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Will Oculus Quest’s Future Push the VR Envelope

At the end of January 2021, Facebook held its usual Q4 earnings call for the previous year. CEO Mark Zuckerberg positively discussed Oculus Quest 2’s holiday sales, mentioning how they’d: “done more than any other company” to make virtual reality (VR) a mainstream technology. Facebook is most certainly dominating even as it moves towards a singular headset as its sole piece of VR hardware and its not stopping, with the surprise confirmation that a follow-up was already in the works. So that inevitably begs the question, what would an Oculus Quest 3 offer and how would it advance the industry?

Oculus Quest new image

It’s no surprise that Facebook is working on the next standalone iteration as hardware can take years to develop – the original Oculus Quest from 2019 was first shown in 2016 as the Santa Cruz prototype – it was more the open honesty about it. Apple, for instance, is known to be working on a high-end VR headset yet all the details so far have come from unnamed sources; the company has yet to officially confirm reports. It seems Zuckerberg’s attitude was more along the lines of ‘Quest 2 is a hit, of course, we’ll make another.’ And why not, he fervently talks about the technology and has ploughed significant money into it. Obviously, that has meant Facebook creating a monopoly which not all the industry is happy about, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Oculus Quest 2 is almost 5 months old and by all accounts – not just Facebook – it’s been really good for VR as a whole. Developers have seen revenue in the millions and detailed stats like monthly active players tripling. So 2021 bodes well for the device, benefiting from both its easy to use nature as well as the current global situation where most are having to stay home and find new avenues of entertainment. Starting at £299 with a lighter, smaller form factor; no need for an external PC and crisper displays, the headset ticks all the right boxes. And then there are features like hand tracking which have barely been explored.

Oculus Quest 3 – or whatever Facebook decides to call it – will definitely carry on the standalone ethos the company has developed over the last couple of years. While it still wants to offer versatility via its Link system, the untethered quality which will be the core focus. 4K resolution displays should be the entry-level for this third iteration, as companies like Pico already offer 4K models which provide stunning visuals. Less clear is whether the new device will come with LCD or OLED displays. Fast-switch LCD’s can be found in Oculus Quest 2 and Valve Index which help them achieve high refresh rates, yet OLED is the clear winner when it comes to blacks. Play one of the many VR horror titles like Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition on an original Quest (OLED) and Quest 2 to see what a difference it makes.

Oculus Quest 2

Form factor is unlikely to radically change – no VR sunglasses just yet – small savings in weight and balance will occur, helping improve the comfort factor for longer sessions. When it comes to duration hopefully the standard device will push past 3 hours without having to buy an accessory like the Elite Strap. In fact, a balanced headset straight out the box with a rear battery would be ideal as the current setup is a little front heavy still.

But these suggestions don’t advance the industry enough, merely refinements like the Oculus Rift S. The future headset needs to increase that feeling of presence and immersion. Eye-tracking is one of the more feasible additions, providing avatars that can be expressive in social situations. Another benefit would be foveated rendering so whatever mobile processor is inside can easily achieve those 4K visuals. Quest’s hand tracking would need an upgrade, solving issues like occlusion so that your hands don’t suddenly disappear when they cross over. Ultraleap is doing some interesting work in this area. It’s working with Qualcomm to optimise hand tracking on the Snapdragon XR2 platform which currently rests at the heart of Oculus Quest 2. The tech will come to Qualcomm’s reference design so there’s a long shot it could filter through. More likely is Facebook developing its own method.

Expanding upon the tracking theme and those expressive avatars, facial tracking or at the very least recording mouth movements. AI could fill in as virtual beings like Lucy showcase, yet if we’re all having to remotely connect to one another for a family get together or when attending a virtual event, the way a face conveys emotion is vital. If Oculus Quest is the mainstream headset then surely that’s a necessary piece of the puzzle.

All this being said, don’t go and sell your Oculus Quest 2 just yet. Facebook has churned out six headsets in the last five years with only 17 months between Oculus Quest and Quest 2 so VRFocus would expect a 2022 launch for any new model. Also, it would need to upgrade whilst keeping the cost relatively the same as that £300 is a nice sweet spot, keeping it out the region of PlayStation 5 which could well see a new PlayStation VR by that point. Which is important, as the one thing lacking at the moment is actual competition, a driving factor in any tech sector.