Jason Rubin can envision an Oculus Rift 2, how Facebook’s virtual reality headset would need to evolve to earn a number, rather than a letter after its name.
And it’s clearly much more than what the Oculus Rift S will deliver this spring.
Rubin, vice president in charge of content at Oculus, tells Variety that the Oculus Rift S is a half-step forward, an iterative improvement on many of the software and hardware systems built into the headset, that still isn’t quite enough to call it the next Oculus Rift.
“It’s not fundamentally changing the product,” Rubin said. “It’s a progression, it’s an improvement.”
The Oculus Rift S will sell for $399 when it hits later this year and bring with it some major improvements over the original Rift. Users will no longer need an external tracker or camera to use the system and creating virtual boundary walls for a play area has been vastly simplified. The system also has improved optics, screens, and teach, and will include the ability to see the world around you through the built-in cameras without having to remove your headset.
While the result is an across the board improvement in the system and ease with which one can use it, it’s still not enough to call it an Oculus Rift 2, Rubin said.
“I think if we did something we honestly called a 2 and felt comfortable with that name, it would need to include radical new tech,” he said. “Like body tracking, eye tracking, a new form of input, a lot of things that would create a new ecosystem. If we added things like that it would radically change the ecosystem.”
In other words, an Oculus Rift 2 would be so different than the previous models that some games and experiences created for the original Oculus Rift simply wouldn’t work on the new one and new experiences and games created for the 2 absolutely wouldn’t work on the original.
There’s nothing about the Oculus Rift S, Rubin points out, that forces you to upgrade from the Rift.
“The Rift is fully in the ecosystem,” he said. “There’s no need to upgrade.”
In terms of new users though, the ability to choose between the original Rift and the Rift S won’t last long. The company has stopped producing the original and Rubin said that stock is already running out in most places.
The decision to stop producing the original Rift was based on things like the potential for confusion in stores and dealing with production costs, Rubin said.
The decision to invest in creating an iterative Oculus Rift was based on a desire to address a number of consumer complaints and vastly improve how easy it is to get into and out of VR experiences.
“When we asked consumers, a lot of negative feedback was around the difficulty of getting in and out of VR,” Rubin said. “Double checking your sensors, resetting your guardian. The inside-out tracking radically changes the ease of use.”
That’s because users will no longer have to set up external tracking devices, instead, they can simply plug the headset into their computer and pop on the headset to start using it.
Because the team overhauled how virtual borders are set up, using the headset on multiple devices or a laptop is much easier as well. A user can simply draw their border as if using a laser pointer when they move and get back to gaming.
Finally, the ability to see through the headset to the real world around you means you can easily do things like grab a drink or answer the phone without taking off your headset.
“All of those are highly positive,” he said.
It helps that both the vastly improved Oculus Rift S and standalone Oculus Quest are arriving at a time when virtual reality finally has a massive, system-selling game in the market.
“Beat Saber,” a virtual reality rhythm game by studio Beat Games, exploded onto the VR scene in 2018, quickly capturing the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike.
The game has players using two controllers, which look like lightsabers in the game, to slash through blocks in the correct direction to the rhythm of various music.
The game is available on PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality headsets, the Oculus Rift and soon the Oculus Quest. But it was the first video, released in January 2018, that showed just how big the game would become. The “Beat Saber” teaser trailer currently has more than two million views.
“The ‘Beat Saber’ viral video has been seen more times than any video Oculus has ever put out,” Rubin said.
He said the game’s release on the Oculus Rift brought with it not just a lot of sales of the game, but a “giant spike” of people using the Rift.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “People get it, and it’s not something you can play anywhere but in VR.”
He said the game just saw another huge uptick connected to the release of a new pack of songs and sabers.
“People who are looking into virtual reality are thinking they clearly need a system that plays ‘Beat Saber,” he said. “That’s like ‘Robo Recall,’ and ‘The Climb,’ there are maybe one or two titles out there like that.”