The Facebook-owned Oculus VR today revealed what it has in store for the future of its Rift virtual reality headset and Samsung’s Oculus-powered Gear VR, led by a heavy focus on social features.
The reveals came a little over half a year since the Rift became available to consumers. Speaking at Oculus Connect 3, a conference for VR developers, investors and enthusiasts, Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg described the company’s “people first” approach to VR.
“Look around the room,” Zuckerberg told attendees. “What we’re wired to see isn’t the chairs or the walls, it’s the people who are here. That’s how our brains work, and that’s why I’ve spent my life trying to build technology that puts people at the center of the experience.”
Zuckerberg explained that the modern app-based approach to software breaks experiences up into different tasks, which goes against the way people actually interact with one another.
“That isn’t going to be how virtual reality works,” Zuckerberg said. “Virtual reality is the perfect platform to put people first because of presence, because you feel like you’re really there in another place with people. You have this space where you can do anything you want. You can play a game, you can do work, but more importantly you are free to explore, and you’re probably going to end up doing more things together than if every experience was an app you had to go into separately.”
VR and social interaction
To highlight the “people first” potential of VR, Zuckerberg demonstrated a social VR experience that included avatars with facial expressions, along with a number of other impressive capabilities. In the presentation, Zuckerberg demonstrated the ability to share videos, photospheres and other types of media with friends in VR, along with the ability to play games like cards or chess. Zuckerberg also made a video call with Facebook Messenger from inside the VR experience, and he used a virtual selfie stick to take a picture and post it straight to his Facebook feed.
Another new feature aimed at social interaction that is coming to Oculus is Oculus Avatars, which allows users to create a persistent avatar for themselves that they can use across multiple VR apps. Oculus has created an SDK will allow developers to use the new Avatars in their VR programs, which Oculus says will create a more consistent and immersive experience for users.
Finally, Oculus also announced two major VR communication apps, Oculus Parties, which is essentially conference calling for VR, and Oculus Rooms, which allows up to eight people to hang out in a virtual space to talk, watch movies or listen to music together.
Investing more than $250M in VR content
An expensive virtual reality headset is only as good as the content available for it, which is why Oculus has invested over $250 million in VR developers, and today Zuckerberg announced that the company would be investing another $250 million for even more content. Oculus is also setting $10 million aside for educational VR programs, as well as another $10 million for new diversity programs.
Aside from bankrolling new VR app development, Oculus also revealed today that it would be covering the licensing fees for Unreal Engine 4, a popular VR development engine, until an app hits $5 million in gross revenue, which greatly lowers the barrier to entry for smaller developers who are interested in creating VR content.
Carmel: A VR web browser
In addition to new hardware and VR content, Oculus also announced that it is currently working on a new web browser called Carmel that is specifically designed for use in virtual reality. Oculus did not go into much detail on what the new browser looks like or how exactly it will work, but the company says that the goal behind Carmel is to enable developers to create powerful web-based virtual reality experiences.
“Native apps are going to continue to push the boundaries of performance, fidelity and immersion, but there’s another content ecosystem that we think is super important, and that’s the content ecosystem of simple VR experiences that are based on web technology and are accessed via a web browser,”said Nate Mitchell, co-founder and head of product for Oculus.
Image courtesy of Oculus VR