The Oculus Rift was supposed to launch on March 28th 2016. Founder Palmer Luckey hand delivered the first unit to a customer in Alaska. But most orders weren’t fulfilled until months later- the Rift saw huge shipping delays.
At the time of the delays Oculus blamed the issue on a “component shortage”. However due to not wanting to hurt supplier relations, did not reveal which component was in short supply.
The new book The History Of The Future describes the events around the shortage as follows:
UNFORTUNATELY, THE MOST PRESSING LAUNCH-RELATED ISSUE WAS THAT– contrary to everything Oculus had been saying for months– they would not actually be launching in full the following day.
Other than a few hundred units earmarked for their original Kickstarter backers, Oculus didn’t have any units in the US that could go out to consumers. Worse: it was still unclear when they would be able to begin fulfilling orders. Wednesday (March 30) seemed like the most likely option.
The delay was largely due to a shortage of suitable optics for the Rift (which, in turn, was largely due to Iribe setting a quality bar for optical components that– as a member of the exec team would later describe– was “probably too high… We ended up rejecting lenses that were better than what HTC was shipping on all Vives.”)
Hybrid Fresnel Lenses
The Oculus DK1 and DK2 used standard aspheric lenses. For CV1, the company opted to use a custom hybrid fresnel lens design.
DK2 Lens Left, CV1 Lens Right. Image from iFixit.
The decision to use fresnels came with a nasty downside of course- “god rays”. Internal reflections in the fresnel rings which create distracting streaks of light on high contrast scenes.
But in most other ways, the lenses were an upgrade. Fresnel lenses don’t suffer from the same uncorrectable chromatic abberation issues. The hybrid fresnels also offer a much wider “sweet spot”. Whereas the DK2’s image is only sharp in the center, the Rift’s area of clarity is much larger.
However if the book’s account is to be believed, these optics were perhaps ahead of their time, and too difficult to manufacture. It wasn’t until September that Oculus fully cleared the backlog of Rift orders. Perhaps a simpler lens design would have been the right decision.
Thankfully, with the Oculus Go Facebook introduced their “next generation” hybrid fresnels. These lenses are also slated to be used in the Oculus Quest and may be used in the Rift S. These new lenses keep the same large sweet spot and sharpness but with significantly reduced god rays. Given Go’s price point and apparent market success it seems these new lenses are also much easier to manufacture at scale.