Can the Oculus Rift 2 reclaim the VR throne?
Oculus Rift has changed how we think about and use virtual reality. By making VR more accessible and relatively affordable, Oculus Rift has brought virtual worlds to the masses.
As transformative as Oculus Rift has been, it’s also been overshadowed by the HTC Vive, which we’ve deemed the best VR headset you can buy. This is due in large part to the Vive’s superior room-scale tracking.
Turns out, being first meant Oculus Rift shipped in a state that wasn’t quite ready. It has, however, come a long way in bridging the gap to its potential, including introducing intuitive Touch controllers, additional Oculus Sensors, and a lower price. What’s more, the tide in usage seems to be turning in Oculus Rift’s favor, at least according to the most recent Steam hardware survey.
But when will we see the Oculus Rift 2? That’s a loaded question. It’s possible we’ve already seen Oculus Rift 2 in the form of the tetherless Project Santa Cruz. On the other hand, Oculus Rift 2 could end up being a proper evolution of Oculus Rift, PC-cable and all.
Here you’ll find all the rumors currently doing the rounds about a potential Oculus Rift successor, as well as all that we’re hoping the Oculus Rift 2 will be.
- Check out our Oculus Rift review
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A follow-up to the Oculus Rift VR headset
- When is it out? No hardware has yet been announced
- What will it cost? We’d hope that it’s less than the Oculus Rift
With no official announcement about the release of Oculus Rift 2 yet, it’s unclear when we’re going to see the follow-up to Facebook’s VR headset (Facebook owns Oculus).
As we’re on the first generation for VR headsets, there’s still speculation about which update model Oculus, and the industry in general, will follow – it could be something like the phone model, with yearly updates, or something closer to the console model, with updates every six years or so.
What we do know is that Facebook plans to release one new headset in 2018, along with shipping out developer kits of Project Santa Cruz this year.
Facebook’s standalone Oculus Go headset is set to launch in “early 2018,” which, you must admit, is starting to run out. Oculus Go works without a PC or a smartphone, joining the recent wave of all-in-one VR headsets. We wouldn’t classify Oculus Go as the Oculus Rift 2 considering the marked differences (not to mention name) between the two devices.
Project Santa Cruz, meanwhile, is supposed to be arriving on developer doorsteps in early 2018, which likely pushes a consumer release date to no earlier than the end of the year. Our bet is that we’ll hear more about the Oculus Go and Project Santa Cruz release dates at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in early May.
It’s important to note that HTC recently announced the HTC Vive Pro headset, the upgraded next generation of the HTC Vive. With improved resolution and comfort (and built-in headphones!), it’s set to offer an even better VR experience than Vive. Due out this year, the HTC Vive Pro puts pressure on Oculus to launch its own upgraded headset before long.
Just like everything else about the headset, the Oculus Rift 2 price is an unknown. Our best guess is that it won’t be too much more expensive than the Oculus Rift, though chances are you will pay more for it than the original Rift.
The Oculus Rift with Touch controllers costs $399/£399 (around AU$640). The standalone Oculus Go is set to cost $199 (about £150 / AU$255). Project Santa Cruz’s price is currently unknown, but chances are it will be more expensive than the current Oculus Rift.
Where that leaves Oculus Rift 2 is a mystery, should the headset be a different device than Project Santa Cruz. Like we said, it probably won’t be that much more expensive than the first Oculus Rift, but it will cost more.
As for its competitors, it’s also unknown how much the HTC Vive Pro will cost. It’s price could also be a factor in the Oculus Rift 2’s pricing.
The sensation that arguably takes you out of the VR experience more than anything else is looking down and not seeing your body. This is further compounded when you try to use your hands and they don’t appear – we’re so used to being able to physically interact with our surroundings in real life that having our hands suddenly taken away from us is seriously unsettling.
Though Touch controllers, now bundled in the box with Rift, do improve feeling more immersed in the virtual worlds of Oculus Rift, being able to use your own hands as controllers would be ideal.
As sci-fi as the idea seems, there is a chance this could become a reality, as Oculus has been steadily buying up companies that specialize in hand-tracking technology since Facebook acquired the company in 2014.
Below is the Kickstarter video from one of these companies, Nimble…
The Verge reported the purchase of these companies before the launch of the first Oculus Rift, so there is an argument that if the technology was going to exist that it would already exist, but we’re still hopeful.
What’s more, companies like Qualcomm are making strides in hand tracking, as we saw at GDC 2017 with the chip maker’s VR reference design headset. As more headsets adopt hand tracking, Oculus could do well to implement the tech in the next version of its headset.
This one comes via Mark Zuckerberg’s official Facebook account so you know it’s the real deal. In a 2017 post full of tantalizing half-reveals, the Facebook CEO shows himself sat wearing a pair of white gloves and what looks like a wireless Oculus headset while doing a spiderman web-shooting hand gesture.
In the accompanying caption he wrote: “We’re working on new ways to bring your hands in virtual and augmented reality. Wearing these gloves, you can draw, type on a virtual keyboard, and even shoot webs like Spider Man. That’s what I’m doing here.”
If you’re thinking the mention of gloves means no controller-free future for VR, there is another possibility. If there was some way of building haptic feedback into the gloves, it would mean that you’d be able to physically interact with objects in the virtual world.
Haptic feedback is probably most familiar at the moment in the form of small vibrations that phones make to respond to touch, but there’s currently very interesting work being done on how haptic feedback could make you feel as though you’re bearing the physical weight of a digital object.
Another thing that Zuckerberg mentioned in his Facebook post is the possibility of eye-tracking technology being integrated into the Oculus Rift.
At the moment there’s no way the Oculus, or any of its prime competitors for that matter, can identify what you’re looking at in the virtual world; currently everything has to be in focus all the time, requiring massive processing power and robbing the user of realistic depth-of-field focus.
In real life, if you’re looking at your hand in front of your face the rest of the world is slightly out of focus, and if you then look at something in the background your hand goes out of focus. In filmmaking, specific focal lengths are chosen to mimic the focal length of the human eye, and seeing focal length brought into VR would be a massive step towards making the virtual world feel more real.
Qualcomm, for one, utilizes foveated rendering in its reference design headsets, meaning only what the user is looking at is in full focus. This allows developers to exercise the full breadth of their creativity, says Qualcomm, without eating up a ton of processing power. Others, including Google, are working on this technique as well.
Once eye tracking becomes a feature, users will also be able to focus on objects without moving their head to look at them, which, while small on paper, we think would feel massive in reality.
Eye tracking also opens the door for game developers to play with the idea of a game’s AI being able to know where you’re looking – imagine interacting with a character in a game that actually knows whether you’re looking at them or not.
Focal surface display
Oculus has released a paper about an experimental technique for creating depth of field in VR called ‘focal surface display’. The paper itself is fascinating but very dense. Helpfully, Oculus has made a video explaining what focal surface display is and how it works. Check it out below:
The long and the short of it is that an element can sit between the screen and the lens that can manipulate the light so that it creates the illusion of true visual depth. According to the paper this will create a more natural experience than simply using eye tracking and then digitally affecting the focus of the screen element being viewed.
Oculus claims that focal surface display will eliminate the effects of vergence-accommodation conflict (VEC), which is basically the difficulty that your eyes have looking at a single distance that is displaying multiple distances with no retinal blur.
In the paper, VEC “has been attributed as a source of visual discomfort: viewers report eye strain, blurred vision, and headaches with prolonged viewing” so the elimination of VEC could solve one of the problems that many users have struggled with in current VR headsets.
Wireless Oculus Rift
One of the things that anyone who’s spent time with the Oculus ends up wanting is a wireless headset. Oculus’ VP of content, Jason Rubin, has previously commented in an interview with PCGamesN that getting the Oculus down in price is more important than making a wireless headset.
Now that the Oculus Rift with Touch controllers is down to $399/£399 (around AU$640), is Oculus finally ready to cut the cable and make Oculus Rift completely tetherless going forward?
The company’s road map would seem to suggest so, considering Project Santa Cruz is being billed as Oculus’ latest and greatest headset, and it lacks wires.
There is currently kit on the market that you can buy that converts your Rift into a wireless headset, but the obvious drawback is that in order to transmit and receive the VR signal, a certain amount of compression needs to take place.
This would inevitably affect gameplay, and if the Oculus Rift 2 has higher resolution than the Oculus Rift this problem will only get worse.
In our time with the wire-free Project Santa Cruz, we found the visuals to be crisp and not lagging, with only the slightest drop down in quality from the original Oculus Rift. We weren’t playing the most taxing games with the headset, however, so more extensive testing will be needed to see how the resolution stacks up once we get our hands on the final version.
The Oculus Rift has come a long way since it first launched in 2016, including releasing controllers, more sensors and undergoing a hefty price cut.
The stage is set for Oculus Rift 2 to expand upon the groundwork lain by Oculus Rift, such as introducing hand tracking, haptic-feedback gloves and eye tracking.
For us, there are two big questions: Will Oculus Rift 2 have a wire? And, how much will it cost?
It’s still unclear if Project Santa Cruz is the Oculus Rift 2, or if the latter will be a separate device. It could really go either way; Oculus could introduce an updated headset that still has a cable, just like the HTC Vive Pro, or it could launch Project Santa Cruz as Oculus Rift 2, no tether in sight.
2018 is poised to be a big year for Oculus with the launch of Oculus Go and Project Santa Cruz reaching developers. It may be too soon to expect Oculus Rift 2 as well, but you never know. Sometimes these things happen faster than you know it.