At Oculus' Connect 5 conference, Oculus VR's chief scientist Michael Abrash spoke at great lengths about VR (and AR) and the exciting future that lies ahead for the two mediums. He spoke about ultra thin headsets and the kind of eye tracking tech to greatly enhance that immersive experience landing within the next five years.
He's a man known for making bold predictions about the industry. He reiterated once again his belief that AR will replace smartphones and that we will look back at the current advancements in the space as 'the good old years'. I'd agree with Abrash on that. Sometimes we need to take a step back to appreciate just how much has happened in this space already that is truly exciting and groundbreaking. I mean, we can walk around in virtual worlds and now we can do it without being tethered to a PC.
Hands-on: Oculus Quest review
But while we are still in that 'good old year' phase there still seems to be a pretty big stumbling block for getting more people to experience proper VR and I'm talking about price. The new Oculus Quest clearly sounds like an exciting prospect. Standalone VR that delivers more of a Rift experience than the Go that comes with controllers and room tracking sans basestations. It's going to cost $399 though, which is currently what the Rift will set you back. That's still an expensive investment for a lot of people even without the cost of the PC to factor in.
The Go, which sits below the Rift and the Quest, costs $199 and is a lower end standalone experience on par with the Gear VR - minus the phone. It was clearly a step in the right direction as far as making what we consider proper VR accessible. But Facebook has not shared any sales details of the Go since it launched last year. I still think headsets and the setups VR requires to flourish needs to become cheaper and it still feels like we are maybe a few years away from that.
This is not a criticism I'm levelling at Oculus only, but all the other hardware makers involved in the space. I'm fully aware that building this hardware and the tech needed to power it won't be cheap. But perhaps Facebook, more than other companies, could afford to take the hit and sell its headsets cheaper and make their money from the software and services that brings Oculus headsets alive. A bit like the Amazon Echo model. I know, we are dealing with vastly different technologies, but you get the point.
It feels like we will have to wait a fair few more years yet before we are talking about setups like the Oculus Quest as the equivalents of Google's $15 Cardboard headsets that have given millions of people a window into the world of VR. But it's clear that if people in the industry like Abrash believe VR and AR will be everywhere and an integral part of our lives, it needs to be much kinder on the pocket.