Oculus VR: of debuts and acquisitions

The Oculus Crescent Bay prototype showing the Samsung Gear-type head harness with motion tracking sensors on the back and the integrated headphones
The Oculus Crescent Bay prototype showing the Samsung Gear-type head harness with motion tracking sensors on the back and the integrated headphones

As is to be expected, Oculus VR are attending the International Consumer Electronics Show 2015, which is once again being held in Las Vegas, Nevada, through until January 9th, 2015, where the latest headset prototype  – Crescent Bay  – is undergoing its “public debut”, and the company’s CEO, Brendan Iribe took time out to discuss the prototype and more with Techcrunch’s Darrell Etherington.

“Crescent Bay is a huge leap from Oculus Rift DK2,” Iribe informs Etherington at the start of their 6-minute discussion. “And it increases all the different parts, whether it’s resolution, precision, the positional tracking, the latency, the optics themselves, everything really takes a big jump, and it really finally delivers what we’ve been talking about for a long time, this pursuit of presence. It finally delivers on that presence that we feel is good enough for consumers.”

So, does that mean he’s revising his comment at November’s Web summit conference about the consumer version of the headset being “many months” away?

Oculus is again a major presence at the International CES in Las Vegas
Oculus is again a major presence at the International CES in Las Vegas

Well, probably not. While no outright statement on time frames is given, it’s fair to say the the company is still putting a consumer release as some way down the road.

For one thing, the next immediate target is getting an audio SDK to developers to allow them to get to grips with the capabilities of Crescent Bay’s 3D immersive audio system. However, it’s liable to be another “few months” before that happens. For another, while the company feel they are now “close” to having a headset that is, technology-wise, to being consumer-ready, Iribe also notes the audio is at a “minimum” the company requires of a consumer product, and also that no decision on what they’ll actually be shipping as a consumer product as yet been made: it might be “just” the headset, or it might be the headset and an input system / device.

When speaking to Peter Rubin at the Web Summit in Dublin in November (linked to above), Iribe made it clear that input had become a “big focus” for the company, which they were “R&Ding”. He restates part of this to Etherington, which suggests they may still be leaning towards headset + input system / device, although he also noted that the company is not yet ready to discuss matters of input in public.

In terms of a suitable software library being available in time for any launch so – another consideration in determining when to launch the consumer product – Iribe indicates the company is “very happy” with the progress that is being made, suggesting this is less of a concern as they gradually move towards a consumer release.

December 2014 also saw Oculus VR announce two acquisitions, together with a major new hire in the form of motion capture expert Chris Bregler, who joins the company as “Director of Vision Research”.

Prior to their acquistion, Nimble VR were developing a hand tracking system for use with the Oculus Rift. This is somewhat relevant to the issue of input systems, as it allows the user to see their hands in the virtual space, and so interact with objects.

Nimble VR’s hand tracking system has relevance in matters of VR input systems (image: Nimble VR)

13th Lab has been combining a mobile ‘phone’s camera and gyroscope with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology. Oculus VR describes the work as, “developing an efficient and accurate real-time 3D reconstruction framework”, and noting, “the ability to acquire accurate 3D models of the real-world can enable all sorts of new applications and experiences, like visiting a one-to-one 3D model of the pyramids in Egypt or the Roman Colosseum in VR.”

Prior to the acquisition, 13th Lab were perhaps best known for their early 2014 Kickstarter campaign focused on their Rescape “reality gaming platform”. This used the technology to map real-world environments, and the movement of individuals within that environment, and integrate it in real time directly into first-person shooter game play.

What is liable to be carried forward from Nimble VR and 13th Lab into the Oculus Rift, and whether any of it may influence thinking around the release of the consumer product (at least in terms of Nimble VR’s work) is unclear. In making their December 2014 announcement, Oculus VR would only note that, “Nimble VR, 13th Lab, and Chris will all be winding down their existing projects to focus on VR full-time at Oculus as part of both product engineering and Oculus Research.”