On Wednesday, May 6th, Oculus VR confirmed the consumer version of their headset will commencing shipping in the first quarter of 2016, with pre-ordering due to start later in 2015.
The announcement ends months of speculation on when the consumer version of the headset might be available, with many originally predicting it would be ready for Christmas 2014 and then Christmas 2015. Despite such speculation, Oculus VR has always carefully avoided mentioning any approximate idea release dates. As I reported in these pages, even as recently as November 2014, Oculus VR Brendan Iribe was playing down any idea of any (then) near-term release of the headset:
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.
That something might be afoot by way of announcements was initially hinted at in a May 5th Tweet in which Palmer Luckey commented I love it when a plan comes together!
This brought an inevitable run of replies, many seeing it as a hint about the Oculus CV1 (as the consumer version of the headset has sometimes been referred to), including the humorous response seen on the right regarding the headset’s form factor.
Details of the headset are rather scant in the announcement and the images a little on the dark side (I’ve lightened the contrast on them below), with the release merely stating:
The Oculus Rift builds on the presence, immersion, and comfort of the Crescent Bay prototype with an improved tracking system that supports both seated and standing experiences, as well as a highly refined industrial design, and updated ergonomics for a more natural fit.
No details on pricing or quite when in 2015 people will be able to start pre-ordering the headset, and there are certainly no details on the technical aspects of the headset. However, one potentially interesting aspect of the announcement has already sparked some speculation, as it refers to the upcoming release as, “a fully-integrated hardware/software tech stack designed specifically for virtual reality”. This has prompted Techcrunch to comment:
There’s no mention of a third-party computer necessary to power the Rift, which previous Oculus developer kits required. That means the Rift might ship with a game console-esque device to handle computing for the headset. An all-in-one box could make virtual reality much more accessible to consumers, especially those who don’t own a high-grade gaming PC.
In terms of specification, the announcement was equally enigmatic, stating, “we’ll be revealing the details around hardware, software, input, and many of our unannounced made-for-VR games and experiences coming to the Rift”, with the last part of this statement leading Techcrunch to also speculate whether Oculus VR might also announce a line of in-house developed games to go with the launch.
Given the backgrounds of many of those involved in the company, such an idea might not be wild speculation. As it is, it is already known that Oculus VR is helping to develop immersive movie experiences. Furthermore, in February 2015 it was confirmed that Facebook is developing VR apps, with Chief Product Officer Chris Cox saying that experiences as varied as flying a fighter jet to sitting in a Mongolian yurt would serve as inspiration, and describing the technology as “sending a fuller picture … You’ll do it, Beyoncé will do it”. Ergo, Oculus VR-branded games are not beyond the realm of possibly.
What the announcement does more-or-less mean is that unless something unexpected happens, the Oculus Rift will definitely be available after HTC / Valve have started shipping their own Vive headset, which looks set to hit the market around the same time as Samsung’s (Oculus-enabled) Gear VR2, towards the end of 2015.
While there has been a lot of hype about the possible demand for what is effectively a first generation headset from Oculus VR, there have also been some notes of caution sounded in some quarters. As gamesindustry.biz notes, Ben Schachter, a Macquarie Research analyst wrote to Facebook investors, stating:
While there is not yet any info on pricing or available units, we expect relatively small number of units and think that the initial device will be supply constrained. We think that the early versions of the device will be more about showing what is possible from gaming and other entertainment genres, and build demand for later versions of the device.
Mr. Schachter isn’t alone. While price may no longer be a limiting factor in obtaining a headset, Jacki Morie, herself a VR pioneer (and whose work has been featured in this blog a number of times) recently warned that care should be taken in how the potential for VR is promoted, in particular pointing to things like an Oculus VR sponsored art contest as a means to send out completely the wrong message about VR to a wider mass market audience and potentially damaging the technology’s credibility as a useful tool.
I actually doubt the wheels will seriously come off the cart with VR this time around, bad marketing campaigns and the like notwithstanding, although Jacki clearly has a point about getting the right message out there in the first place. However, I do tend to think that Mr. Schachter’s comment about the build-up of demand is well put. VR will profoundly alter many ways of doing things for all of us in time; but the the speculation and hype that will not follow Oculus VR’s announcement aside, it’s still going to be a few years or so before we see VR as being as ubiquitous a piece of technology in our daily lives as we do the mobile ‘phone today.