Five years can seem like a long time. If you’ve ever been to a job interview then there’s a good possibility you’ve been asked “where do you image yourself in 5 years?” But it can go by in the blink of an eye which it certainly feels like when talking about the virtual reality (VR) industry. March 2016 saw the launch of Oculus Rift and the birth of modern VR, so naturally Facebook is reminiscing today whilst also looking towards what the future holds.
Plenty has happened in the last 60 months, VR hardware has improved in both form and versatility whilst developers have unlocked some of the secrets to what makes a good VR videogame. While 2016 can be attributed as the official launch of consumer VR with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR all arriving, let’s not forget that it took years to get to that stage thanks to devices like the Oculus Rift DK1 and DK2 and others. Considering how much value is put into physical interaction with digital worlds now, the fact Oculus Rift launched with an Xbox controller seems a world away.
That was soon rectified in less than a year with Oculus Touch – playing catch up to HTC Vive – making titles such as The Climb come alive, allowing players to go hands-on with this new era of videogames. Gamepads in VR soon became a thing of the past – although PlayStation VR still holds a soft spot for the tech – as developers strive to create a greater feeling of presence within their projects.
Innovation in VR has been exceptionally rapid with Facebook’s next headset, the Oculus Go, arriving in 2018. Designed to be an affordable entry into VR as well as being the company’s first all-in-one (AIO) device it would set the groundwork for future endeavours. “John Carmack is really the person that pushed for the creation of Oculus Go. He was super passionate about it, and about making VR less complex,” says Nicole Brendis, Product Marketing on the Oculus Blog. With Chris Pruett, Director of Content Ecosystem adding: “We learned a ton from Go. Quest wouldn’t have existed without Go existing first.”
But the Oculus Go’s lifespan would only be a couple of years. The Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S both launched in May 2019, heralding a new era where 6 degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) would become the norm. Oculus Go’s 3DoF control was too basic so it was discontinued in late 2020. However, it lasted longer than Oculus Quest which was superseded in 17 months by Oculus Quest 2, whilst Rift S is being discontinued very soon.
And that short lifecycle trend is going to continue by the sound of it as Mark Zuckerberg has already said Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) is “working on the next few generations of virtual reality and what Quest 3 and 4 are gonna look like.”
So that begs the question what is next? Plenty, with FRL Chief Scientist Michael Abrash saying: “We are at the very beginning. All this innovation, all this invention still has to happen with VR. People should realize that we’ve come a long way and we’ve done a great job—but this road stretches out for the rest of their lifetimes.”
Technologies including hand tracking, eye tracking, face tracking, brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and AI-powered interfaces all have a part to play. VRFocus will report on it all so don’t go anywhere.