutes because he’s especially sensitive to motion sickness. Although he couldn’t promise that everyone would be able to handle VR, the CEO said demos are trending in the right direction.

Where a significant number of people used to feel at least mild discomfort with early versions of the Rift, he said, “maybe five out of 300” who have tried the lower-latency version have reported problems.

Oculus is expected to show off some form of its hardware at CES in January. Iribe said the current go-to-market strategy is to support Windows, Mac, Linux and Android at launch.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus