Three years ago, Oculus and HTC launched their first VR headsets and kicked off… the slow, gradual rise of VR technology in gaming? Yeah. It’s not the most dramatic headline. But today, we’re getting a look at what Oculus’ second-generation Rift device will offer, and it’s a significant improvement over its predecessor.
The Rift S is the first update to the PC-connected Rift that Oculus has launched since its initial headset debuted at $600 (controllers, when available, originally added $200 to that price). Its multiple external cameras have always been something of a pain to set up — an argument that can be fairly applied to the entire experience of getting a Rift up and running. I’ve done it multiple times on different PCs, and while it’s gotten easier with practice and improved software, it’s still anything but a quick, plug-and-play process. The Rift S should improve on this.
In fact, the Rift S already does improve on this, in one critical way — no more external cameras. Instead, you’ll be able to rely on internal tracking that combines RGB and infrared sensors. Internal image resolution should also be much sharper, courtesy of a per-eye resolution target of 1280×1440, compared with 1080×1200 in the original device. The Rift S was developed in partnership with Lenovo, which receives substantial billing on the new hardware.
Reports from reviewers who have tested the kit are quite positive. The internal hand and arm tracking are claimed to be superior to the original external cameras, though the refresh rate is slightly lower (80Hz, down from 90Hz). The viewing angle is a little wider, but the Rift S switches to LCD instead of OLED, which should reduce the screen door effect (the Oculus Rift used a PenTile OLED, while the LCDs are RGB). Features like room-scale tracking should be much easier to use with the new Rift S compared with the original Rift. And while the Rift S is slightly heavier than the original Rift, the new Lenovo design is reportedly easier to wear for longer periods.
Oculus is promising a feature called Passthrough Plus, that will allow gamers to see the world around them in black-and-white without removing their headsets at all. This feature wasn’t demoed at GDC, so we can’t speak to how well it works, but it sounds like manufacturers are making progress on allowing people to interact with the world around them without needing to actually remove a headset.
The overall package for the Rift S is strong enough that it would be interesting to know why Brendan Iribe left Facebook last fall. The rumor is that after Facebook pulled back on a more advanced Rift 2, Iribe chose to depart the company. This new device might not pack everything that VR fans wanted — there’s no sign of wireless, for example — but the lower introductory price and improved features make a pretty strong case for themselves.
One key question will be whether these devices can build new markets for themselves by attracting new people to VR, or whether they just replace hardware already in-market. We’re glad to see better headsets finally hitting shelves, but what we’d love is a larger group of gamers buying into VR in the first place. The Rift S only costs $50 more than the current Rift, with substantially better features, while devices like the HP Reverb pack even better hardware into the Rift’s original launch price. Hopefully, with the larger range of devices targeting the space, we see increased consumer uptake.