We saw a lot of new stuff on the keynote stage at Oculus Connect 3, but by far the most important news to come out of the event was all about the Oculus Touch.
That’s right, we finally have some hard information about the highly-anticipated much-delayed touch controllers for the Oculus platform. How they work, what they do and of course, how much they’ll cost.
First up, the Oculus Touch controllers will cost $199, will be available for pre-order on October 10, and will reportedly ship on December 6. That’s not too bad, considering the Touch controllers come bundled with all sorts of goodies. All orders will come with an extra sensor, and pre-orders will come bundled with VR Sports Challenge, and the VR action-spell-slinging game The Unspoken.
If you’re particularly interested in room-scale experiences with the Oculus Rift (and Touch controllers), you’re going to need at least three sensors, which Oculus will be selling for $79 each, starting on December 6.
The Touch controllers can do some pretty impressive stuff, like mapping the location of your hands based on the placement (or absence) of your fingers on the controller. By using “constellation tracking” the Touch controllers will be able to accurately represent the placement and movement of your hands in a VR space.
They’re also doing some interesting things with haptic feedback. The Touch controllers can reportedly differentiate between different types of feedback. For instance, you’ll be able to feel the difference between a VR gun’s recoil, and a VR paddle hitting a ping-pong ball.
The future of the Rift
That’s not an exaggeration. We literally got a brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it peek at what could be a prototype for a new Rift headset.
The video was short, but not uninformative. The new Rift headset appears to be wireless, and features a new support structure across the top to keep the headset in place while you look around in VR.
There’s a lot of speculation about the headset. Truthfully, we know very little about it. Integrated processor hardware into the Rift would certainly be on-trend, though, as Intel and Qualcomm recently showed similar prototypes.
Rift SDK upgrades
While it’s not as exciting as the Touch controllers, or upcoming games, the Oculus team is working on some important new additions to the Rift software development kit.
Most notably, a separate API for haptic feedback via the Touch controllers. Developers will be able to send a “custom waveform” that will reportedly modulate vibration to provide more realistic feedback for games and experiences in VR.
Another API teased at the keynote is designed to keep you from knocking over lamps or tripping over furniture in your living room. Aptly dubbed the “Guardian” API, this framework will let users set up a play space so you’ll know where real objects are without discovering them with your shins. Although announced a few months ago, it will obviously become crucial now that Touch is on its way.
That play space will then be accessed via the Guardian API, by different games and experiences, so you’ll only have to configure your play space once rather than doing it each time for every game. This is very much like the HTC Vive’s “Chaperone” system.
Asynchronous Spacewarp extracts more performance
On the more technical side of things, the Oculus team also made strides toward making VR more affordable by creating two systems that allow lower-end machines to run VR without significant performance loss.
The two new systems work in the background to smooth out your VR experience when your PC is under heavy load and starts dropping frames. Called “Asynchronous Timewarp” and “Asynchronous Spacewarp,” the two systems work in tandem to essentially sample frames which have already been rendered and re-display them while your PC renders new frames.
By doing this, the systems are able to drop your actual frame-rate from 90 frames per second down to 45, giving your PC a little breathing room while it gets back up to speed. Now, precisely how these systems will impact gameplay remains to be seen, but they will theoretically allow for lower end systems to run VR games a little easier.
On that note, another announcement from the Oculus keynote stage was about those minimum system requirements which have made so many of us run out and buy new video cards and more RAM.
With Timewarp and Spacewarp, the new system requirements for Oculus Rift VR experiences have gone down, requiring only an Nvidia Geforce GTX 960 and 8 GB of RAM. The processor requirement is merely an Intel Core i3-6100, or AMD FX-4350.
In the interest of lowering the barriers to entry into the VR ecosystem, Oculus has partnered with Cyberpower to build a new AMD-based PC which will be Oculus Ready for only $500.
VR headphones? They’re now a thing
The Oculus headphones have received a lot of praise for their quality and comfort, and in order to build on that success the Oculus team has a new set of audio peripherals coming down the pipe for an even more immersive VR experience.
The new headphones are actually earphones, or earbuds. They connect to the Oculus Rift on the same contact points as the included headphones, and they’re reportedly designed from the ground up to provide noise isolation with VR-optimized drivers.
The new earphones will retail for $49, and hit store shelves on December 6. If you just can’t wait, you can get you pre-orders in on October 10.
Oculus has put in some serious work on the audio front, providing support for ambisonic rendering which should provide a much more immersive audio experience in VR.
Oculus is also opening things up for peripheral designers, making the CAD files for the Oculus Rift’s face pad and headphones available to third-parties. This should open up a market for third-party devices compatible with the Rift.
Meet Carmel, your new VR browser
Speaking of VR browsers, Oculus teased their own immersive web browser, code-named “Carmel” which will reportedly bring the web directly to your Oculus Rift headset.
Two new ways to make a virtual avatar
If there was an overarching theme for this keynote, it was socializing. Bringing social experiences to VR is one of the Oculus team’s primary goals in the coming year, and to that end it looks like they’ve made some impressive progress.
After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg briefly described the finer points of being human, and interacting with other humans, he jumped into a new VR experience with two colleagues right on stage. In what is essentially VR version of Facebook’s popular Messenger app, Zuckerberg chatted with two Mii-esque avatars which featured facial mapping and moving mouth-parts.
The messenger app was an impressive display, as the avatars provided real-time eye contact, mouth animations, and facial expressions. Zuckerberg then used a VR selfie stick to take a VR selfie and posted it to VR Facebook.
In that vein, the Oculus team also unveiled a new, separate avatar system which will reportedly be compatible with many social VR experiences. The avatar will be visible to other players you interact with in the Oculus eco-system, and can be customized in a variety of ways, though all avatars end up looking like a bust — which is to say, they’re missing everything below their shoulders. Creepy? Perhaps a little.
Avatars are being rolled into other corners of the Oculus experience, including a new party system that supports up to eight players, and virtual rooms where you and friends can gather in between games to watch movies, play mini-games, or use compatible apps within the VR world. These two features are aptly named “Parties” and “Rooms.”
Parties will be accessible from the Home screen and the universal menu in the Oculus Rift, while all of the aforementioned social features should debut sometime in 2017.
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