The 5 biggest VR announcements from Oculus Connect 4

It’s been a year and a half since the Oculus Rift launched, and the VR market hasn’t quite exploded in mass market popularity yet – but the company has some new tactics in the works.

We got a glimpse of Oculus’ plans at Oculus Connect, its annual developers’ conference. And while many of the announcements were very dev-focused (i.e. technical and boring to you, the prospective consumer), there were some significant reveals that could help VR finally break big into the mainstream.

Chief among them? A cheap, self-contained VR headset that doesn’t need a PC, smartphone, or game console. Nice. But that’s not all – here’s a quick look at all of the biggest stories from the event.

1) GET READY TO GO

Oculus Go is the name of that headset, and unlike the PC-tethered Oculus Rift or the smartphone-holding Gear VR, this headset needs no additional hardware. The Go has everything in one: a screen and a brain, and the hardware and strap to put it on your face and keep it there for immersive VR experiences.

It sounds rather impressive, too. It looks much like the Oculus Rift, and it packs in a crisp 2560×1440 LCD display with a speedy refresh rate to cut down on nausea. And it’ll play Gear VR content, too, so there’s already a wealth of good stuff available.

We don’t know what other kind of tech is within Oculus Go, but if it runs Gear VR stuff, then it should at least be on par with, say, a Samsung Galaxy S6. How does Oculus plan to sell this for just $199 (about R2,000)? We don’t know, but if that pans out, it should provide a shot in the arm to the VR industry when it releases early next year.

2) STANDALONE VR’S NEXT MOVE

Oculus Go is the company’s first attempt at a standalone headset, but they’re already thinking about the next big step forward – and possibly the future of the industry. First revealed last year, the Santa Cruz headset prototype uses inside-out tracking, with cameras on the headset itself that can track your motions and translate them into in-game actions.

And now it has six-degrees-of-freedom motion controllers, allowing Rift-like tracking and actions without the need for external trackers. Everything happens within the headset itself. It’s like Oculus Go Plus, but it’s still a ways out: developers will get access in 2018, but there’s no word yet on a proper consumer release.

3) THE RIFT STAYS CHEAP (IN PLACES)

Well, not cheap – but cheaper, certainly. Oculus dropped the combined (overseas) price of the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers to $399 earlier this year to help jumpstart sales, and this week the company announced that it’ll remain the standard price going forward. It’ll still cost you R15,100 here in SA, though.

That makes the Rift experience just about the same as the competing HTC Vive, which is currently selling for R14,700. Of course, you’ll need a pretty beefy PC to use the Rift (unlike the Go), but now that it’s been on the market for some time, every part of this equation is much cheaper than it’s ever been. If you’re an American. Hopefully we score ourselves a price-drop soon.

4) MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME

And the Rift is getting some new upgrades – software upgrades, at least. The new Rift Core 2.0 update in December will bring fresh Dash functionality, which lets you access your entire PC’s apps (including web browsing) in your VR space. You’ll be able to pull up windows and manage your PC in the VR world with the Touch controllers – very Minority Report-esque.

The Core 2.0 update will also finally let you customize the Oculus Home interface, moving it away from an unchangeable backdrop to a proper environment of your own making. You can wander around, decorate it, and even interact with little games and activities right in the Home space.

5) BIG EXPERIENCES ARE COMING

We’re still waiting for game developers and content creators to embrace VR in a big way, but Oculus is continuing to make small steps in the right direction. They announced some big pieces on the horizon: a Coco experience based on the upcoming Disney/Pixar film, for example, another Blade Runner 2049 experience, and a Stranger Things tie-in for the Face Your Fears game.

But the biggest announcement was surely that of a partnership with Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment on a “major VR title” for Oculus in 2019. It’ll be something totally new (albeit still combat-centric), and given the timeframe there, hopefully very significant as well. It’s nice to see a heavy-hitter like Respawn making this kind of move with Oculus.

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