New Lower Price, Next-Gen Rift, and Plenty More Announced at Oculus Connect

Today is a big day for Oculus as its annual Oculus Connect conference kicks off.  The opening press conference brought a number of announcements with it concerning the future of Oculus’ VR hardware, and while there’s not much revolutionary in here it’s a good look at the planned evolution of the format.  The event went over two new upcoming hardware initiatives, changes to the basic user experience, and even some upcoming games.  There were as many, if not more, questions left unanswered by the new information, but that’s the problem with wanting to know the future- sometimes it’s not ready yet.

For right now, the big change is a new price-point for the Oculus Rift with Touch bundle, which is now permanently $400.  The official announcement on the blog says up front that this is a direct response to the summer sale and the excellent response it saw, and seeing as the future of VR is dependent on getting the hardware into as many people’s hands as possible it’s a good move and should pay off nicely over the holidays.

Also working towards growing the VR audience is Oculus Go, an all-in-one VR headset fairly similar to Gear VR except without the need for a smartphone.  Gear VR content is compatible with the Go, although the blog post stops short of saying everything will automatically work but rather “…the best of our mobile VR content library will be available to everyone on day one.”  At $200 it’s an attractive price, but one that brings a world of questions with it.  The main one is that cheap VR has its audience because you can pop the screen out and it turns back into your cell phone, so will consumers go for this in the same way they did Gear VR?  More information on Oculus Go comes out in 2018, which isn’t the same as the headset arriving that year but it seems likely.

Santa Cruz is being set up to be Oculus Go’s big brother, another all-in-one package with more muscle behind it.  When originally shown off last year it had a mini-PC strapped to the back of the user’s head, which is perfectly fine for prototyping but not too useful for retail.  It’s all integrated now, but the main thrust of the presentation was the Touch controllers v.2.  In the current handset design the circle hangs down over your fingers, which is more than good enough for an external sensor pointing at you as you play, but with four sensors now in the headset the rings sticks up over your thumbs instead, making it much easier for the Rift to see.  The controllers also appear to have completely replaced the thumbsticks with trackpads.  Hopefully this means the thumb position means no longer accidentally hitting the home button while moving, but that’s for hands-on experience to discover.  Whether these would replace the current Touch controllers for the next model of the Rift is unknown, especially seeing as Oculus hasn’t said a word about any potential hardware revisions for the now-$400 unit.

The rest of the announcements were all software-oriented, from big new games to the Core 2.0 upgrade.  That latter piece of news covers a couple of major changes, the first of which is the upcoming ability to customize the central area surrounding the list of games and other programs that’s usually ignored because you can’t do anything with it.  If Oculus has it’s way you’ll be spending a bit more time in there with the other major piece of the upgrade, Oculus Dash, which is a VR solution to the PC desktop inside the headset.  The video shows a standing user leafing through games and programs with the Touch controllers, and while it looks nice there are still a lot of questions to answer about practical usage.  Anyone who’s read text in VR knows we’ll be needing a bit better resolution before that’s comfortable for any amount heavy-duty work.  Dash is designed to work both with Oculus apps and your normal desktop programs, and while at the moment I wouldn’t want to read this article inside a headset these updates are paving the way for future developments.  Oculus wants 1,000,000,000 VR users out there (that’s one billion, which seems optimistic in 2017 but only because of the price and hardware constraints of today) and the work it’s doing is all focused on building towards a world where that’s possible.  It may be a long way off, and everyone is aware it could all go wrong, but with the right tools, hardware, user experience, and price, maybe it’s an achievable goal.