I had a great time last week attending Oculus Connect 4. Just like last year, the keynotes were really interesting and the sessions pretty informative. Here are some quick thoughts on the whole event:
Oculus Go and Santa Cruz
Oculus announced two new self contained headsets: the Go, a 3DoF inexpensive ($199) headset that will be coming early next year and much later, Project Santa Cruz, the 6DoF headset with inside-out tracking. Whats interesting is that both these devices will run mobile CPU/GPUs which means that 3 of the 4 VR headsets released by Oculus will have mobile processing power. If you are a VR developer, you better be optimizing your code to run on low horsepower devices, not beefy gaming machines.
Both Go and Santa Cruz are running a fork of Android
The move to inexpensive hardware makes sense, since Oculus has declared it their goal to bring 1 billion people into VR (no time frame was given 😉 )
Oculus Dash and new Home Experience
The older Oculus Home experience is also going away in favor of the new Dash dashboard that you’ll be able to bring up within any application. Additionally you’ll be able to pin certain screens from Dash enabled applications (which based on John Carmack‘s talk seem to be just Android apks). There could be an interesting rise of apps dedicated to this experience, kinda like Dashboard widgets for Mac when that was a thing.
The removal of the app-launcher from Oculus Home means Home now becomes a personal space that you can modify with props and environments to your liking. It looks beautiful, though not very useful. Hopefully it lasts longer than PlayStation’s Home
The Oculus Avatars have also undergone a change. They no longer have the weird mono-color/ wax-dolls look but actually look more human with full color. This was also done to allow for custom props and costumes that you’ll be able to dress your avatar in in the future (go Capitalism 😉 )
Another change is that the new Avatars have eyes with pupils! The previous ones with pupil-less eyes creeped me out. The eyes have also been coded to follow things happening in the scene to make them feel more real.
Oh and finally, the Avatar SDK is going to go cross platform, which means if you use the Avatars in your app, you’ll be able to use them in other VR platforms as well like Vive and DayDream.
Oculus has been talking quite a bit lately about how Video is a huge use case for VR. A majority of use of VR seems to be in video applications, though detail on that wasn’t given. For example, apps like BigScreen that let you stream your PC cannot be classified as video or game since who knows whats being streamed. Also since the actual usage number of VR sessions wasn’t said, its hard to figure out if the video sessions count is a lot or not.
Either way, one of the big things that Carmack is working on is a better video experience. Apparently last year their main focus was better text rendering and now the focus is moving to video. The new video framework no longer uses Google’s ExoPlayer and improves the playback experience by syncing audio to locked video framerate rather than the other way as its done today.
One of the interesting things announced at Connect was Venues: a social experience for events like concerts, sports etc. It will be interesting to see how that goes.
There were numerous other talks that were interesting, from Lessons from One Year of Facebook Social to analyzing what is working in the app store. All the videos are on their YouTube Channel
While I was wowed by a lot of the technology presented, it definitely feels like VR has a Crossing the Chasm problem: They have a pretty passionate alpha-user base but are trying really hard to actually get the larger non-gaming-centric audience in.
Oculus Go seems like a good idea to get the hardware and experience more widely distributed but what is really needed is that killer app that you really have to try in VR. The technology pieces are right there for the entrepreneur with the right idea.