The story of Oculus VR’s direct command of the revival of modern virtual reality (VR) has been told many times. From literally kickstarting the industry back in 2013, through an acquisition by the largest global social media platform and a perhaps inevitable changing of the guard, Oculus VR has managed to remain ahead of the pack in defining what will make consumer VR a reality, and in 2018 that’s not likely to change.
The deck as it stands is not stacked in Oculus VR’s favour. While many keenly suggest that the recent Steam statistics demonstrate the Oculus Rift gaining ground on the HTC Vive in terms of unit sales, neither party has been releasing official sales figures making it hard to judge with any certainty. Regardless, both PC head-mounted displays (HMDs) would struggle to argue being able to truly compete with PlayStation VR’s two million unit sales at this point. That and any misgivings about the difficulty of manufacturing hardware aside, Oculus VR are already ahead in 2018 simply by way of having already shown their hand.
As with many industries, VR is keen to adopt a mobile presence to cater for the increasingly demanding lifestyles of young professionals. The Oculus Go is an all-in-one unit that does not need a PC to power it, nor a smartphone to be inserted. The specifications of the HMD have, at this point, not yet been revealed, however the current belief among the development community is that the system will feature processing power similar to the Samsung Galaxy S8. This in itself would be a generous enough basis for the system, however given that most of the CPU within the Samsung Galaxy S8 is spent on other activities – such as, for example, being a phone – the Oculus Go already has a headstart over the Samsung Gear VR.
Oculus VR’s recent announcement concerning a partnership with Xiaomi is essentially a rebranding of the Oculus Go for the China market, set to be known as the Mi VR. In an undeniably shrewd move, this partnership will allow the American company access to a large audience that otherwise could be near-impenetrable to it, whilst still only requiring the same single manufacturing process as the Oculus Go.
The Oculus Go stands to redefine mobile VR as an affordable all-in-one HMD – retailing for $199 USD, the same price point as the original Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition back in 2015 – and set to launch early this year. The closest competitor at this point is HTC’s Vive Focus, which although was sooner to pass-the-post in China, has yet to have any plans for its international launch revealed.
Project Santa Cruz
For any VR aficionado the Oculus Go may seem like a step backwards. And it is, essentially; it’s a Samsung Gear VR redesigned and repurposed as an entry-level device. There’s of course nothing wrong with that, but for the core VR audience it simply can’t stand-up to the experiences that can currently be had with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even the PlayStation VR. Instead, it’s the Santa Cruz that looks set to define high-end VR in 2018. Even if it may be somewhat late to the party.
Santa Cruz was originally unveiled at Oculus Connect 3, where VRFocus was suitably impressed by the device even if it was obviously flawed. A year later at Oculus Connect 4 the HMD re-emerged as a ready-to-go unit, and performed spectacularly well. Again, Oculus VR has been cagey about exactly what computational power the Santa Cruz houses – after all, with many months until its consumer launch, this may well change – but the fact that its reaching for high-end untethered VR is arguably a better alternative to wireless adapters for existing HMDs.
Software for All
That Oculus VR is investing heavily in videogame titles and exclusive content is nothing new. A recent tweet from Jason Rubin, VP of Content at Oculus VR, to VRFocus stated that ‘My team has multiple Multi-million dollar Rift titles in the works, our largest investments yet.’
However, if VR is to achieve truly mainstream appeal it needs to reach beyond videogames. Colum Slevin, Oculus VR’s head of experiences, recently stated; “We’re re-energized for 2018, working with storytellers and creators in VR to bring the best stories out and help creators and storytellers bring their best foot forward.
“We’re continuing to get more selective about the types of projects [we support]. I’m hopeful that that seal of approval, and that special glow still comes along… but we’re definitely focused on trying to elevate the community at large, which is where the diversity of styles come in. Mainly because I don’t think there’s one way to skin this cat, I don’t think there’s one style, one tone, one technical approach that’s going to crack VR wide open. It’s going to come from a hybrid approach, from a [variety] of experiences.”
Exactly what this slate of different experiences will include is not currently known, but Oculus VR has been visibly keen to encourage short animated films in VR, even after closing its own Oculus Story Studio.
Of course, in addition to all of this comes the powerhouse behind Oculus VR: Facebook. While the branding has become more obvious in recent years Oculus VR remains an independent part of the business, operating with some of the best minds in the videogame industry at the helm. 2018 may be another year in which Oculus VR aches for success beyond that of its peers, but in reality it’s a year where the company is already light-years ahead in identifying what VR will look like over the next 12 months.