Facebook is buying Oculus VR, the maker of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, for around $2 billion. This is a fact—as opposed to much of the hype about the purchase, and the product itself. Recently, Sony announced its own headset, dramatically named Project Morpheus, so the momentum is building for “the breakthrough” that has been decades in the making. It’s time for a reality check on virtual reality.
The challenges now are legion. The public sees VR headsets as “gamer gear,” so Facebook will need to merge the technology into its huge (and still growing) social space. In an investor call after the purchase announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke of “sharing not just moments [but] entire experiences and adventures. Oculus,” he opined, “has the potential to be the most social platform ever.”
A Call for Clarity
In a statement reminiscent of Apple’s reactions to rumors about our original iPad rental, one PCWorld.com columnist went so far as to say, “Everything you’ve heard about the Oculus Rift is wrong.” Brad Chacos thinks the Oculus Rift is “a groundbreaking, affordable virtual reality headset,” but the public has “a skewed picture.” He lists five top “inaccuracies,” but two deal with Kickstarter funding and the Oculus SDK (Software Developers Kit). The other three points, however, are crucial to clarity here.
Not Just For Games: The “early software” for the Rift, or any other VR headset, will focus primarily on games and other diversions. But Zuckerberg did not buy Oculus to make shoot-’em-ups more realistic. Like Steve Jobs with the iMac, he “sees the future” and aims for it. What might he see? One simple example: Bossa Studios’ Surgeon Simulator is a game today, but delete the horror-movie elements and tomorrow it could be part of a medical school curriculum.
Not Ready for Primetime: The Oculus Rift can be purchased at the company’s website. The firm has sold some 75,000 of them since March 2013, but the “product” is not a finished consumer product, but a developer’s kit to help you create VR software. There is no date set for a consumer-ready device, and when one debuts, it will require the horsepower of a CRE computer rental. Until power requirements are reduced to work with tablets and smartphones, the VR social “dimension” will remain constricted.
Not the Only Game in Town: With Facebook’s clout (and cash), Oculus—which will operate “semi-autonomously” like recent acquisition WhatsApp—often appears to be the only VR company around. CRE agrees with PCWorld.com’s Chacos that you should keep an eye on a “wide range of companies [that] are developing virtual and augmented reality headsets…including game-industry heavyweights like Sony (of PlayStation fame) and Valve (creators of the Steam PC gaming platform).” We know you’re busy, so we’ll keep an eye out for you—and so, as we like to conclude, we will keep you posted!
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