Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus VR was at the Web Summit event in Dublin Ireland at the start of November, where he sat down for a conversation with Wired’s Peter Rubin to discuss the latest state of play about the Oculus Rift, VR in general – and to deliver a small warning to others also involved in the headset market. He also indicated that the consumer version of Oculus Rift isn’t necessarily as close to reaching the market as some might think.
In terms of the Oculus Rift, he was upbeat about the latest prototype version, Crescent Bay, which appeared in September and which is said to be a “massive leap” forward in comparison to the Oculus DK2 hardware that shipped to developers in June and July.
Crescent Bay incorporates 360-degree positional head tracking through the inclusion of sensors on the back of the redesigned and improved head harness, higher resolution, wider field of view, a lighter body, and integrated audio (via Realspace 3D). Iribe said of the new prototype, “Crescent Bay is where it all begins: that quality level.”
However, he also cautioned against people getting too excited over thought that the Rift is just around the corner. “What can I say on that?” he replied to Peter Rubin’s enquiry as to when a consumer version might appear. He went on:
We want to get it right. We really do. We’ve gone out there and we’ve set this bar and said, “we are going to get it right, and we’re not going to ship until we get it right” … We’re getting very close … We want it to be a beautiful product; there’s no reason it can’t be a beautiful product … so we still have a way to go, and we’re still working on a number of things, but we’re getting much closer. We like to say it’s months, not necessarily years, away [but] it’s many months, not a few months.
He then continued, “Crescent Bay, I’ll go on the record as saying that hardware-wise for the headset, it’s arguably almost there for the consumer product, and now there’s a few other parts. So we are finalising the specifications for that consumer version, and the headset is largely finalised.”
One of the issues remaining in the way of a launch doesn’t lie with the headset – it is squarely down to the suitability of input devices. Iribe notes that keyboard, game pads and even gesture devices aren’t ideal; there needs to be some form of visual element (e.g. seeing your hands), and there needs to be a tactile element as well. People need to be able to touch, feel, and sense a button reacting to being pressed.He went on to say:
We’re trying to focus now on is, what is that VR input? Where does VR input begin? We don’t know the final Holy Grail of VR input; we have kind-of any idea of VR vision being a pair of sunglasses, which we’d like to get to [but] VR input, we’re still R&Ding, we’re still looking at. But that’s definitely a big focus for us.
The implication of his comments, and those that follow an observation made somewhat in jest by Rubin suggest that Oculus VR may be looking to develop their own input device, or perhaps work in close partnership with another company in the development of an “Oculus ready” (my term, not Iribe’s) device. Certianly, having grown from employing just 50 people prior to Facebook acquiring them, to almost 250 personnel today, it is not inconceivable that Oculus VR may be poking at ideas for its own inpute device.
The subject of VR’s “killer application” also comes up in the conversation, and Iribe states he feels it is too early to really say, although he acknowledges it will initially have a big rooting in games and entertainment – hardly surprising, given the Rift’s pedigree. “There’ll be a market of a lot of really fun entertainment experiences in VR where you’ll feel like you’re in the game or in the movie, and it’s going to be awesome,” he said.
But in terms of going mainstream, he very much sees VR’s future hinging on communications:
For me, the real media where this is going to really transform the world long-term, is when we can have face-to-face communications…. Most people travel, and we get on airplanes and cars to go have face-to-face communications… If you could, in the future throw on a pair of sunglasses, and we can have that same conversation with people around the world, all feeling like you’re in the same place, face-to-face, looking at each other, looking at each other’s eyes, looking in each other’s mouths; we may look like funny little avatars, we may look a little more human… that’s really transformative.
Were this to happen, and VR offer the same ease of use and access to communications and information as the smartphone, Iribe is convinced it could have as deep an impact on the way we communicate as the mobile ‘phone itself. “To have virtual reality where you can have these face-to-face communications, that’s going to appeal to billions of people,” he said.
However, he also had a warning for other companies also trying to bring VR headsets to the market – there have already been at least two Oculus clones making waves (the ANTVR being one), with Sony also working on its Morpheus headset for the PS4. And that warning is: don’t launch until you’ve solved the problem of motion sickness. In giving the warning, Iribe seemed to be particularly focused on Sony.
We’re really looking forward to this as an industry, and looking forward to it being an industry that takes off… We’re really looking forward to more people jumping into the VR space, and we’re doing our best to be very open, supporting others. At the same time we’re a little worried about some of the bigger companies putting out product that isn’t quite ready. That elephant in the room is disorientation and motion sickness. That’s something I view as, two or three years from now, will really be behind us… We feel pretty confident that our consumer product will have solved that; and we’re really encouraging other companies, especially big companies, “don’t put out a product until you have solved that!”
To this end, Oculus VR’s openness on matter has been such that they’ve invited senior representatives from Sony to come and learn from the lessons the company gained from users’ experiences with the DK1 and the DK2 and to see the Crescent Bay prototype ahead of its launch, offering them the advice that they should “make sure your product is as good or close!”
Elsewhere in the interview, Iribe gives some fascinating insight into a number of topics, including his role as CEO of Oculus VR, the impact of being acquired by Facebook, the company’s relationship with the VR community, the worries those within the company had (rightly so as it turned out) over the potential backlash they’d face if they accepted Facebook’s offer, and more. All of which makes for a fascinating 19-and-a-half minutes viewing.