Oculus Rift 2 review: Hands-on

T3 got a preview of the new Oculus Rift DK2 VR headset

What is a hands on review?
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Oculus Rift 2 review
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Oculus Rift 2
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Oculus Rift 2
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Oculus Rift 2 review
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Oculus Rift 2 review
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Oculus Rift 2 review
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Oculus Rift 2 review

Update: 25/03/14 - Facebook has acquired the startup company behind the Oculus Rift VR headset for $2billion. Initially started through Kickstarter, the Oculus headset has yet to launch to the public, but we should find out more at the E3 gaming show in June.

T3 is sat on a sofa in its ever-so-tidy lounge, looking down at our tattooed, ring-laden, controller-filled hands as a caped child with a sword jumps up on our knee and whacks us round the head, creating spectacular explosions of fire all around us.

Our eyes spin round our fairly innocuous yet unusually pristine living quarters to see another man, also sporting curious nu-metal styling, looking at us, sending the blade-toting toddler our way again. It's then we notice we have a kid to command, too. We hear the voice of God, faceless, bodiless, urging us to press a trigger. We obey, and sparks begin to fly!

But, of course, none of this is real - the fact that we don't really have ring-laden or tattooed hands should have been a giveaway (those are your in-game player's 'virtual' mitts you can see), as was the clutter-free living space and the whole disembodied voice (that'll be our Oculus Rift 2 demo guy).

Oculus Rift 2: Couch Knights

This is the 'Couch Knights' demo for the second official Oculus Rift virtual reality headset developer kit, codenamed 'DK2', which we're trying at a private event at San Francesco's stylish 111 Minna Gallery as part of the Game Developers Conference. It's also the most convincing argument for VR gaming since Eve Valkyrie's energising space carnage on the first Oculus Rift.

Transporting a multiplayer, Super Smash Bros-esque brawler into a 3D world that you occupy, with other real-life players also in the space and the action going on not just in front of you but all around you, is a somewhat revelatory moment. It's reminiscent of those AR games that both Nintendo and Sony attempted with the 3DS and PS Vita respectively, but without an overly small screen limiting the action; here it's in your complete field of vision.

WATCH: Oculus Rift 2 hands-on video:

It's a demo, our third and final one of the day on the new Oculus kit in fact, and a short one at that, but the potential is really quite something, widening the expectations and blurring the boundaries of first-person fare. Anyone fancy some FIFA where you actually play from a seat in the stadium?

Oculus Rift 2: Build

From the outside in, the new $350 Oculus Rift DK2 is a cleaner-looking piece of kit than the original developer device, less rough and tumble, more professional build, although Oculus maintains that this, alongside the improving software, will be swanked up even further for the eventual consumer release.

Oculus Rift 2: Screen

Much like the Crystal Cove iteration, it has a 1,920 x 1,080 OLED screen on the headset and an external positional tracking camera looking not unlike the old PS3 Eye cam, which tracks you in in 3D space. However, unlike Crystal Cove, the motion-sensing balls of white littered over the headset have been internalised for a more aesthetically pleasing exterior; particularly bright camera flashes can bring them out of their hiding.

Oculus Rift 2: Features

It also, interestingly, has a USB on the side, for developers to 'go wild' with - a secondary, front-facing camera attachment was one speculated accessory that could capture and transport the real world around you into the virtual space. We're sure the PC scene's many modders have even better ideas.

Oculus Rift 2: Visuals

There's actually not much difference between the weighting or comfort of the two headsets, but the visuals are poles apart. Running on PC as ever, our first demo was an update on the classic Tuscany walkthrough on YouTube and was a direct comparison between the original Kickstartered dev kit and the new version.

The updated DK2 headset, in stark contrast to the pixelated 'beekeeper hat' original, is not just clear and vibrant, but works with the tracking cam to allow the user to look over balconies on to the pin-sharp waterside scene. The slight/overwhelming (delete as personally appropriate) nausea that tended to go hand in hand with the first iteration is now absent.

Oculus Rift 2: Elemental Defence

Our second try out, a tower defence take on the Unreal Engine demo called Elemental Defence, sees you sat in a vast throne playing an elaborately interactive, Hero Quest-like board game with the now-familiar demon from Oculus demos of yore.

You're able to look around the living, breathing world from above, into its nooks and crannies, prompting events with a press of a button, a variety of explosions unleashed into the 3D world from all angles. Again, the interactions are basic, but the effect of an immersive world are undeniable.

The positional tracking reinvents the Rift as less of a one-shot tech demo that washes over you and more of a participatory new platform in its own right. The way you can combine joypad movements with your own body is something that Microsoft has attempted with mixed results with Kinect, but here, with the game being beamed directly on to your eyeballs, it genuinely gels.

Oculus Rift 2: Verdict

Now, we've had hands-on with Oculus Rift before, but this is the first time that our inherent love of the new, and tech in general, has been married with a genuine belief that virtual reality could be a mainstream concern. Not just in gaming, either - much like tablets, there's an obvious educational tool here in amongst the Steam mods.

Of course, Oculus acknowledges that a full consumer "immersive experience" is still a way off, and with the new dev kit available to pre-order now but not shipping till July, a potential full release this year is looking increasingly unlikely. It's determined to release it fully when it's ready and not before, no matter what its rivals do (step forward, Sony Project Morpheus).

Yet with the comfort, quality and variety of experiences growing with every iteration, Oculus is making an increasingly compelling case for VR to become its own format, rather than just a peripheral gimmick. With the likes of PlayStation and possibly Xbox getting in on the action, this is seeming less a fad and more a genuine vision of the future.

Oculus Rift 2 release date: Pre-order now for delivery in July (developer kit only)

Oculus Rift 2 price: $350, oculusvr.com

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.