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February 20, 2018

An Analysis of Oculus: Where Can Virtual Reality Go Next

Written By Elliot Murray
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In 2011 the Oculus Rift was merely a glint in the 19 year old Palmer Luckey’s eyes. He spent his free time putting together prototype VR headsets from little more than cheap LCD panels bought directly from manufacturers in China, some cardboard, and and some duct tape. Tinkering away in his parents garage he knew he was on to the next big thing.

Fast forward to August of 2012, with his rough (at best) prototypes and the shiny new renderings of the future he wished for by his side, Luckey clicked start on his crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign. What followed was one of the most successful Kickstarter campaign the site had ever seen. So successful, in fact, that it grabbed the attention of one of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, Mark Zuckerberg, who shortly thereafter purchased Oculus for $2 billion. With the new cash injection from Facebook and many more years of research and development, Oculus finally released the consumer version of the Rift in 2016.

The Rift is now almost 2 years old, but VR is still seen as a gimmick in some eyes and unobtainable by many others. What can Oculus do in the coming months and years to change the public’s perception and push VR to the next level?

Oculus GO

Oculus recently unveiled their next venture into VR with a new headset called Oculus GO. This $200 standalone VR headset, means you don’t need a high end gaming PC or the latest smartphone to get in to VR, vastly lowering the cost of entry. Not much is known about the specs of this new device yet, however we do know that it runs off of the Snapdragon 821 processor (the same processor as found in last year’s Google Pixel phone), and runs a custom version of Android. This decision by Oculus to run Android means it can run any apps or games already created for Samsung’s Gear VR headset, giving it a much needed headstart on content.

Oculus have also teamed up with Xiaomi, who will rebrand the Oculus GO as the Xiaomi Mi VR headset for release in China, a market that Oculus has struggled to crack thus far.

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Rift 2

While one team at Oculus is focusing on enticing more people into the world of VR with lower priced headsets, another team is working on advancing the technology at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Oculus recently unveiled their new prototype, dubbed ‘Project Santa Cruz’ at their annual Oculus Connect 4 conference late last year. This prototype stripped the Rift of the tether connecting the user back to their computer, allowing much freer movement. Whether you’re spinning around killing zombies from all directions in Arizona Sunshine, or painting the next masterpiece in Google’s Tilt Brush, no wires means tangle free gaming.

The Project Santa Cruz headset also features inside-out tracking. This technology was first pioneered by Microsoft in their Hololens headset, and means no additional cameras or sensors are needed to track your physical position in 3D space. In other words, no more wiring cameras at opposite corners of your room, or losing tracking as you walk out of view of those cameras.

Another advancement set to push Rift 2 to the next level is eye tracking, the benefits of which are two-fold. The first is the more obvious, tracking the users eyes allows game developers to detect and react to what the user is looking at. This means you could control an entire game with just your gaze, or a game developer could put a jump scare directly in your line of sight, making games an even more immersive experience.

Eye tracking also means a technique called foveated rendering can be implemented. This technique means only objects in the game that the user is directly looking at need to be rendered at high quality, vastly reducing the performance requirements, and therefore the cost of the connected computer.

These enhancements will make VR more accessible to even more people and with other improvements to the core technology such as higher screen resolution and faster refresh rates, the next generation of Rift is sure to be a success.

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The Games Restriction

For a long time VR has suffered from a chicken and egg problem when it comes to content. It’s hard to sell a headset that doesn’t have any games, but it’s even harder to get publishers to create games for a market that doesn’t exist yet. Oculus has been working hard to fix this problem by funding game development in the early stages. A cash injection removes the risk for game publishers, and means Oculus get new games developed for their platform.

Robo Recall is one of these titles to benefit from this scheme. The arcade first person shooter built by Epic Games was released last year free of charge for Rift owners last year. It has been hugely successful, with VRFocus saying “Robo Recall elicits such a high standard that future FPS titles will be measured by it, and should be considered a killer app for Oculus Touch” and similar reviews across the board.

Oculus plans to continue this technique through 2018, hoping it entice even more users into VR with high quality games which in turn will gain the attention of even more game publishers.

The VR space is set to become even more competitive in the coming months and years, with many new big brands bringing their own headsets to the table. Oculus will be hoping these new advancements will keep them in the lead for the foreseeable future.