Update: There are now a couple of different next generation VR headsets that Oculus is reportedly working on. Both of them are mid-range, wireless headsets, that will be significantly cheaper than the Rift. Since neither are going to have the power of the Rift we're treating them as an addition to the Oculus lineup, rather than the true successor that the Oculus Rift 2 will be.
Original article continues below...
When the Oculus Rift first launched it was game-changing. It introduced the world to truly breathtaking (and occasionally nausea-inducing) virtual reality. But shortly after it came out the HTC Vive was launched, and the Oculus has been living in the shadows ever since. Being first meant the Oculus shipped in a state that wasn’t quite ready.
The Xbox controller that came in the box felt at odds with the immersive nature of the medium, and there were no sensors to gauge where you were in a room, so you were effectively limited to sitting in a chair while you used it.
There have been some good developments since its launch – the Touch controllers are much more comfortable and intuitive, and additional Oculus Sensors improve the size of its playspace, but there's still more that can be done in the ever-evolving virtual reality market.
Here you'll find all the rumors currently doing the rounds about a potential successor, as well as all that we're hoping the Oculus Rift 2 will be.
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.
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 is interesting is that Facebook is reportedly working on two different VR headsets that are undoubtedly going to come out in the interim.
- which Facebook is already openly talking about - is a wireless VR headset with SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) used for room-scale motion tracking so you're able to actually move about in a virtual world.
which was revealed by Bloomberg, is yet to be officially announced. Currently going by the title 'Pacific' and targeted at users with more modest budgets; it is reportedly going to be $200 (about £150, AU$260) when it launches next year.
As both of these headsets are wireless, lower end headsets, they aren't direct follow-ups to the Rift. With , there is the possibility that Oculus is attempting to grow the VR audience base before launching another high-end, expensive VR headset.
The sensation that arguably takes you out of the VR experience more than anything else is looking down and not seeing your body, and 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.
As previously mentioned, using the Xbox controller that comes in the box feels completely unnatural, and while the Touch controllers are a vast improvement, 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.
This one comes via Mark Zuckerberg’s official Facebook account so you know it’s the real deal. In a 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 (more on that later) 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 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 is no way the Oculus, or any of its 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.
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 claim 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.
He admits that wireless is important, but that at the moment the unit is prohibitively expensive, and if a wireless headset makes it more expensive then it’s progress at the expense of sales, which is a terrible business model.
“If we’re going to have developers be happy in the ecosystem they need more consumers,” explains Rubin. “And right now consumers aren’t saying ‘yeah, I’m waiting for wireless for VR’, what they’re saying is ‘I love it! Can you bring it down to a price that I can stomach?’ So for us that’s the most important thing for us to do.”
That said, in Zuckerberg's aforementioned Facebook post he definitely doesn’t have a hefty tail of cables sprouting out the back of the headset he's wearing. Of course it’s possible that this is a prototype of either the Santa Cruz or Pacific headset.
There is 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.
Rubin has this to say on the matter: “They’re getting it, not to say it doesn’t work, but it’s compressed, it’s not perfect and it’s expensive – it’s $200 for this transmission box. Well, people want higher-resolution screens, so if we go wireless and then we decide we’re going to increase the resolution of the screens, now all of a sudden we may have to go back to a wire... We’re just not sure this ad hoc ‘here’s an idea, here’s an idea, it’s $100-$200 for each,’ is a way to get more consumers into VR.”
There's no getting away from it – the Oculus Rift is prohibitively expensive. But, given Rubin's comments, the Oculus Rift 2 is aiming to be less so. The other possibility is that by the time the Rift 2 comes out, there will be options for every budget, and if you want the highest quality, you have to pay a higher price.
A major thing that Oculus can do to make the Rift 2 more appealing when it launches is to stop selling each individual accessory separately; the touch controllers are really the only way to play, and being able to get up out of a chair is a must for a technology that's about exploring immersive worlds, so making these additional purchases feels unfair.
Hopefully, whatever developments the Oculus Rift 2 launches with, they'll all be included in the box.