Well blow us down if there wasn’t a lot to report from today’s keynote at Oculus Conn3ct! The event ran over two hours, which was testing for anyone with a small bladder, but here’s what we learned.
- People first
- Social VR
- Education and science
- Investing $millions in development
Palmer Luckey may have steered clear of the limelight following his recent indiscretions, but today saw Mark Zuckerburg, Nate Mitchell, and Brendan Iribe – amongst others – take to the stage at the Oculus Conn3ct conference to outline the future of Oculus Rift. This is the third Oculus Connect conference, livestreamed around the world from San Jose, California.
2,500 attendees heard Oculus CEO and co-founder Brendan Iribe explain that, “From gaming and entertainment to education and science; the ecosystem is taking off.”
Mark Zuckerburg, CEO & founder of Facebook took to the stage to promise, “We’re here to make VR the next major computing platform.” He explained that “our industry has made more progress in the last couple of years than any of us could have hoped for.” He claimed that more than a million people are now actively using VR products and the company is “getting the hardware out faster than any of us expected.”
Second Phase Incoming
In the short term, Zuckerburg pledged that Oculus is “going to get Touch into your hands by the end of the year.” But he also said, “The first phase is getting the hardware out there. The next phase of developing Virtual Reality is great software experiences.” He repeated the importance of being, “There with another person or in another place”. He continued, “Virtual Reality is the perfect platform to put people first because of presence.”
He demonstrated the tech they’re building with the help of Lucy and Michael, ‘cartoon’ avatars that can display facial expressions such as smiling, confusion or surprise. The group relocated to the bottom of the ocean, Mars, and – of all the places they could imagine – Zuckerburg’s office in Facebook HQ.
Mark explained they could “do anything we want together” before showing the trio playing cards and chess, after which Michael made his own sword to fence with Mark. Lucy demonstrated the group could watch a video “in our own private movie theatre”. Mark then checked in on his dog, Beast, at home while bringing his friends with him. The claim is: “People first - and you can bring in any experience you want.”
Back to the main presentation and Zuckerburg stated, “We’ve invested $250m to find content from games to media and more. We’re committing another $250m for new content beyond games.” In terms of stats to back this up, he claimed, “Education now is 10% of the Oculus store. We’re going to create a new section and create a $10m education fund.”
But what about the future of VR? “Computer vision can unlock an entirely new category of VR products,” said Zuckerburg. In his opinion, “Inside out tracking is one of the hardest problems in VR today. No one has gotten this to reliably work in VR yet.” As for VR formats today: “There’s two major categories of VR products. There’s mobile - and it’s a great and affordable product. Then there’s PC, the highest quality of VR experience you can get today. We believe there’s a sweet spot between those.” He’s promising “a standalone VR product that is high quality and affordable and you can bring with you into the world.”
And they’re working on this now. He says, "It’s still early – we have a demo, but not a product yet.” And to prove this entirely new category of product, he showed a video of a prototype without cables, promising, “We’re gonna build a software platform that puts people first. We’re gonna invest hundreds of millions of dollars.” He also insisted that "the key for the next phase is to build great software." Which is a great cue for...
Nate Mitchell, Co-founder, Head Of Product was careful to speak about audio, as well as cross-platform performance with Unity and Unreal, describing Ambisonic Rendering as a skybox for your ears.
Of Unreal Engine, Nate said, “We want to put the power of UE in the hands of developers.” Going on to explain that Oculus would cover the fees for the first $5m gross revenue using UE. Mitchell also laid out VR Web as one of the easiest ways to create and share VR content with anyone in the world, promising to “help you build web VR content with a new framework called React VR.” He revealed that Oculus is developing a VR browser, codenamed Carmel. There will be a developer preview soon.
Oculus Avatar And Social
The Avatar SDK will make it easy to introduce Touch and hand presence so that "people can feel like themselves and recognise their friends.” Mitchell describes this as "a magical experience.” The avatar editor will be accessible via Oculus Home, with a billion permutations of options. Avatars will launch alongside Touch and come to mobile in early 2017.
Hang Out With The People You Care About
Lauren Vector, Product Manager, Platform took to the stage to promise that you’ll be able to "hang out with the people you care about even if you can’t be physically present with them.” Between invites [sic] and matchmaking with over 80 apps on the store already using it, the improbably named Vector said, “Today we’re taking the next step towards a social future.”
With the introduction of Parties, eight people can talk across any apps, but as well as group voice call, she announced Oculus Rooms. Using this functionality, a user can start a party with virtual friends with a single click, then join their friends in a virtual space to watch videos on Hulu or play minigames. “When you gather your group, you can seamlessly jump into another app. This will be part of the SDK to help developers include this functionality.”
VR Is More Demanding
Brendan Iribe offered that, “VR is more demanding than any other platform.” Where 30fps is the norm in games, VR apps, “Must hit 90 FPS, period.” So Oculus introduced Asynchronous Timewarp to reduce judder and act as a kind of framerate insurance. "Without Timewarp, apps would show 11% drop in framerate, but with it’s 0.2%.” The problem is that it doesn’t work with positional issues, so Iribe announced, “Today we have a brand new innovation that fixes positional judder: Asynchronous Spacewarp.” In a nutshell, this takes the app’s two previous frames and generates a new synthetic frame to eliminate judder and ghosting.
Iribe says, “There’s no replacement for 90fpd, but Spacewarp makes it easier for lower powered hardware to run VR.” And it’s built into Oculus runtime. As he says, “Every single app benefits from it. [With] Lower CPU and GPU requirements, people can get into VR with a lower cost.” To emphasise the point, he announces that Cyberpower has a new AMD based min-spec machine for $499.
Free CAD For Third Party Accessories
While everyone is focused on graphics, Oculus hasn’t forgotten about audio. Although the HMD comes with headphones, they announced new earphones with advanced noise isolation. Iribe claimed, “We’ve compared them to $900 earphones and they’re comparable.” The new earphones are due to ship later this year at $49.
More than this, Oculus will make the CAD available from today for anyone to develop their own Rift accessories.
Oculus Touch Official Price
In Iribe’s opinion, “There’s nothing like seeing your hands in VR. Hand presence is a powerful way to make you feel like you’re really there.” Yeah, we know – but how much will it cost us? $199, apparently. And it will start shipping ‘in volume’ from 6th December. You can pre-order Oculus Touch from 10th October. Touch will ship with a second sensor to increase your area, but it will also support room scale using a third sensor, available for $79 from 6th December.
What About Mobile VR?
Max Cohen, Head of Mobile, told us that there are now millions of Gear VR owners across 150 countries. That’s a lot of languages to develop for, but he shared the insight that you’ll cover 80% of the market if you develop for:
He also promised that Gear VR will be "the biggest and best mobile VR for years to come.” In terms of new developments, Multiview support will offer a 33% decrease in CPU usage to give developers "a lot more headroom.”
Cohen emphasised the potential of Oculus’ Remote Monitor for minimising judder, as well as November’s forthcoming video SDK, their dynamic streaming service and Ambisonic audio for up to eight different channels.
Cohen also made this observation: “For the next few years, you’ll have more friends outside of VR than inside.” Which is why the company will launch livestreaming later this year, so that you can share your VR experience via FaceBook.
Next Year Will Be Huge!
Iribe returned to say, “This next year is going to be huge. The industry is starting to take shape and there are literally billions of dollars being invested right now.”
Vive may have stolen the march on Rift in recent months, but Iribe wrapped up with this: “Our promise is to deliver the best VR products, platform and the innovations that will drive it forward.”
On the basis of today’s presentation, who are we to disagree?