Friday, September 25, 2015

Oculus Connect CV1 Day 2

Lots of good news going around, and I didn't even get to go through most of it (CANNOT WAIT to immerse myself in John Carmack's talk, I'm getting chills). I mostly heard coverage of information to that which was discussed in the initial conference as well as a few tidbits here and there that caught media. I'll go over what I heard first then go into my thoughts so let's kick this off.

The main conference for Oculus that took place at 10:00 AM PST today went over a variety of things, though from a standpoint of actual things that will immediately have an impact on us versus the research and software, there were 3 things that stood out to me: Oculus Ready and , the MineCraft and Netflix announcements, and the Gear VR's Price and Range. More like 5 here, but I want to expand upon why these 5 have me at the edge of my seat in glee.

Oculus Ready is a program Oculus is working on in conjunction with hardware partners to create a certification that a PC can handle the Oculus Rift CV1's software. With price points starting below $1000, manufacturers have hardware SKUs that a PC illiterate consumer will be able to use as a guideline when they want to purchase a VR computer. Rather than having to learn about what an i5 processor and GTX 970 are, you'll just be able to look for the Oculus certification and be able to make your purchase confident that the device you'll be getting should be able to run the Oculus Rift. Arguably, one could say that anyone going into VR at this stage is probably going to be knowledgeable enough about computers to be able to know this, but I encourage you to look at this from another perspective. What do we do about all the content creators out there that aren't hardware literate enough to actually know the specifics of the hardware? I know plenty of people out there that are artistic deities with a stylus and Photoshop, but don't have the first clue about what their computer components contribute to their experience. They're talented at using computer software and generating content, but simply don't have the hardware expertise to know what to pick out when shopping for a computer. I know plenty of people that have gone and bough Macs because they "knew" that Macs were better for art. Whatever you may think about the matter, ( don't want to rile up the Mac vs PC arguments) these kinds of content creators would be best served by the Oculus certified designation as they'll be able to pick out hardware they can be sure will suit their needs. This is especially important for the CV1 as it does not support Mac or Linux, so hardware illiterate users need a means to choose hardware that will suit their needs since PCs don't have a set few hardware SKUs like Macs to pick from that users would be able to "know" are high end. With this, said SKUs will be much more obviously defined and can be more directly accessed from a centered point if Oculus adds a section to their sites with links to the pages for the SKUs and partners with vendors like Best Buy to apply this to the prebuilts they offer in stores. That way even the more average consumers that have a bit of extra change will better be able to know what device they need to buy to get VR Minecraft and Netflix.

On that note, MineCraft and Netflix are officially getting VR support. Big deal right? They're on basically EVERYTHING now a days so why does it matter? Well, because it means VR is a part of everything now. Netflix and MineCraft are two of the biggest entities in the entertainment space and having them available on a platform is like making sure your platform is actually worth something. If VR didn't have Netflix, that would say a monumental amount about what the larger corporate community thinks about the market's potential. Furthermore, MineCraft's popularity as an game is something that cannot be understated. It was bought for more than Oculus itself was last year, so making certain that there is official support for it on Oculus will be invaluable to ensuring VR's potential as a platform. I'll be honest, I actually think that it could very well be the "killer app" for VR in these early days. I've already experienced MineCrift, the unofficial VR Mods for MineCraft, to a certain capacity, and what I experienced was certainly something to behold. The sense of scale changes the experience immensely, so opening this experience up to people, in the mobile space especially will be invaluable for enabling people to "get" the difference VR makes. This brings me to the last big item I want to touch on: the Gear VR's price.

I'll be honest, I didn't have much of an interest in mobile VR for a while there. I viewed it mostly as a distraction from the better, more full fledged VR that can be had on the desktop. After all, it's graphics are immensely limited, it can't do head tracking, even now, I couldn't see a reason to kill your battery for what won't be an optimal experience, and ultimately, at $200 for the Gear VR, it was far too expensive for anyone to reasonably want to get it for their device without being an absolute enthusiast. This was before I realized how much more work needed to be done on that full fledged VR experience. With a dramatically higher install base, the new lower price point, and MineCraft, mobile VR now serves a new purpose that will probably make it FAR more important in the near term for VR than the desktop VR technology we so crave: proliferation. There is no question in a VR enthusiasts mind that VR is something with an immense amount of potential and that every little ounce of said potential you can get out of it will be invaluable towards having a good experience, but from a more casual user's perspective, they can't understand VR's benefits without bearing witness to it for themselves. This is hard to do for desktop HMDs because you need to get people into your man cave to try it out. I've had dozens of people try out the Oculus Rift DK2 in my room now, and one of the most consistent problems for me has been setting up the experience for them and dealing with the cumbersome nature of the headset. The thing is heavy, the keyboard and mouse is inconvenient to use with it on, and funneling people into a small man cave to try out a headset isn't a good way to ease people into the experience. By comparison, simply snapping your phone into a Gear VR and sticking it onto someone's head is a fast, simple, and most of all, effective means by which to quickly just let people try out good VR and enjoy it right away. VR's current killer app, porn, does not need a GTX 970 and an i5 processor to run. Netflix doesn't need that. Minecraft doesn't need that. At $100 for a Gear VR and likely an extra 30-50 dollars for the controller if the user intends to game, VR is entering the stage where it can be a peripheral. One could argue that Google's already started that with their cardboard initiative, but they're suffering from the fact that their joke is selling out and are pulling a Blizzard to try and figure out how to deal with the behemoth they spawned unintentionally spawned. Having Oculus and Samsung's more streamlined, elegant VR experience come out to the masses next year is going to be huge and is likely to be VR's best shot at catching on with the masses quickly. For VR to succeed, it has to hit hard on impact and I think that's exactly what the Gear VR at it's price point and availability will be able to accomplish for the masses. The only thing I can think of that could do VR any better right now outside of a technological boost of course would be if Oculus could work out a way for Apple to join into this race. Even without them though, I think the movements being made by Oculus right now are in the best interests of the VR industry and should make for a VERY exciting time for VR. Gear VR hits this holiday and the only thing stopping me from buying one is the CV1, my Nexus, my DK2 and the fact this year's batch of Galaxy phones didn't appeal to me. Otherwise, my money would already be set aside.

Well, that just about does it for most of my thoughts. I could add in that I tried out the Henry trailer and found it unbearably adorable, but it was so short all I can really say has already been said. Only thing I would want now is for more Japanese developers to work on VR eroge so I don't have to. Oh well. I'll keep at it. More coverage on the event will be coming as I get to hear more of it so expect more soon. A video on this should be coming up sometime tomorrow

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