Oculus makes new friends reveals new products

Oculus unveils new headset, prototype hand controls, and a relationship with Microsoft to get out ahead of the news onslaught coming with the E3 game conference. 

Oculus held a pre-E3 press event in San Francisco to show off its commercial design for the Oculus Rift, talk about its input strategy and in the process, reveal an extensive working relationship with Microsoft.

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe walks the audience of press, analysts, and developers through Oculus' news. (Source: JPR)
Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe walks the audience of press, analysts, and developers through Oculus’ news. (Source: JPR)

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe acted as the master of ceremonies and he broke the news of the new controller, or rather the not-so-new controller because the company will be using Microsoft’s Xbox controller out of the gate.

The new headset design, says Iribe is lightweight and comfortable. He told us we’d put it on like a ball cap. Alrighty, but it’s a mighty big ball cap, with a shoe box attached to the front of it. Oculus is going for a wide field of view and it is among the highest of the competitors. The Sony Morpheus and the Oculus rift are both in the +100 degree range. (There are some competitors including PhaseSpace who claim 120 degree is required.) The headset is fabric-wrapped for comfort and has an adjustable IP distance, which is something the headset companies are highlighting this year. Adjustable IP has long been a feature of the Oculus headsets.


Oculus says the latest riff on the Oculus Rift is lightweight and comfortable. (Source: JPR)
Oculus says the latest riff on the Oculus Rift is lightweight and comfortable. (Source: JPR)

The new headset doesn’t break new ground from the prototypes though the comfort issue is an important one and the added padding is going to be welcome. No one wants to have a sweaty head in VR. The devices are not coming out until early 2016 and touching the headsets was not encouraged, so it’s possible that what we saw is actually a ways away from what we’ll get, but when we can get it, Iribe said it will be under $1500.

Iribe told the audience that input is critical for VR, but apparently for the first iteration of the new headset Oculus has decided to punt. Oculus announced that the new headsets will ship with a Microsoft Xbox Controller. That controller will work with the Oculus headset thanks to Microsoft’s wireless adaper, which the company introduced just las week. Iribe and Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer proclaimed the Microsoft controller the best game controller in the world, at least for now. At the end of the event Palmer Luckey arrived to show off Oculus own take on input with their dual controllers called the Half Moon.

Palmer Luckey shows off the Half Moon controller prototypes. (Source: JPR)
Palmer Luckey shows off the Half Moon controller prototypes. (Source: JPR)

In the meantime though, let’s not skip by the import of a partnership between Microsoft and Oculus. In addition to the controller, the relationship extends to games. Microsoft has enabled Xbox One games to be played across the Windows 10 universe including PCs and tablets, now that will also include the Rift. Among the games highlighted at the San Francisco event were CCP’s Eve Valkerie, Chronos by Gunfire Games, and Edge of Nowhere by Insomniac games. CCP’s Valkerie is a dogfight game and it was looked particularly fun. GameSpot captured the video.

So, about those Half Moon Controllers?

Palmer Luckey arrived at the press event with the required one more thing, which turned out to be two more things: the Half Moon controllers. Luckey told the audience that the Oculus team had noticed was that people frequently reach their hands out in front of them when they’re in VR. As a result, Luckey said, he wanted to enable “hand presence.” The Half Moon controllers Oculus has come up with are wristbands with thumb controllers. There’s one for each hand – mirror images of each other. Luckey said they wanted to create something that was comfortable for people whether they were controlling an application with their arms outstretched in front of themselves or down by their sides. The devices will enable motion with 6 degrees of freedom, they will have haptic feedback, and will support remote play so that people can play the same content and drive it with the Half Moon devices across the network. Oculus is creating a vocabulary of gestures for input and game play.

A triumphant Luckey said, “this isn’t science fiction, this is real life!” We’re sort of thinking it’s real life that’s liable to happen some time in the future. There was no announced shipping date for the controllers.

What do we think

The hand controls for the Wii console made those machines a success and Luckey says the point has not been lost on the Oculus design team. Hands are nice things to have and they make a lot of sense in bridging the gap from the digital world to the real world.
On another front, it seems obvious that the door of opportunity is closing for independent headset makers for VR. Sony has Morpheus, Microsoft has Oculus, Samsung is betting on the Gear host for mobile phones, and Steam has teamed with HTC. Microsoft has shown a tendency towards ecumenism that leaves the open the possibility that the company will support other VR headsets should VR become an important capability for gaming, but that remains to be seen. VR is getting to be a narrow field and it favors the big companies. Also, it seems to be skewing heavily for gaming even though the companies insist we’ll be watching movies in VR as well.

There is still a solid industrial market for VR devices and the military is using it as well. Much of the development we’re seeing AR and VR has been underwritten by government organizations and industry, but as we’ve seen so often before, gaming is the fast lane to the mainstream.