This week is the Oculus Connect 3 Event in San Jose, CA and there was a lot to take in. Although the event is not yet over, here are some key highlights from yesterday’s keynote.
On Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg took the stage to discuss current and future strategies, which seemed to place Facebook more at the forefront of the brand. Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey was strategically out of the spotlight this time.
One critical point Zuckerberg stressed was that “the next phase for the company is great software experiences” and a “people first” approach (obviously because it is Facebook) but the focus was on social being the core experience.
He then provided a demo of the Oculus social experience which showcased some pretty exciting new features (avatars with eye tracking, expressions, seamless changing of environments, video chat) that will be coming out in the future. A lot of the functionality was not clear in terms of what was prototype and what will be available soon, but the functionality and usability of the Touch controllers was impressive.
Based on our first impressions, the one thing that stands clear is that Facebook and Oculus are positioning to take the lead as the dominant VR platform, at least for the next year.
The video below shows most of the keynote and announcements. I’ll swap it out with the official video when they release it.
Zuckerberg announced an upcoming standalone VR headset, designed to position somewhere in between the Gear VR mobile experience an the Rift. It will have position tracking and some sort of wireless feature, although it was not clear about the visual or performance quality in regards to how it will differentiate from the other devices. Apparently there was a prototype (the Santa Cruz prototype) but no word on a release date.
The Touch controllers were definitely the key focus for this year. They will sell for $199 and ship on December 6th with preorders starting on October 10. You will also be able to add a third sensor for $79 in order to get Oculus’s version of “room-scale” VR. It will be interesting to see how this compares to the HTC Vive’s room scale experience.
Oculus is also taking a much larger focus on creating personal avatars, which feature lots of customization, hand gestures and a slick holographic style design. Avatars will launch along with the release of the Touch controllers on Dec 6th. Another upcoming feature will include personal rooms and parties, which will be coming soon to Gear VR, and later for the Oculus Rift.
Carmel VR Web Browser
One huge and somewhat understated announcement was a new web VR browser project, codenamed Carmel. Based on a new framework called React, it will make web VR experiences faster, without the need to download huge program files. Web VR browsers are also being developed by Google and Mozilla, which will be one of the biggest upcoming transitional phases of the internet, featuring somewhat simple code based web components. Very excited to see where this goes, so this is definitely a hot topic to watch for the next couple years!
Oculus In Ear Headphones
Oculus will be selling swapable, in ear headphones for The Rift for $49, which they say have sound quality that matches high end headphones. Apparently the existing Rift headphones just pop right off and can be replaced with the new headphones (Didn’t know that…) and each person who attended the event were given a pair.
Cheaper Gaming PC’s
Oculus still seems to be focussing on PC as a critical platform for delivering high end VR. Unfortunately the drawback of mass adoption has been the need for a fairly pricey Oculus Ready PC rig to run the devices. Because of this, Oculus has announced that it will be offering lower priced PC options, under $700, which can run the headsets. Admittedly they said that there will naturally be performance problems, so they also announced a new set of coding features called Time Warp and Space Warp, which will help to speed up frame rate problems with slower machines.
Lot’s of Games
Of course there were lots of new games being announced for the Touch controllers, including some pretty slick art apps, as well as new content including a deal with Disney and a short Blade Runner experience.
A look Into The Future With Michael Abrash
Oculus chief scientist, Michael Abrash, took the stage at the end of the keynote to talk for 30 minutes about where they expect the company to be in the next five years. Two critical goals they expect to achieve is eye tracking and foveated rendering, which will be crucial to have a high quality, fast wireless experience.
Another topic he touched on was Augmented Virtual Reality, which seems like Facebooks new term for a mixed reality mish mash of AR & VR. It basically describes sampling the real environment and then augmenting it in VR, using a virtual workspace as an example of an ideal use case.
To summarize, Oculus and Facebook are setting a pretty high bar of expectation for the next year in VR. While we didn’T see much movement in the mobile end of things, their new Touch controllers look awesome and there are a ton of new social features coming much quicker than anticipated.
One huge benefit, in addition to tons of cash, is that Facebook has the user base to be the leading platform in the industry. It is going to be an exciting Christmas and the competition will be racing to catch up because I think Facebook has got this.
Were you at Oculus Connect 3 this year? If so, please share your thoughts.
Sean Earley is the podcast host and Executive Editor of AR/VR Magazine, Modern Musician Magazine & co-founder of RobotSpaceship Podcast Network. He is the Director of New Biz Development, PR and Publishing at KEMWEB, a musician, producer & consultant. He loves guitars, VR and coffee.