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Facebook unveils latest attempt to take VR mainstream

Oculus Quest

Facebook has had a fair few cracks at creating the perfect VR headset, but the Oculus Quest looks like a product which could take Virtual Reality (VR) into the mainstream market.

This has been the problem with VR to date, the reality has not lived up to the expectation. Cheaper devices have not delivered the experience the masses were expecting, while those on the top-end have but pricing has meant mainstream penetration was out of the question. To date, the virtual experience has been limited to specialist venues, hardcore gamers and pioneering industrial applications. Oculus Quest might just be able to break these limitations should the stars align perfectly.

Oculus Quest is what Facebook describes as its “first all-in-one” VR system, which will be available for purchase from Spring 2019 for $399. Oculus Quest comes with Touch controllers, while there will also be 50 games available at the time of release.

“So this thing is just wonderful,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the Oculus Connect 5 event. “Some of the experiences are just really amazing. You can play tennis, we have a tennis court set up [at Oculus Connect 5] so you can have one person on the court and another in the living room, so you can see how the experience scales up and down nicely with the amount of space you have available. You’ll see the ball coming and you’ll run towards it. You move your hand to hit it and you get haptic feedback. It’s just awesome.

“With Oculus Quest we will complete our first generation of VR products. There’s Oculus Go, the most affordable way to experience VR for the first time, there’s Oculus Quest, the all-in-one VR experience that we’ve been waiting for, and there is Rift, for experience which need a PC to push the edge of what is possible.”

Each of these devices will form the future of the VR business at Facebook, with Zuckerberg highlighting a platform and ecosystem will be built around each one. In other words, consumers can buy the newest bit of hardware, as and when Facebook make upgrades, but everything which has been designed for the previous generation will still work on the newer devices. With these three devices, the market is open for Facebook; Go could be viewed as for the cash conscious, Quest is for the mainstream and Rift is for the high-end, hardcore gamers and industrial applications. While there will be a role for each one, Quest is what could take VR out to the masses.

Firstly, it’s affordable. $399 is expensive of course, but it is not prohibitively so, and comes with all the necessary specs to deliver the experience people have been promised through countless years of buzz and futuristic TV programmes which hyped-up the technology. The devices contains 64 GB of storage, has display resolution of 1600×1440 per eye and has six degrees of freedom built in to allow for specified movement around the physical world.

The six degrees of freedom is an interesting one, as it offers more freedom during the experiences, allowing the user to move and reach new places. Some might be worried about walking into a wall or smashing a shin on the coffee table, but Facebook has built in software called Guardian, which allows the user to set boundaries in the real world. Should you stray too close to these boundaries with the headset on, notifications and visual barriers will appear to let you know.

Although we haven’t had the opportunity to test out the headset, this does sound like a product which can open VR up to the mass market. However, there are a few questions which remain. Firstly, can the ecosystem support the expectations in terms of content, and secondly, can the infrastructure meet the data demands of the experiences?

From an ecosystem perspective, Facebook has said the launch of this headset will accompany the release of 50 titles. This might sound like a lot, but is it? We’re not too sure, your correspondent is not a particularly avid gamer, though the sheer number of titles which are launched for consoles such as PlayStation or Xbox suggests this would have to be beefed up. It doesn’t matter how good or accessible the hardware is, if the breadth and depth of content is not available for the user, the segment will fall flat very quickly.

Secondly, the question around infrastructure is a big one. Internet cafes or specialist gaming venues will have powerful enough broadband connections to allow for these sort of experiences, but considering the low levels of full-fibre connectivity in general, and the suspect nature of 4G connections when using mobile, you have to wonder whether current infrastructure can effectively support VR. This is a vast question, can the segment take-off and survive without the future-proof infrastructure which many telcos are sluggishly rolling out?

Questioning the ecosystem and infrastructure are two valid questions, but that shouldn’t take away from what Facebook is promising to deliver here. The product is affordable and does seem good enough to deliver the promised experience; it could bode well for the slumbering VR segment.

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