Facebook’s Tech Chief on the New Oculus Virtual Reality Headset

Facebook is continuing its push to make virtual reality mainstream.

During the company’s annual Oculus Connect developer conference this week, the social networking giant unveiled its new $ 200 Oculus Go VR headset that, unlike many rivals, doesn’t require a personal computer or smartphone to operate.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pitched the new headset as the “sweet spot” between the company’s $ 400 Rift headset and the mobile phone-powered Gear VR headset that Facebook sells in partnership with Samsung. Facebook hopes the cheaper headset will convince more people to try virtual reality.

In this edited interview with Fortune, Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer discusses the new Go headsets, his views about VR’s cousin technology, augmented reality, and the impact of relatively new Oculus chief Hugo Barra.

Fortune: Why did it take this long for Facebook to unveil a VR headset that doesn’t need to be tethered to a phone or computer?

Schroepfer: I think that the first couple years of VR is just getting VR to work. Just getting Touch [motion controllers] to work, getting the software to work well on the Gear VR, and getting developers to develop great experiences.

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What will be the quality of the visuals on the new Go standalone headset be like compared to current smartphone-powered headsets?

For the Oculus Go, think of it as a similar experience from a graphics standpoint to the Gear VR, because it’s a similar kind of platform—but with our latest lenses. The sharpness of text and a bunch of other things will be quite a bit improved. But in terms of the graphics, for the developers [building apps] for the Gear VR, this would be similar.

Are you seeing more of a demand from companies interested in VR? [Facebook also debuted a $ 900 Oculus Rift bundle for businesses that comes with a warranty and customer support.]

We’re seeing a lot of companies wanting to use Rift. There are many different projects where people are saying, “Okay, this is the best tool around to visualize something.” “I’m an architect, I want to share a model of the building with my client.” We can pay people to build one of those toothpick things, print some stuff out, or I can bring them into a 3D model where I can take the roof off and basically be like, “See, this is what the living room looks like.”

I’ve talked to people who build simulators for F1 racing cars and they spend $ 2 million building it. And then they see this $ 600 headset or $ 900 [with accessories] and they say, “Cool, now I can buy a thousand of them for the same cost as one of these.” I think it’s this massively disruptive thing. I’ve heard of people doing this for all sorts of different uses—bus drivers, flight—anything that requires simulation. People have used it for first responder training so they can simulate what it’s like to actually be in, terrible fires like in Napa right now, and being inside a building and rescuing people.

Did you expect that so many companies like HP Inc., Dell Technologies, Samsung would debut new Windows-based VR headsets this year?

We hoped that more people would build stuff. I’d be worried if we were the only ones. Because the thing that developers ask for more than anything is a bigger market for their apps. The bigger the market is for the apps, the more developers, and the more great content. This is why we’ve been so focused on trying to get the price down, trying to make things easy for consumers. Because you build a consumer base, then you get developers building awesome stuff, and then lots of amazing stuff happens.

Will VR headsets be smaller any time soon?

It’s not clear they’re going to get that much smaller. I do think they will get higher resolution and a wider field of view. They’ll do a better job of incorporating the real world into the virtual world and scanning where you are. Controllers are great, but at some point we will get to where I can just put a headset on and have my hands do things.

Can you tell me about the influence of Hugo Barra coming to Oculus in January?

Hugo’s great.

I had a funny feeling you would say he was great, but, I mean he’s made some changes right?

Well, Mark made his bold statement wanting to get 1 billion people to use VR.

When will that be?

He didn’t specify. What Hugo brings is a lot of experience building devices (he’s a former executive at Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and a former executive at Google). Particularly, Xiaomi has built very high-quality but very low-cost devices, and entered new markets like India. So he has a lot of experience with how to help us take what we think is an awesome experience and get it into the hands of people as inexpensively as possible. I think the fact that we can price Oculus Go at $ 199 after Hugo joined is not necessarily an accident.

Was this something he was pushing you to do?

He brought the capability and knowledge and the kind of confidence to be able to build the product at that price.

But why did it take some someone to actually say that, though—that you can sell more devices if they are cheaper?

Well, it’s obvious to everyone, but no one else is shipping a product anywhere close to this cost, right? I mean, this is the joke in Silicon Valley: The ideas are worthless, execution is everything. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to actually do all the work.

I’m going to take this thing and I’m going to add a battery to it and a CPU and a GPU, and I’m going to give you a controller, and I’m going to sell all of that to you for $ 200. There’s a bunch of work there.

John Carmack (Oculus’ chief technology officer) has been a long advocate of low-cost VR. He’s put heart and soul into the Gear VR. It’s on the back of his work that we even have a prayer of doing this.

Do you foresee at some point in the future that the headsets will be a combination of both virtual reality and augmented reality? [With virtual reality, people are completely immersed in digital environments, whereas with augmented reality, people see digital images overlaid on the real world.]

I think VR and AR will be two different things.

You don’t subscribe to the mixed view of it, then?

I mean, I think that if there’s some magic leap in technology that I haven’t seen yet, but right now everything looks like a strict trade-off. Meaning if I want to make it stronger, lighter, and let in actual light, I’m going make the display worse.

When will my phone be as good as an IMAX? Never.

So, there may be some times when I watch movies on my phone, and sometimes I go to the IMAX.

So you and I are chatting right now, and if I want to augment our experience with AR, it’d be great for me to have a pair of AR glasses. If I want to talk to my dad who lives in Florida, I want to put a VR headset on, because I want to feel like I’m there with him. And VR’s going to do a much better job of that than AR for the foreseeable future.

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Oculus price drop proves competition is key to VR success


Gaming in VR has a bit of a barrier to entry. Nestled between the phone-based headsets and the high-end experiences is the PlayStation VR, but that’s still $ 399 plus the PlayStation itself. For Oculus or HTC you’re looking at $ 800-plus and a high-end gaming rig that should set you back at least a grand. Oculus today narrowed the margin, if only slightly. The company today announced a price drop on its Rift headset with Touch controllers. The bundle will now sell for $ 598, down from the $ 798 retail price it’s typically listed at. If you already have Rift, you can…

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Palmer Luckey, Millionaire Founder of Oculus Rift, Loves Donald Trump and Dates a Gamergater

It’s been an open secret for some time that Palmer Luckey, the 24-year-old founder of VR company Oculus Rift and heir apparent to the future of gaming, is a strange guy—the type who argues with his customers on Reddit and casually cosplays as My Little Pony characters. Turns out, he also appears to be an active supporter of Donald Trump and the alt-right, and in a long-term relationship with an avid Gamergater.

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Oculus Rift made me realize I only want to play games in virtual reality

I’m too disorganized for real-time strategy. I’ve had my fill of fast-paced flight games. I’d don’t want to play another minigame collection ever again.

But I’ve found that I love all of these games in virtual reality, and it’s not just about novelty.

On Monday, Oculus VR held an event as part of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to show off the roster of games coming to the Rift head-mounted display, and by the end of the day I realized that I was enjoying nearly everything I tried. That includes games I’ve played before on other platforms and didn’t really care for. Analysts with tech adviser Digi-Capital think VR is going to grow into a $ 30 billion industry by 2020, and it’s easier to imagine that reality knowing that I want sports sims, role-playing games, and everything else in the Rift.

I tried out a variety of Oculus Rift games as part of the company’s event. I did VR Sports, where I used the Touch motion controllers to throw a basketball behind my back and over my shoulder while going up for a dunk in slow motion. That’s a unique “experience” that I haven’t had in any other game, and it’s one that I can’t wait to try with my friends and family. But I already knew that novel new ways of gaming is a big selling point for VR.

What surprised me more than VR Sports is a the game AirMech: Command, which is a continuation of the AirMech game that first came out for PC back in 2012.

AirMech is a third-person arena battler. It is essentially an action real-time strategy game that forces you to manage troops around a map while also flying your own mech around. I tried the original game a few years ago, and I appreciated what it was trying to do. But I also bounced off that iteration for the same reason I fall off of most RTS releases: I have a hard time managing the map. In a lot of RTS games, AirMech included, you only ever see a small portion of the map at a time. For me, it’s hard to keep the off-screen parts of the map in my head. And that’s not a skill I’ve wanted to spend a lot of time developing.

But Airmech in VR is completely different in this regard. Instead of having narrow tunnel vision, the Rift version makes it feel like you are playing a dynamic tabletop game. The board sprawls out in front of you, and you can see more things at once. I can navigate a board game with no problems because it’s part of the real world. And thanks to Rift, AirMech: Command might as well be a part of the real world. It amazed me how fast AirMech clicked with me thanks to this more intimate perspective.

I only got to play it for around 30 minutes, but this is a day-one purchase for me. I can’t wait to lose hours to this game, which takes advantage of VR in an unexpected way.

Like AirMech, Crytek’s The Climb uses the Xbox One controller as its primary input device. That’s interesting because The Climb is a game about using your hands to scale a mountain. You’d think this would make it ideal for the Rift’s Touch controller, and it’s possible that Crytek will implement that in the future. But playing it with a gamepad emphasized again how interesting VR can make everything. The Climb is something that I think I would enjoy even on a monitor or television. It is a series of environmental puzzles where you need to figure out where to put your hands while ensuring you are always gripping to the wall by holding down a trigger button. It’s clever, and it has a lot of potential for racing against your friends’ times.

But playing The Climb had me jazzed. It was another game I just wanted to keep playing for hours. It was so much to make a difficult jump and then look down to see how far I would’ve fallen had I missed. But it also makes the moment-to-moment gameplay more immediate and interesting. I really remember feeling like I was hugging the side of that mountain, and I was leaning my head around to see what my options were for my next hand placement.

After getting time with AirMech and The Climb, I am imagining getting other games I would typically play on a console in VR. I’d love something like a 16-bit Japanese RPG where I can play the game from in third-person and see all of the awesome spells happening, like I they were happening right down in front of me — and I’ve never finished a JRPG in my life.

And I think it’s important to realize that VR isn’t about 15 minute “experiences.” It is about breathing new life into older genres. That’s something we’re getting when it comes to the Rift launch platformer Lucky’s Tale, but I hope we get even more because I can already tell that I’ll struggle to return to a 2D static screen after playing VR.

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Oculus Touch will not ship alongside the Rift

Dean Takahashi demos the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch.

Oculus has an amazing virtual-reality controller solution, but it won’t ship with the consumer version.

Oculus’s Touch controllers won’t ship until the second quarter of 2016, according to the company’s presentation at Oculus Connect today. That is an entire quarter after the Rift goes on sale in Q1 2016.

The company spent a long time talking about the possibilities and importance of Touch. This enables people to bring their hands and fingers into VR, which seems like a crucial step to give people a feeling of presence. So it feels like a missed opportunity for the company not to launch the Touch at the same time as Rift.

That missed opportunity is potentially exacerbated by the fact that the SteamVR-powered HTC Vive will launch with its touch-style controllers before the end of the year.

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Everything Oculus announced today: $99 Gear VR, Touch release date, Minecraft, and more

It's coming soon.

It’s Oculus Connect keynote day, and the company had a lot of stuff to announce despite a claim that consumers shouldn’t get too excited about the event in Los Angeles.

Here are all the big announcements:

Samsung’s $ 99 Gear VR

While Oculus is planning to release the amazing new Rift headset in Q1 2016, one of its biggest partners, Samsung, revealed it will release the consumer version of Gear VR in November for just $ 99. This will work with Samsung’s Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, and Note 5.

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Oculus SDK 1.0 is coming in November

Both Rift and Gear VR will need a lot of VR content, and Oculus is planning to update its software-development kit to help studios do exactly that. One of the big things this SDK will come with is direct drivers — this will enable the headset to work without having to fiddle with setting up the Rift as an external monitor.

Oculus Arcade

This is a 1980s-style arcade simulator that enables you to feel like you’re playing Pac-Man at a stand-up machine.

Trailer for Rift games

 

Twitch, Hulu, Netflix, and more to support Oculus Video

netflix-virtual-reality-app

Developers are working on plenty of games for virtual reality, but Oculus is expecting all kinds of content to make the leap to its Rift and Gear VR systems. That includes video services like Netflix and Hulu — the latter of which revealed it is planning to build VR-native videos.

“Oculus Ready” PCs

You’re gonna need a beefy PC to use an Oculus Rift, but you won’t need to guess if certain systems will work. Oculus announced it will work with hardware manufacturers like Dell, Alienware, and Asus on a line of “Oculus Ready” rigs that cost less than $ 1,000.

Minecraft comes to Rift

Microsoft is planning to make the Windows 10 Edition of its block-building game Minecraft compatible with Xbox One.

Oculus is working on its equivalent of Xbox Live and the App Store

Facebook, the owner of Oculus VR, has said that it won’t try to make a lot of money on the Rift hardware. That means it’s going to make the real cash on the app and software side. And we saw a little bit of that today when the company revealed how its platform will handle social features, analytics, and distribution.

Oculus Touch trailer and release date

The incredible Oculus Touch controllers, which brings your hands into VR, aren’t coming out until Q2 of 2016. But here’s a trailer to show what they can do.

Oculus Medium

Oculus chief executive officer Brendan Iribe said that every new platform needs a paint app, and Medium is what his company is calling its take on 3D drawing.

Epic reveals new Oculus Touch demo Bullet Train

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Oculus unveils $99 Gear VR with Netflix, Facebook and Twitch Support

screen-shot-2015-09-24-at-10-17-43-am
In what is perhaps a long time coming for VR enthusiasts who have expressed faith in Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey’s vision for mainstream consumer hardware, the Facebook-acquired brand is finally putting it all together. Today at the keynote for Oculus Connect 2 in Hollywood, Samsung VP of Mobile Peter Koo announced a $ 99 Gear VR headset that will make use of Oculus technology and be ready in time for holiday shopping. The hardware will be compatible with all of Samsung’s Gear products, including the Note 5, S6 Edge+, S6, S6 Edge. Koo said it will be available to ship on Black Friday. The Gear…

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