Last weekend the Oculus folks held their "Oculus Connect" event in Hollywood. Oculus is the company behind the Rift virtual reality visor and the company developing the software behind the Samsung Gear VR device we talked about a few weeks back.
Gear VR is expected by the end of the year, but the Oculus Rift still has no consumer release date. Their second iteration of development units started shipping last July (after being announced in March) and at Oculus Connect the company introduced yet another iteration of the visor, this one called Crescent Bay. This still isn't the consumer model though Nate Mitchell, Oculus' VP of product told Polygon "...you could make a few assumptions about the consumer version from the Crescent Bay prototype" so it sounds like we're getting close.
Oculus wasn't releasing any specs on the new visor but attendees noted it was lighter, included 360 degree head tracking, a faster refresh rate, built-in headphones (that could be folded out of the way in case you wanted to use your own) and better displays. It also sounds like it was a lot more comfortable to wear. In addition to the Polygon piece I'd direct you to Ars Technica who also sent a journalist to experience Crescent Bay first hand.
Oculus says this latest visor is a prototype and they may not even sell them, opting instead to focus on getting the consumer version finished and out the door, but they're still not offering any firm dates on when that will happen.
Of course the other big contender in the VR space is Sony with its Project Morpheus visor for the Playstation 4. At the Tokyo Game Show last week Sony Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida told The Wall Street Journal that "Sony has finished 85% of the work needed to make the product available."
Originally Sony was showing off Morpheus as a prototype and saying they weren't even sure it would ever become a consumer product, and to the best of my knowledge that's still the official word, but it seems likely it'll be on store shelves before too long. Holiday 2015 perhaps?
I'll say again, I'm a little curious about whether VR will be as big a thing as Oculus, Facebook (who bought the company) and Sony think it will be. I definitely have a lot of gamer friends who're curious about VR but I'm wondering how that will translate to home use.
The Rift has to be tethered to a PC and Morpheus has to be tethered to a Playstation 4. Both require some kind of external tracking camera (Morpheus uses the Playstation camera, the Oculus comes with a camera). The journalists who tried Crescent Bay describe standing on a mat 3-4 feet on a side that they could walk around on; that's a lot of room for a typical living room or home office. Then there's the whole isolation factor I've mentioned. If you live alone it'll be fine but how much will your family appreciate you locking yourself away in an opaque visor with a set of headphones on so that you can play games or go on a virtual field trip?
Eventually many of these obstacles will be overcome and I'm still excited for these first visors to hit the market; I just am not sure this first generation will be more than a niche consumer product. What I can see is the birth of "VR Cafes" where you and your friends can go rent stations that include a visor hooked up to a powerful PC, an omni-directional treadmill and some kind of controller. That sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon gaming with friends!
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