For many years Oculus has sold fans of virtual reality to a diverse ecosystem of products. At last year's Oculus Connect Developer Conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed a range of headsets for different types of VR: the low-end Oculus Go, the linked Oculus Rift and the midrange Oculus Quest. This year, Oculus' message was more subtle, but no less clear: there is only one headset that is important to consumers, and it is the Quest.
Up to this point Oculus has clearly explained why people would like to have his three flagship devices at home. (The Samsung Gear VR still exists, but Oculus admits that it is essentially dead.) The Oculus Go is cheaper and has its own ecosystem of video-focused apps and simple games, but does not offer full positional tracking or virtual hands. The Rift is for people who want VR without any limitation on how big or resource intensive a game can be. The Quest is Oculus & # 39; stab in "mainstream" VR. It has similar capabilities to the Rift, but it requires no additional equipment.
But this week's Oculus Connect keynote interrupted this framework. First, Zuckerberg unveiled Oculus Link – an upcoming feature that allows people to connect their Oculus Quest to a computer to play Rift games. "Your Quest is actually a Rift now," he said. Then Oculus product manager Stephanie Lue said 50 Oculus Go apps have been imported to the Quest, complete with free upgrades (until the end of the year) for people who have purchased the Oculus Go version.
Oculus has also effectively introduced a new Quest-exclusive controller: your hands. An update next year adds controller-free finger tracking capabilities to the built-in Quest cameras & # 39; s. It will initially be an experimental function and probably never a primary interface for the current Quest generation. But it must enable people to perform simple interactions even without Oculus Touch controllers and playing games that are specially designed for fine finger movements.
In particular, Oculus has not even suggested that this will come to the Rift, despite the fact that the Rift S also uses built-in cameras & # 39; s. Oculus has claimed that the Rift S is a "gold standard" for VR gaming. In an interview with The edge, Facebook special game initiatives head Jason Rubin suggested that the Rift S was still a high-end Quest alternative in some respects. “Rift S has one extra sensor and can follow Quest better than Quest. There are good reasons to buy Rift S, "he said.
That does not alter the fact that Oculus first introduces a major new feature on its midrange headset. In addition to that sensor, the Rift S does not offer many other high-quality options. Like Devindra Hardawar Bee Engadget pointed out, it has a screen with a lower resolution and a slightly higher refresh rate than the Quest.
If Oculus Link really works and you are a normal person who likes to play or watch VR experiences at home, there is really no reason to buy anything other than a Quest. It offers a huge leap in possibilities compared to the Oculus Go, making it easily worth the extra $ 200. (Almost nobody in need of now a VR headset. So if you are going to buy one, it is worth spending more on something that extends your options so much.) Even if you mainly use VR with a gaming PC, the Quest adds a lot of functionality via a Rift S for the same $ 399 price. And it is clear what Oculus is focusing its efforts on now, so it may be faster to receive future updates as well.
The search is where Oculus has the biggest advantage because there is nothing special on the market. Former Oculus flagship, the Rift, has several major competitors, including Valve, who outperformed the Rift with its high-end Index headset. But the largest American competition of the Quest is the upcoming HTC Vive Cosmos, which has not yet been tested. It is currently also not a fully wireless headset; it's just a tied product with a wireless adapter.
The Quest is where Oculus focuses its efforts in the near future. During his speech at Connect, Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash discussed new prototypes with & # 39; half dome & # 39; with lighter designs and a larger field of vision. But he said the next generation VR is coming "soon".
That does not mean that Oculus will now dump the Rift S or Oculus Go. The Rift S is great if you are in an arcade, game studio or other company with no interest in mobile VR. The ring-shaped design is also more comfortable than that of the Quest, so people who spend a long time in VR may prefer it. (Again, this assumes that Link really makes the Quest a suitable Rift replacement.)
Similarly, the Oculus Go is a cheaper option for specific scenarios. More passive VR experiences have not been proven to be commercially feasible as game-like ones that benefit from manual and positional tracking. John Carmack, CTO of Oculus, said this week that "we just didn't stir the pot well" for content such as VR photography and video, and noted that no one had found "the Instagram of compelling media". But outside of people, VR video is still a core component of training modules at companies such as Walmart where a rich user experience is less important than conveying core ideas.
But both devices seem to focus on clearing the marginal markets that Oculus cannot capture with one headset, and not compile a line-up of equally (or otherwise) attractive products. That makes sense because Oculus always took a risk by releasing so many different VR headsets. Nowadays, those releases look like Oculus offers a gentle driveway to the Quest – and in retrospect it might have been a smart move.