Back in May last year, we learned that Oculus was getting ready to ship its first consumer-facing VR headset in early 2016. Now, we have a ship date and pricing. The Facebook-owned company just announced at CES that its Oculus Rift headsets will cost $599 and start shipping on March 28th.
We here at the Lab are always looking out for new developments in the VR space, and currently we have two VR headsets—an Oculus Rift and a Samsung Gear—ready for demo in the Lab. And of course, we have pre-ordered two more Oculus Rift headsets this morning to add to our collection. VR is unlikely to hit mass adoption in the next few years, but it is increasingly becoming a great tool for brands to employ in event activations. A number of brands, such as Marriott Hotel, Birchbox, JCPenney, and Target had already started developing their own branded VR content to entertain and connect with their customers.
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At a special press event this Thursday, Facebook-owned VR headset maker Oculus announced a new partnership with Microsoft, which will soon allow players to stream Xbox One games to the Rift and play them using a special Xbox One controller. Oculus is expected to ship its first consumer-facing model early next year, which the VR-compatible controller will ship with.
As VR and AR technologies continue to mature, increasingly ready for the mainstream consumer market, this partnership between Microsoft and Facebook makes perfect sense. By adding support for Oculus, Xbox gains a strong new selling point, while Facebook find a great launch partner for Oculus, easing VR headsets into mainstream market through video gaming.
Facebook is reportedly in talks with Hollywood executives and directors about creating content specifically for Oculus Rift. Given that most virtual reality headsets are currently developed for immersive gameplay, it is understandable that Facebook would want to explore its potential in providing a new breed of entertainment experiences. Imaginative genres like fantasy, horror, or sci-fi could potentially benefit greatly with the help of virtual reality technology, and new marketing opportunities can be expected to open up accordingly as well.
On the heels of Oculus’s critically acclaimed new VR headset at CES, Steam announced a new VR gaming experience that’s designed specifically to take advantage of the rift. At present, the steam platform has 14 games available with VR support in Big Picture + VR mode, which is found in the beta. It remains unclear whether Steam is going to debut its own VR headset, but right now Steam and Oculus are almost joined at the hip, with many of Oculus’s main testers working within the steam system, so it seems like their best option is to work with the Oculus, something they’ve just made much easier.
The Oculus Rift has garnered much attention over the past few years as being the go-to standard in virtual reality gaming headsets. Now, though, there are officially competitors, as more developers enter the VR gaming space. Oculus has responded to many of the issues with the original design in a new prototype they debuted at CES, called the Crystal Cove. It improves on the Rift in several ways: primarily, the resolution is better – specifically, OLED high-definition – addressing the key issue of the “screen door effect,” where it was possible to see the gaps between pixels. At the same time, a key complaint was that the Rift, because of its blurriness and low resolution, caused dizziness and sometimes nausea after long periods of gameplay. Now, the Crystal Cove features a technique called low-persistance-of-vision, which alters how images are displayed with specific reference to blurriness. The most interesting addition, however, comes in the form of motion tracking: the Crystal Cove doesn’t just know your head’s orientation, but it can now tell where, in 3 dimensional space, your head actually is; if you lean, it knows. The body tracking reduces some of the motion sickness, but also adds to the total immersion of the device itself. It’s a big step forward for Oculus, which now seems well on its way to mass-production.
The Oculus Rift brings everything you would expect to see at CES. Its Virtual Reality experience is “a shock to your system” as users strap on ski mask-like googles and enter into an immersive space that can be controlled through head movement or a gaming controller. It’s high-tech, awe-inspiring, novel and likely prohibitively expensive and impractical for everyday use. But here’s something different. The Oculus Rift actually originally started as a Kickstarter project. The crowdsourced funding platform has fueled plenty of innovation that have moved beyond pet projects to something real. The Oculus Rift is something you can actually buy and it’s debuting at one of the largest tech shows in the world. Stay tuned for more Kickstarter projects reaching the exhibit floor as our coverage continues.
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