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Oculus on wireless VR - “It’s compressed, it’s not perfect and it’s expensive.”

Oculus on wireless VR

My biggest issues with VR right now are the restrictive Cthulu-like tenctacles of VR cabling. Wireless tech might well solve that, but for Oculus it’s way down on their list – getting more people into the VR ecosystem is the number one priority for them and the best way to do that is to cut the price.

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I sat down with Oculus’ VP of content, Jason Rubin, away from the frenetic GDC showfloors, to talk about what they see for the next 12 months of VR and how to grow the fledgling industry.

It’s easy to forget this time last year the Rift hadn’t even been released – the VR market then is still in its infancy. And it’s a rapidly maturing market, but even though there are two big players in the PC VR game, and always more headsets trickling out, it’s still a very, very small one.

If you want the big games and the big publishers/developers working on VR then the absolute priority for anyone working in VR is to get more and more people with the hardware strapped to their faces.

“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.”

Realistically the people who are clamouring for wireless VR are the people who have already bought into the industry, have already picked up a headset, whether it’s the Oculus Rift or HTC’s Vive. I want wireless VR because I’ve spent a lot of time at home and in the office messing around with virtual reality hardware and what I want is not to be tethered to anything. Not even having a toasty faux proton pack PC strapped to my back in the name of freedom will do.

“Everybody wants wireless and I understand the upside of it, but it’s a question of trade-offs.” says Rubin. “First of all, I think after watching hundreds of thousands of people go through demos all over the world, they all have an intention to buy VR. Like 95% say ‘I’m buying VR.’ The ones that don’t buy, the number one reason they don’t is because of price. For us that’s the most important thing to focus on right now – wireless adds cost.”

Oculus VR ecosystem

“If we add wireless, but it adds $200 to the price of the headset I think we’re moving in the wrong direction for right now. Some may want it, so as a peripheral it’s interesting, but I don’t think it should be our focus right now, I think our focus should be on bringing the core experience we have down in cost before we add features.”

There’s also the fact that wirelessly transmitting both the 90Hz image to the headset and the headset’s motion back to the PC is one tough technological feat. It’s one that’s kinda pushing it with the current Rift headset, let alone any future improvements.

“Right now, to get the streaming at the resolution the headset requires, is right on the edge of possible,” explains Rubin. “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.”

“What’s more important, the resolution of the screen or wireless? 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.”

Virtual reality on the PC then is now all about scaling up. The big hardware push for this generation is pretty much on hiatus right now. What everyone is concentrating on for the future is getting more and more people with a headset plugged into their gaming PC and wrapped around their eyeballs.

“The two things we think are most important in pushing PC VR forward right now are better and better content and better and better price,” says Rubin. “And I think the actual hardware we’ve delivered has all the functions and features we need for this generation of hardware. “