HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Oculus VR took another step on the road to releasing virtual reality technology to the public, showing a new prototype with higher-quality imagery and the promise to more fully immerse users in digital worlds.
The company said it’s developed a new prototype called Crescent Bay. The device, which Oculus said still isn’t ready to be released to the wider public, has new display technology and integrated headphones. The device can also track a player as they turn in a complete circle.
The move marks a critical step for Oculus, which Facebook agreed to purchase for $2 billion in March. The company is preparing for the eventual release of its “Rift” headset to the general public, expected sometime next year.
“We’re really sprinting toward the consumer version,” Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus, said during his keynote speech at the Oculus developers conference here.
The stakes are high. Other companies have announced competing devices, including Sony’s PlayStation video game console division, which created a VR device called “Project Morpheus.” Others, such as Google and Technical Illusions, are creating their own products, as are smaller companies creating headset units that work with smartphones and tablets. There are also prototypes in labs at other companies, which haven’t yet been publicly announced.
“There’s a full-on race to establish the next platform,” said Michael Abrash, Oculus’s chief scientist.
Another hurdle: When a consumer-ready version of the Oculus goggles eventually lands on consumers’ heads, it will need content such as movies, video games and more. Preparing developers to work with the company’s devices and tools now is an important part of that process, and similar efforts regarding other products have been made by Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook over the years.
Developer conferences are particularly popular among the technology elite because they help rally support for their devices and services. Oculus brought about 1,000 developers together for its conference here to discuss best practices, swap strategies for making good games and discuss future efforts for its devices.
Developers lined the halls during the two-day event with demonstrations of their latest software and devices, proudly showing projects ranging from high-quality games to proofs of concept. The projects haven’t been solely focused on Oculus technology, though. Developers brought their own variations on Google’s Cardboard virtual reality headset as well, a device first shown in June. To many of the attendees, the event wasn’t just about Oculus, it was about virtual reality technology in general.
On Friday, virtual reality enthusiasts came together for an awards event, celebrating standout virtual reality programs from teams dotting the globe. Among the award winners was Survios, a company that developed a game where players fend off hoards of zombies attacking them from all sides.
To help speed the adoption of its technology, Oculus on Friday posted the raw code it used to build its first prototypes to the Web, allowing anyone with technical know-how to replicate its headsets. Oculus said putting this information on the Internet will help to grow the burgeoning community of virtual reality enthusiasts.
From virtual to reality
Oculus introduced the first version of its headset, called the “Rift,” in 2012, when it launched a Kickstarter campaign announcing it was creating development prototypes that promised high-quality virtual reality gaming experiences.
Initial versions of the Rift were built by Palmer Luckey, Oculus’ founder, who cobbled together prototypes with screens and other parts from smartphones. Over the last two years, Oculus further refined its device with high-definition graphics and the ability to track a customer’s head in any direction with the help of a separate camera.
So far, Oculus has sold nearly 70,000 units of its latest prototype since first taking orders in March. Iribe said earlier this month that daily sales tallies were triple that of its first device.
Oculus sells its latest prototype for $350, not including the cost of a computer to work with the headset. Oculus has also announced a partnership with handset giant Samsung to sell a version of its technology that works with mobile devices.
The company hasn’t yet said when the final version of its Rift headset will be made available, nor what it will ultimately cost. Iribe said the company still has refinements to make, such as ensuring the hardware can track a user’s movements as accurately as possible to avoid making them sick, or diminishing a program’s performance.
Video game companies large and small have begun developing for the device, but a nagging question is how many consumers will ultimately end up buying one.
In the meantime, the company has begun building relationships with companies ranging from game developers to movie makers in hopes of making its device appealing to as many people as possible.
The company has developed apps for mobile devices to aid in helping users watch movies and experience virtual worlds. Oculus said it will make the code for those capabilities available to the public as well.