An untethered virtual reality experience. That is the future of Oculus, but to get there several pieces will have to fall into place. At yesterday Connect conference, the company showed off its first such prototype.
An untethered Oculus Rift
If you want to experience the best of what virtual reality has to offer you need to accept at least on cable between your Oculus Rift and PC plus an external camera. HTC Vive is even worse, as it requires you to install two external cameras.
Such clumsy solutions will not bring virtual reality to the masses. Oculus is aware of that fact. That is why the company is working on a stand-alone version of the Oculus Rift that will be positioned as a third category between the PC-tethered Oculus Rift and phone-based Samsung Gear VR (that uses Oculus technology).
At yesterday’s Connect conference Oculus demonstrated its "Santa Cruz" prototype. It is a stand-alone VR headset so all you have to do is put it on and start moving around in the virtual world. Processors, sensors, displays, sound, and everything else is built in.
Before it can become a consumer product, Oculus needs to overcome several challenges, perhaps most importantly head tracking without the use of external devices, or so-called "inside-out tracking”. That is harder to do than it sounds. Besides that Oculus needs powerful processing built-in but while development of mobile processors is progressing at a rapid pace it is still not close to matching a high-end PC.
Reporters from The Verge and TechCrunch had an opportunity to try out the prototype that was described as being in a very early stage. They pointed out several shortcomings but it generally worked as intended.
Judging from the presentation, pictures, and reports, however, it appears that VR for the mass market is still several years away.
Lower PC requirements, Touch, Earphones
At the conference, Oculus also announced that the Touch controllers will be available from December 6 for $199. 35 games will work with Oculus Touch at launch.
The company also launched the "Oculus Earphones”; a pair of headphones with better bass and "passive noise isolation”, designed for use with Oculus Rift. The earphones will be available on December 6 for $49.
Finally, Oculus proclaimed that a new "asynchronous spacewarp" (ASW) technology that it has developed can drastically reduce PC hardware requirements. The company explained that with AWS a game running at 45fps can look almost as good as a game running at 90fps without AWS. Of course, 90fps is still preferable. By utilizing AWS partners can soon sell "Oculus Ready" PCs for less than $500.
Oculus has already invested $250 million in VR content. At Connect, Facebook - who owns Oculus - announced that it has earmarked an additional $250 million for content.