The era of virtual reality (VR) as a mainstream product is edging closer as headsets become more convenient to use, a senior figure at Oculus has said.
The Facebook-owned VR company has recently announced two new headsets – the flagship, PC-powered Oculus Rift S and the wireless Oculus Quest, both of which will cost £399.
Modern virtual reality headsets, which have been on sale since 2016, have so far failed to capture the wider public imagination and become mainstream entertainment and gaming tools – despite a range of devices being launched alongside Oculus’s original Rift, including the HTC Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR.
Jason Rubin, vice president for augmented and virtual reality partnerships at Facebook, said advances in technology which meant the firm’s headsets no longer required external sensors to track movement had made a “radical difference” to the accessibility of VR.
The replacement for the flagship Rift headset – the Rift S – has done away with external sensors and now only requires a single cable to be plugged into the device. It can now also be run from some laptops, greatly increasing its portability.
“You can now put this in a laptop, pick it up, move it somewhere else and continue to play without leaving the experience – which is insane – and one of the biggest complaints from consumers. So we’re solving problems for them,” Mr Rubin told the Press Association.
“You have this (a smartphone), which you can jump into and jump out of very easily, so people are used to doing that.
“But going back into (the first-generation) Rift, for example – if you had bumped your sensors – you had to set that system up again and it was just a lot of work.
“So getting rid of that inconvenience means if you have a half an hour you can go into VR, it doesn’t take half an hour to get into VR. That’s definitely a massive change.”
Mr Rubin said Oculus had also changed its approach to selling virtual reality headsets in order to appeal to a wider audience.
He argued that, until now, VR headsets had either been high-end devices which were expensive and required powerful, specialist PCs to work, or basic models designed for casual VR experiences that came at lower prices.
“That’s a huge middle of people that are completely left out, and Oculus Quest fills that middle, and nobody else is in that space, with our software library and everything else,” he said.
“There was this massive missing middle point of users that is first being addressed now and it’s huge.”
These changes, he said, had moved virtual reality closer to being considered a mainstream gadget for the first time.
“I think, as a consumer, everybody thinks about reasons not to buy things, because you only have so much money, you only have so much time, so you’re always thinking of reasons not to,” he said.
“If you don’t own a PC and want to be a gamer, we didn’t really have a product for you. That barrier is gone now because we have Quest. It’s hard to explain how major a difference that is,” he said.
“If you go over to someone’s house and they have VR and they go ‘Oh, I’d like to try that’, the first thing you think is ‘I wonder if I bumped my sensors’ or ‘Am I set up and ready to go back into VR?’. You no longer have to think that, especially if you have a Quest, it’s like a baseball cap – ‘Yeah, put it on’.
“So even the ability to show your friends has gone up greatly. Before, you had to have your friend come home to your house, into your room, to play. You can now take that device to their house and not have to set it up.
“If it’s a Quest you can take it to work and pass it around your work. So the virility of VR can go up with these devices. We’ll see how it all goes; they’re not on the market yet but it seems like we’re in the right space now.”