Oculus Unveils Self-Contained Prototype
The Oculus Connect 3 developer conference gave Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg the chance to personally reveal the most exciting VR initiatives from the company, namely new social features and an entirely self-contained headset prototype codenamed “Santa Cruz.”
The “Santa Cruz” device (30-second teaser video) is capable of inside out position tracking, meaning four on-board cameras tell the headset its position in a room without the need for external sensors. It is a very early prototype. The system combines the best features of the Rift with the portable convenience of Gear VR and offers a new market segment for Facebook’s VR division that sits between phone based devices and high end PCs.
Oculus Touch controllers for the Rift are shipping “in volume” beginning December 6, and pre-orders are now open. Customers who have a Touch reservation from putting in an early Rift order have until October 27th to purchase the controllers without losing their place in line.
Shipping Touch represents the realization of the original plan set forth by Oculus publicly in mid-2015. Oculus plans to sell extra tracking sensors for $80 as well as in-ear earbuds that cost $50 and offer better sound isolation than the standard Rift headphones.
Oculus suggests that their system will be able to handle room scale experiences on par with the competing HTC Vive using three sensors, although they briefly mentioned that a diagonal two sensor setup similar to the default Vive setup will also work in some cases. Several of the demos at Oculus Connect featured the three sensor setup, and tracking was perfect in our experience, although the demo staff kept us contained in a relatively small area so we couldn’t test the limits of room scale.
“Santa Cruz” likely represents the next phase for Oculus — a self-contained unit that can build on the software marketplace from Oculus and social features Facebook is developing. From the stage in San Jose, Zuckerberg connected via a Facebook Messenger video call from inside virtual reality to his wife’s phone where she works at a hospital in the real world. Zuckerberg saw his wife’s image on a virtual phone while she saw an avatar representing her husband on her phone. It was an impressive demo shown alongside a game of virtual cards, playing with three people around a table, and an impromptu sword fight wherein one participant scrawled a rough drawing of a sword in midair before grabbing it and challenging Zuckerberg.
Oculus also announced a new optimization it calls “asynchronous spacewarp” that will allow VR experiences to run at lower frame rate, lifting the hearts of the developers in the room before crushing them by announcing that the new minimum specification for the Rift is an NVIDIA 960 graphics card, Intel i3-6100/AMD FX4350 processor and 8GB+ RAM, which brings the cost of a pre-built PC down to about $500.
Oculus Chief Technology Officer John Carmack hammered home the point throughout the conference that developers need to be willing to adopt the minimum specification and continue to support it for years to come so that the market can broaden as the cost of entry plummets. He envisioned the day when a $50 smartphone would be able to provide a VR experience that “delivers value”.
Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash took the keynote stage to lay out the improvements we can expect to see in high end VR headsets by the year 2021, with field of view potentially widening to 140 degrees as pixel density doubles, thanks to panel resolutions up to 4K x 4K per eye.
Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey was not seen at the event because, executives said, he didn’t want to disrupt it after the recent controversy involving his support of an anti-Hillary political propaganda group with a meme-based messaging strategy. Oculus pointedly showcased several initiatives aimed at improving diversity in its developer ranks by offering training and funding to women and minorities. The initiative seemed at least partly a response to a controversy that erupted two years ago after Oculus’ diversity was questioned during a Q&A session with John Carmack and Palmer Luckey.
Several new games were announced during the keynote. Epic Games announced Robo-Recall (1-minute trailer) for Oculus Touch, built on top of its stellar Bullet Train demo. Ready at Dawn Studios announced Lone Echo, which became our personal favorite demo of the show.
If you have a Gear VR, be sure to check out Felix And Paul’s VR video of the Ka Cirque Du Soleil performance.