Oculus’ Connect 4 press event gave us the latest glimpse at a new wave of virtual reality goodness coming from the company that’s arguably at the forefront of the industry. Here’s everything you need to know about the biggest announcements.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg kicked things off, announcing Oculus’ open-ended plans to bring virtual reality to a billion people, a target made more attainable by making VR more approachable to a wider range of consumers. That starts with the company’s first new product, Oculus Go.
Up to this point the company has offered two discrete VR experiences; a mobile one and a desktop one. Through its partnership with Samsung, consumers have been able to readily slap some Oculus-approved hardware on their faces for cheap via the company’s Gear VR headset. Despite its affordability and portability, however, being powered by a smartphone puts a relatively low ceiling on the performance it’s able to offer up, which paired with a complete lack of positional tracking, culls some of the immersion from the experience too.
At the other end of the spectrum is the company’s poster child, the Oculus Rift, which benefits from being able to leverage PC hardware in order to offer-up a top-tier virtual reality experience. The shortcomings with the Rift fall to its tethered nature (just as with key rival, the HTC Vive) and the higher cost of the hardware (something the company did formally address during OC4 by permanently dropping the price of both the headset and Touch controllers to just £399).
Oculus Go is one half of the company’s solution to bridging the gap between the two VR experiences it currently offers; essentially squeezing dedicated hardware that’s competent enough to emulate the experience of the Gear VR but without the need for external processing power from the likes of a smartphone, whilst also integrating inside-out six-degrees-of-freedom positional tracking, thus eliminating the need for external sensors as used by the Rift.
The headset itself closely resembles a grey Oculus Rift (sans cables), with integrated spatial audio in-place of on-ear headphones, custom lenses that are apparently superior to those used in the current iteration of the Rift, designed to reduce the ‘screen-door’ effect and paired to a fast-switch LCD with a WQHD (2560×1440) resolution.
Facebook’s new VP of VR – Hugo Barra also announced that developers would be able to get their hands on Oculus Go starting November, revealing that developing for Go is the same as developing for Gear VR, right down to the same controller input sets.
Consumers will be able to buy the headset for a respectable $199 (estimated to retail for £199 when it launches in the UK) when it starts shipping early next year.
Project Santa Cruz
Whilst Oculus had treated us to an early glimpse of its Santa Cruz headset last year, the version at OC4 demonstrated a whole lot more polish. Like the Go, it’s designed to eliminate the need for external hardware and features inside-out six-degrees-of-freedom tracking, but unlike the Go, the Santa Cruz headset also comes with a new set of dedicated motion controllers for hand presence and offers a VR experience closer in quality to that of the Rift, whilst remaining untethered.
Details on the hardware and the exact experience the Santa Cruz headset will offer up still remain slim but we did at least learn that its new controllers use infra-red LEDs to track in time with the headset’s four positional-tracking cameras.
The Santa Cruz headset will go on sale later into 2018. No word yet on price or release date.
Rift Core 2.0
On the software side, along with tidbits of goodness like new avatar options, the company’s Nate Mitchell also introduced us to Rift Core 2.0 – a completely reworked virtual environment for users to inhabit when diving into VR on their Rifts.
Scheduled to arrive as a free update in December this year, Rift Core 2.0 places the focus of interaction squarely on Touch in place of the previous UI’s proclivity for controller input. Rather than the discrete experiences of Oculus Home and the Universal Menu, Rift Core 2.0 replaces both as a more unified environment designed to serve as the foundation for “the future of VR computing”, but what does that actually mean?
In [virtual] reality, this manifests as a customisable Home space in which you’ll be able to summon a workspace dubbed Dash that places all of your apps, games, friends, settings and notifications in one place; not just VR-centric experiences but essentially anything you could find/open using your PC normally. Other users will also be able to visit your Home and even leave you notes.
The beauty of the Dash is that it runs as a 3D overlay so that it can operate inside any VR app, game or experience you’re in without needing to jump out entirely as before. It supports true virtual displays at a hardware level, letting you run and manage multiple apps and windows. You can even drop individual apps or windows inside other VR experiences (on stage we saw a YouTube video playing from within Elite Dangerous).
As detailed on Oculus’ website ‘developers can even debug their VR apps while inside them, using Visual Studio, Unity, and Unreal’ too.
Oculus also revealed new bulk ordering and dedicated tools and support for businesses looking to integrate a little VR into their organisations, whilst on the social side, Oculus Venues will let consumers watch concerts along with premieres of new movies and TV shows with up to 1000 other people.
3D Posts are the company’s effort to better share VR experience between users and their friends outside for a virtual environment, letting content take from within a Rift be placed on Facebook’s timeline like any other post.
Read next: Which VR headset should I buy?