By Jonathan Keane

The much anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which went from humble Kickstarter beginnings to last year’s Facebook acquisition, will finally be released in early 2016, just missing the originally planned release of late 2015, ahead of Christmas.

Oculus and its CEO Palmer Luckey are still tight lipped on the price of the headset and the technical details of the consumer headset. Versions of the hardware have existed for a few years for developers but the end product that comes next year could be quite different and just when exactly it will be available in Ireland is unknown.

After Facebook’s $2bn acquisition, some felt that the social media giant’s help would actually speed up the process of release but Luckey and this team has faced a couple of challenges in getting things moving.

The VR technology is targeted first and foremost at games and some footage was even previewed at a recent Facebook developers conference but Mark Zuckerberg has ideas for VR that go well beyond games and that meant rebuilding and rejigging a lot of the Oculus technology.

Zuckerberg envisions using virtual reality for messaging services, placing you in the same ‘room’ as someone, or for architects and designers to create lifelike designs for clients.

Since Facebook got involved, a number of other big tech companies have thrown their hats into the ring with virtual reality offerings too. Google is perhaps the biggest threat with its Cardboard VR headset, which is a seemingly primitive product but the cheap and cheery design tied with features from new Android phones could end up setting it apart.

Meanwhile Sony is working away on its Project Morpheus headset and HTC has partnered up with Valve to create the Vive VR headset. The race for virtual reality power is definitely heating up.

Luckily for Oculus and its Rift headset, it has managed to establish itself at the de facto virtual reality hardware and the first thing many people think of when they hear of VR.

The Oculus Rift is the company’s main product but isn’t actually its first consumer product. The company has already worked with Samsung for the Gear VR headset, which connects with some of the latest Samsung phones, and gave us another glimpse at Oculus’ virtual reality at work.

The range of games that will be available for the Rift, which connects with a desktop, is still largely unknown as well. Facebook and Oculus have shown off demos but since the acquisition some game developers who were initially excited about the product have grown wary of Facebook’s involvement. Minecraft pulled out of a deal with Oculus when the acquisition happened, with the founder saying the social network “creeps me out.”

Nevertheless, developers have been excited by the prospects that virtual reality can provide. Just recently, Dublin start-up, Thrive Audio based in Trinity College, which develops surround sound systems for VR technology was snapped up by Google. Everyone’s trying to create the ultimate VR experience, through buying up new start-ups and technologies to get a leg up on the competition.

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