Alfredo

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Why the Oculus Go matters

A new standalone VR device.

Today the Oculus Go was unveiled at the Oculus Connect 4. Plans for a cheap headset were stated before and it wasn’t a big deal.

The Oculus Go wants to be a Gear VR without a smartphone.

My first reaction back then was a bit of a letdown, interaction is really important in VR, and yet another Gear VR-like device was not that exciting to see. Google’s plans for standalone headsets with inside out tracking are a big deal, and then microsoft with the Mixed Reality headsets, LG with a Lighthouse license, and SO MANY EXCITING NEWS.

Quick poll during the entry level hmd reveal back then. Missed the word “list” in the question.

Very small sample size, but you get the idea, VR enthusiasts and developers LOVE 6dof tracking. ( It means that it can track your position in addition to the rotation of your head )

The Oculus Go doesn’t do this, and enthusiasts are not happy about it, and I wasn’t either. My opinion changed, now I’m very excited about it, let me walk you through my thoughts.

It’s compatible with Gear VR titles, it supports glasses, some form of integrated audio, and fresnel lenses. We don’t have all the details but we can extrapolate.

The implications of the price

At $199 vs the current Gear VR + controller ( $129 ) the kit makes the integrated computer cost $70 vs the $600 or more a Samsung Galaxy S8 costs. Don’t get me wrong, the S8 is an extremely impressive device, but it obviously has more features and components than what’s needed for VR.

$70 is the price that a phone needs to match to beat the value proposition of the Oculus Go.

Daydream View is available from $49 but pairs with the elusive Pixel phone and a select few range of phones. It costs $550+ for the phone alone, and it’s available only in certain markets.

Rumors or not, a $349 price for standalone VR Daydream headsets seems a coherent price range, about $150 above the Go. Haven’t found solid info other than rumors but if they are cheaper I’d be seriously impressed.

The price of the Go is low, the word cheap doesn’t make it justice because it looks like the company is subsidizing the device or cutting down on hardware profits. Sure, other companies can make sub $200 device, but Oculus knows about the minimum requirements for a good VR experience, and I expect them to ship them with this.

Most people in the world haven’t tried VR or even heard about it

Most countries in the world have no official support or even a date for launch. I’m not even talking about war zones or islands, the Daydream View and the Google Pixel is a rarity. The easiest device to find seems to be the Gear VR, even easier than Google Cardboard.

Access to VR in those countries can be impossible due to customs regulations, or very expensive, for example in Argentina only the Gear VR is officially launched. Google Cardboard and plastic versions of the same concept are not a good replacement. Phone prices are quite high, and even then the devices don’t have a gyroscope in general.

It’s hard to explain that a $600 phone is not good enough for Google Cardboard, or that a shiny new iPhone is not good enough for VR. Did you buy the Moto Z Play? Well, tough luck you need the Moto Z to use Daydream. Complicated.

You can’t expect people to abandon their phone to try VR, maybe in the near future but not right now. Emerging markets and taxes make for a hostile environment for new tech.

A $199 device, taxed and marked up, at worst will be available at about $400~500, and that’s in the realm of affordable. Such a price can help push VR through the hurdles to consumers. The competition is not with high end VR but the marginal upgrade to a new phone or 5" more of TV screen.

The cheapest Macbook Pro 15" is $2400, that’s 12 Oculus Go headsets. The price is low enough to be part of common expenses that don’t require convincing the boss or a significant other. No need to promise results to justify the expense, it can be bought like a “sample platter”, and that’s where VR shines.

Marketing efforts that use VR will be able to get 3~4 more devices for the same budget, same for VR movie makers wanting to display productions with a quality device.

Families and friends will be able to play together on social VR for $398 ( two devices at least ). It can make all the difference in the world for many people, even in countries with complicated access to VR devices.

I don’t need to talk about education, do the math. Equip a school with 30 headsets for $6000.

Healthcare can benefit greatly too, for $199 it can be a world of difference for a bed bound person.

It’s not really about 6dof vs 3dof, it’s about 3dof vs ZERO degrees of freedom.

Experiences

The device might mainly be a Netflix private cinema for some users, it’s a very simple experience that just works. The improved thermal capabilities of standalone headsets are a big plus for this case. Hulu worked on a social viewing experience for GearVR and it’s a perfect fit.

180° stereo video has a solid chance with this price range, it looks incredible and high end productions are easier to justify.

360° video might see a lot of use, maybe not in high budget productions for a while ( due to how blurry it can look in sub 4K resolution) but homemade videos with the Gear360 camera, Ricoh Theta and the others. I’d love to see a resurgence of home video in that form, 360° video is a fantastic way to remember events.

The controller in Daydream and now Gear VR changed things dramatically, interacting with the world is not a neck training session anymore, and some experiences really take advantage of it, for example “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” , “ Elevator… to the Moon!”, “Ultrawings”, and many others.

It also has Minecraft. Minecraft in VR for $199 can be quite the thing by itself.

Dual 3dof controllers are my pet peeve. With a single controller the developer has to handle locomotion and interaction limiting the flow of many types of experiences. This could be easily solved with two controllers, as we all know already. Second controller sold separately ? Bluetooth gamepad support is a given I suppose. Keyboard and mouse support is a necessary addition for browsing and other non media uses, and it’s probably built in already.

That takes me to:

WebVR

GearVR supports WebVR in many browsers now with the Carmel, Samsung Internet and Chrome browsers for example.

A $199 entry to WebVR experiences can be transformative.

As I’ve talked in a previous post about the role of WebVR, this device can fit most of those usecases but limited in content creation due to the 3dof headset and controller. Not all is lost however.

The kind of content creation it might enable :

  • Asynchronous VR communication: Avatar messages, doodles.
  • Highlights in VR content : Navigating data visualization or architecture visualization and leaving voice messages, drawings, trail with the navigated zones, etc.
  • Assembling scenes from premade pieces.

The device storage might get full of quality apps from the store but there’s always some room to view a VR website, it’s like a VIP slot.

WebVR + $199 Oculus Go is the lowest friction you can get to new VR experiences. It’d be even lower if the device had a camera to scan QR codes.

Now, what makes standalones very special is that they are designed for pickup and play. Put it on, you are in VR, no fumbling with a phone to snap it in place, wiping off fingerprints, freeing memory and the usual smartphone rituals.

If your smartphone has less than 50% battery are you really going to risk it by doing VR with it? I think that most users won’t. Standalones don’t have this problem, they are just for VR.

Developers

Around the world developers and users are eagerly awaiting to invest their time and money in VR development and experiences. We never know where the next big thing is going to come from, and this might be a way for that to happen. WebVR goes hand in hand with casual experiences and the “pickupability” of standalones.

Multi user experiences will have more viability, it wouldn’t be absurd to expect 3 or 4 people for a match, even more!

Update: Carmack pointed out that it would be much easier for them to push upgrades to the Oculus Go, unlike the Gear VR, so faster patches and new techniques can reach the hands of consumers asap.

Gaming

“Asymmetric” multiplayer with high end VR and entry level VR is another interesting possibility. Smartphone + entry level VR multiplayer too. It’s a fertile zone to plant ideas right now, and I’m not talking of just games, datavis and archvis can benefit the most from this approach.

VR experiences can offer multi user experiences tailored for both high end PC and standalone VR, sharing the same space. For just $199 a Rift owner could play with a friend.

A Rift player driving a car and the Go player repairing a road and removing obstacles frantically so that the driver can reach a checkpoint.

A Rift player as Godzilla and Go players flying planes to defend the city.

A Rift player assembling a track and then race other Go players in a fantasy go-kart race ( Go Kart is a fitting name )

The possibilities are endless.

Closing thoughts

I’m interested in hybrid devices( standalones with video input) this device isn’t one, but it seems like a step in the right direction, it’s not just a price, it’s many things. It might be the Gameboy that VR needs.

The Oculus Go wants to be a Gear VR without a smartphone and that’s great.

Follow me and my adventures in Spatial Computing ( AR & VR ) and Blockchain developments.

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