In 20 years, virtual reality will be the main form of computing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted today at the Oculus Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif.
But Oculus, which makes the Rift VR headset, is focused on how the technology will evolve in the next three years. To that end, the company announced several new hardware and software improvements that are intended to broaden the appeal of its VR platform.
Much of the new software is focused on social media. Oculus, which Facebook acquired in 2014, will soon have its own version of Facebook Messenger. Rift owners will be able to answer video calls while they're wearing the headset, and even take selfies that they can manipulate in the virtual world, tossing them back and forth between the friends with whom they're chatting.
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Rift will also get a Google Hangouts-like feature called Rooms, which are virtual physical spaces that allow up to eight people to watch TV, listen to music, and play mini games. If you don't need to see your friends, there's also a group voice call option called Parties.
Social interactions, as well as games and other VR platforms, will make use of the Oculus Touch controller (above), which will be available for pre-order starting Oct. 10 for $199 and ships on Dec. 6. Zuckerberg demonstrated how Oculus Facebook integrations will make use of the controllers, with the ability to draw objects like swords and wield them, move chess pieces, and pick up objects.
Of course, Touch will also have support for VR games, including upcoming first-person shooters like Arktika.1, and the free Robo Recall. There's also Mission ISS, a space experience based on the same virtual reality tools that NASA uses to train its astronauts. Gamers will also be able to stream their sessions live on Facebook, including the view they see from inside their headsets.
The company also announced the $49 Oculus Earphones, which feature advanced noise isolation and drivers that are optimized for VR. Pre-orders also start Oct. 10 with shipments going out Dec. 6.
New hardware and software can only go so far if people get sick using it, so Oculus is working on a new VR display technology it hyperbolically calls "asynchronous spacewarp." It inserts dummy frames into the headset's display when it senses that the processor can't keep up with the software's demands.
"We think of it as frame rate insurance," Iribe said, explaining that Oculus will still require apps and games on its platform to meet a minimum of 90 frames per second. The company will allow more lower-end PCs to be certified under the Oculus Ready program, which offers spec requirements for manufacturers and tests PCs to ensure that they meet the frame rate minimum. There are currently 40 desktops and four laptops that are Oculus-ready. The cheapest is a $499 Cyberpower machine with AMD graphics, Iribe said.
But Zuckerberg hinted that in the more distant future, those specs might not even be necessary. Oculus is working on a VR headset similar to Intel's Project Alloy and Qualcomm's Snapdragon VR, which won't require external sensors or a dedicated PC but will still offer a much less glitchy experience than available on current standalone sets like Gear VR.
"We believe that there is a sweet spot between these: a standalone virtual reality product that is high quality and affordable and that you can bring with you out into the world," Zuckerberg said.