When we were at the Oculus Connect 4 conference earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg and a number of other peeps from Facebook and Oculus made some interesting announcements…
1. Oculus Go Aiming to Democratize VR
The Oculus Go is Oculus own mobile VR headset, 100% compatible with Gear VR, but without requiring you to sacrifice your phone while using VR. Compared to the Gear VR, the display and lens technology would receive some improvements, while there will be integrated spatial audio speakers, similar to how the Microsoft HoloLens does it (and does it very well).
By avoiding all the hardware complexities of a phone, Oculus is able to offer the improvements in display technology at a price point far lower than the Gear VR: $199, which makes it much more accessible for instance for educational use in class rooms. It also fits in the plan Oculus and Facebook announced that the Oculus Go should start shipping to developers soon and will be released to the public some time next year.
2. Inside-out Tracking with Hand Controllers
The stand-alone prototype that we covered in our Oculus Connect 3 blog post got a working title: Project Santa Cruz. As announced last year, this VR headset will be fully self-contained and will feature inside-out tracking. This means there is no additional hardware or sensors to mount around the room. This allows the user to wander around freely, and potentially play wherever they decide to strap on the headset. The new thing is that it is going to come with hand controllers that are tracked by cameras on the headset, much similar to Microsoft’s Motion Controllers for it’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets, but potentially better working. The four wide-angle infrared cameras are placed on the corners of the headset, able to cover some of the area area behind you — where you are less likely to hold your hands.
Given the positioning of the cameras, it seems like Project Santa Cruz would do a better job at the tracking than the Windows Mixed Reality Headsets. However, for example in the Journey for Elysium prototype where you are using an oar to row a boat and push yourself off from the environment, it’s crucial to be able to track your hands when they’re behind you in an accurate way.
The Santa Cruz is expected to ship to developers in late 2018.
3. Social VR Functionality
Facebook Spaces was released in beta after previous year’s Oculus Connect, and with headsets dropping in price, and the Oculus Go coming down the pipeline, it’ll be interesting to see how this develops over time. We checked it out to see if it could be used for remote collaboration, but so far it feels more gimmicky – check out this video of Bernard and his wife, Kim, having fun trying it out:
Social VR features announced at Oculus Connect were the ability to set live 360 video as the background of the VR environment in Facebook Spaces, and the ability to share your VR feed to other users while using any VR experience, while seeing your viewer’s comments come in inside of your VR experience — similar to the current Facebook live video feed and much like in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.
4. Oculus Dash
Oculus Dash allows opening desktop windows inside of VR, seemingly even while playing a game in VR. This also allows for limited adjustments in the Unity Editor while in VR and seeing the results in the VR environment immediately.
Looking at the VR landscape, Oculus seems to be establishing a leading position while showing an open attitude, while key competitor HTC Vive still has a high end product, but seems to be less focused on growing an active developer community as they lacking a developer event similar to Oculus Connect.