It doesn’t seem like too long ago when I was in my architectural design class struggling to decide if I want to sink my money on an Oculus Rift DK1, Oculus’ first publicly released product. Fast forward to today and the company, now owned by Facebook, is hosting their 5th annual Event. Oculus Connect is their way of introducing future software updates, technical mumbo jumbo, and of course, hardware. Oculus Connect 5 is no acception. The company announced a new headset, plenty of new games, and some new features for their Rift and Go headsets.
The first item on the menu is the new Oculus Quest headset. This product was shown off in the form of the “Santa Cruz” prototype during previous Connect conferences. Unlike the Go, a standalone headset delivering a compromised experienced, and the Rift, a headset that utilizes the power of a desktop computer to deliver an uncompromised VR experience, the Quest falls in between. It promises the portability and convenience of the untethered Go as well as the power and advanced features of the Rift.
The Quest seems similar in hardware to the Go, but adds additional features that bring it closer to the Rift. The most notable of these additions is 6dof tracking. This is achieved in both the headset and the included controllers, allowing you to comfortably move around in VR and manipulate the world with your hands. It achieves this without the need of any external cameras like the ones used with the Rift. The headset has 4 wide-angle cameras on its face which it uses, along with some computer vision magic, to track your movement it 3D space relative to the objects in its field of view. It uses this same method to track the controllers. Each controller also has a ring of infrared LEDs to assist in the tracking. This system, which Oculus calls “Insight” promises smooth and accurate tracking with little latency, as well as the ability to move around large environments freely.
This system has its limitations. Like all headsets that track their controllers with head-mounted cameras (Windows Mixed Reality headsets are the most notable that come to mind), the tracking of the controllers is limited to the field of view of the headset’s cameras. This means that tracking can cut out if you move your gaze away from the location of your hands. In most cases, these headsets will maintain the last location in which the hand was tracked and snap the hand into the next place where tracking is established. this is not an issue and often not even noticed. However, there are certain tasks, like shooting a bow, that are made more difficult by this. Other headsets on the market with similar tracking systems have proved that it can be a reliable method of achieving 6dof tracking, providing a comparable experience to an external camera system such as that which comes with the rift.
Oculus did not reveal much else about the Quest during the presentation but more information could be found in the official Oculus blog post. The Quest as a 1600 x 1440 OLED display arranged in a pentile configuration. This resolution is higher than that found in the Go and the arrangement will provide a less jagged image, comparable to that of the Rift. The presentation placed an emphasis on software compatibility, as that will likely be what decides the fate of a new platform like this. Applications currently on the Rift store can be easily ported to the new hardware, and all software released on the Quest can be released on Rift with no changes in code. Oculus is promising at least 50 titles on the platform at launch.
The remainder of the keynote focused on updates to the Rift and Go. The much anticipated Rift Core 2.0, as well as the new Oculus Home, was made available to everyone today. This adds a fully customizable home environment which doubles as a social app and a new menu system that allows desktop applications to be opened in VR. However, These updates were announced at Oculus Connect 4 and have been available for public beta testing for a while now. One new feature, though, is the ability for developers to create items for use in the new Oculus Home environment. Additionally, the Oculus application for Android and iOS now supports the Rift. Previously, it only connected to the Go. Users can now install Rift applications remotely onto their computer and explore the Rift store form their phone. Lastly, Oculus announced what they are calling Expressive Avatars. Previously, avatars always had glasses or a visor covering their eyes. This was to prevent the breaking of immersion caused by static and dead eyes. The new avatars will do away with the glasses and have random eye movements driven by your speech and gaze, not by any hardware-driven eye tracking. I’m sure you can still add a visor or glasses if you wish.
More new features were announced for the Go, Including a new casting feature, allowing you to mirror your Go’s screen onto a phone or TV. YouTube VR was also announced for Go, so you can watch YouTube content natively on the device, including its library of 360 degree content. Some other improvements include native chromatic aberration correction.
The Oculus Quest is set for released sometime next year at a starting point of $399 for a 64GB headset.This price point makes borderline impulse buy territory for some. Given that it can develop an ecosystem like the Rift, and provides a similar quality experience like Oculus promises, the Quest could replace many Rift users’ current headsets. The new Oculus app compatibility for Rift is being made available today alongside the new Oculus Home experiences. The updates to the Go will be available “Very Soon”.