I mentioned in January’s blog post that there has been a number of attempts to make VR more mainstream and there are a number of obstacles to overcome to get people there. The biggest one being cost. Then buried in the numerous stories regarding Facebook is the release of the cheapest ever entry point into VR: Oculus Go.
For as cheap as $200, you can get a completely stand alone VR setup. No PC required, no expensive video card, and best of all no cables attached to your neck that prevent turning. The only outside requirements are a smart phone or tablet to download the Oculus App so you can buy stuff, and a wifi connection so you can download stuff.
I know what you are thinking: “For that price there are probably limitations” and yes it is true. Oculus Go is basically the equivalent of a Samsung Galaxy with Gear VR. The library available for the Go is nearly the same as for Gear VR, but it has a stand alone wifi tablet built in instead of needing to attach your Samsung phone.
More expensive VR setups are also more sophisticated. HTC Vive tracks its position with multiple cameras so you use your entire body to move around. Go only tracks your head and one hand with the controller in it. I’m actually OK with this. Sophisticated VR setups require you to stand and move around to be useful with the added danger of running into stuff. With GO, I can experience most everything in a comfy office chair that swivels around.
Another limitation is “cell phone graphics”. The big graphics intensive VR games and platforms are probably not going to run on Go, and that is going to be a problem for the VR industry as a whole if Go becomes a thing.
Lastly there is a problem with battery life. Expect only 2 to 3 hours per charge, or do what I do and get an extra long usb to micro usb cable and keep it connected. It will still drain battery, but slower. Lowering the brightness will help, too.
The VR Experience
On the positive side, the VR you experience on this cheap device is very good. HD-VR pictures and videos look great, and most of the content available is in this category. Video games tend to be simplistic with low-res textures to keep the frame rates high — a requirement for real immersive VR. I’ve tried a few games, and they all avoid realistic graphics for this reason.
Despite the low res look, playing a game that covers your entire field of view in 3D with a high frame rate is quite an amazing experience.
The problem with new hardware: The software problem!
There is another limitation, but it is an artificial one that will eventually be overcome… maybe: Right now, your only source of software is the Oculus store, and right now the selection is a bit on the slim side. The future of VR rests on sales of Oculus Go. If it is finally the breakout VR hit the industry has been waiting for, all of those VR content creators who have been spending billions with little return to show for it, will need to get onto the Go.
If on the other hand Go sales are as lame as Gear VR and Playstation VR sales were, the Oculus store will continue to struggle for content.
And that’s the real question here. Awash in investor money, VR software development was big four years ago. Every one wanted to create the software for the next big thing, and that was supposed to be VR.
Development money is drying up. Much of the content is one to two years old, and many of the VR videos come from companies like CNN that are no longer investing resources in VR videos.
Thus we have a vicious circle. For VR to go mainstream, Oculus Go needs to sell well, but for it to really sell well, there needs to be software or content that people want to play and use, but for that content to develop, Oculus Go needs to sell well.
A Look at the current content
So here are some mini reviews of the content I found available now:
Epic Roller Coasters – Probably the best way to demo VR is with a virtual roller coaster. Everyone knows this, which is why roller coaster videos and demos are pretty much everywhere. Epic Roller Coasters is the best of these, not only with the most interesting environments, but there is a physics game you can play where you must use a brake and accelerator to finish as quick as possible without crashing. Demo is free, $10 to unlock all of the coasters.
Bait – Once you get tired of making yourself dizzy with roller coasters, you can go to the other extreme with a fishing simulator. It’s actually kind of relaxing, but I got bored of the repetitive play in the demo and didn’t bother with the full version.
Rush – This is a glider suit racing challenge. This is a game that is perfect for VR, but suffers from the lack of realistic graphics. Gets repetitive after a while.
They Suspect Nothing – This is a series of mini arcade games packaged in a funny robot oriented theme that is very entertaining. As with many “mini arcade games” some are more fun than others, but there is less chance of boredom with more things to do. I also tried Wonderglade which is another mini arcade game, it has a “magic school” theme clearly designed for kids.
Amaze VR – A collection of about 200 videos, and because they are sorted by popularity the ones featuring beautiful models dancing, exotic dancing, and trying on bikinis in front of the camera are all near the top. There is even the first chapter of a dating simulator, but unfortunately no second chapter. Often the models in these videos are close enough to the camera that they feel like they are too close. This is all PG stuff but it ironically demos the potential for VR porn.
Republique VR – Finally a real story driven video game. It’s a stealth game where you try and lead a prisoner to safety. Often involves puzzles and what not. Apparently this game started originally as a mobile game and was upgraded to VR. I only got started but so far it feels cool.
Oculus Gallery, Netflix VR, Hulu VR – Ironically, one of the best uses for VR is the ability to watch good old 2D movies and TV in a virtual simulation of a theater or home living room. The lighting in the room even changes depending on the light from the screen. Or you can just play it in a “void” and watch TV through the goggles while laying down comfortably so you don’t have to face the TV to watch.
Oculus Rooms – If any app would be a “killer app” (an app that would encourage others to get the product), it might be Oculus Rooms. Oculus being a Facebook product, the focus is on meeting others virtually. Oculus Rooms allows multiple people to meet together virtually and engage in multiple mutual activities like watch TV and movies together, play a board game, or just hang out and chat.
But is it a “killer app”? I have been doing these kinds of activities with others online for 15 years in Second Life and There.com, both of which are declining in use. This is also not the first VR type product like this AltspaceVR (which is also available on GO) has been around a while and also struggling for users, almost shutting down last year.
The bottom line is that the current offerings on Go mostly feel like “gimmicks”. It is going to take a larger user base to start developing the platform into something people not only want but will use regularly.