Image: A man tries the Oculus Rift headset at Facebook’s F8 conference.
An Oculus Rift virtual reality headset for consumers could go on sale next year, a company representative told Business Insider at Facebook’s F8 developer conference today.
Management at Oculus VR, the Irvine, Calif.-company that Facebook bought for $2 billion earlier this year, will be “disappointed” if it doesn’t have a headset available at retail for ordinary people by 2016, according to an Oculus spokesperson.
A consumer Oculus product in 2015 will be exciting for a couple of reasons:
- Almost everyone who tries the device is completely blown away by the experience. It’s completely different from any other audio-visual gadget you’ve ever tried — the worlds inside the headsets feel real and deep, because the company has gotten rid of the screen time “lag” that occurs when users move their heads. On top of that, the environment moves naturally as you move. In the game I tried today, I peered out into a lava-filled hellscape full of demons guarding battlements. If I leaned forward, I could see into the rivers of molten rock that flowed between them. Attendees at the conference lined up 20 deep to get 5 minutes with the device.
- Oculus will completely turn the console game economy on its head. Once you’ve played a game inside Oculus, going back to playing on a TV just feels lame.
Currently, Oculus is only selling development kits to game creators. The Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 is currently on sale for $350, and units will start shipping to developers only in July of this year. After that, Oculus VR must wait while those developers create an ecosystem of cool games — there is no point in selling the headsets to consumers if there are no games or other content for them to see. That process could take months.
There is no word on a price tag for consumers. The company is in the process of building a team to work on marketing and branding the product.
Game creation takes time, but Redner says the current thinking is that there should be enough titles to justify consumer usage by 2016.
There is a new Oculus inside a secret room in Irvine
More tantalizing still is what Oculus is hiding inside the secret “Valve Room” within its Irvine headquarters near Los Angeles. (Valve is the company that originally used the room for developing games; Oculus has taken it over.) We first heard about this from Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon, an investor in Oculus VR, who says that the version of Oculus Rift inside the “special room” is more powerful and impressive than even the existing Crystal Cove and DK2 versions that outsiders have been allowed to play with.
“Crystal Cove is 50% of what they are running in LA,” he says. Oculus Rift Crystal Cove is impressive, but it’s still obvious that you’re inside an animated game environment. It doesn’t yet closely approximate reality. However, “what they have in LA does,” Dixon tells us. “You go into a room. It’s a special room. Fancier headset. … In user testing it gets to a level of realism where almost all people feel that it’s realistic.” He gestured to the San Francisco street where we were drinking coffee. “Imagine everything you can see now, but it’s a little bit pixelated. Eventually that [pixelation] will go away.”
He believes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the company after being ushered into the Valve Room. (He obviously tried the other versions as well.)
The Oculus rep wasn’t quite as hyperbolic when asked about the “mythic” room. But he did tell us that the demo version inside the Valve room does feature a photorealistic experience that is so real even people who are very sensitive to motion sickness don’t “feel” it.
The test unit has an entire room to itself because it requires a massive amount of processing power to run. It’s a headset tethered to a giant server, basically. Oculus expects, eventually, to be able to crunch that down into units that can be sold commercially.
Games will only be the start of it. Once it is commercially available, “There will be a million in the U.S. military, police, and fire services,” Dixon says. “Anything to do with training” that is dangerous will utilize an Oculus experience instead, he believes.
We can’t wait.