Some Observations from the First Week of Oculus Quest Sales

The Oculus Quest has now been shipping units since May 21st, 2019, for exactly one week, and I have been closely monitoring the Oculus Quest subReddit channel and other news sources to find out how things have been going.

And so far, things have been going like gangbusters! Many stores such as Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy report being completely sold out of the Quest, and some people are posting messages on the Oculus Quest subReddit, desperately searching for a location that can ship the product (or that they can drive to and pick one up) without having to wait weeks. People report making road trips of several hours to find the last store in their area that has a Quest in stock! Right now, Amazon Canada estimates delivery sometime between June 18th and July 11th if you order the model with 64GB memory today. Your best bet might be the Oculus website, which says they will ship by June 7th if you order today. So yes, you can call the launch a resounding success.

Furthermore, many of those early adopters are giving demonstrations of VR to their family, friends, and colleagues, and many of those people are instantly sold on the Oculus Quest, and go out and buy their own device. Virtual reality is one of those things that is best experienced live, and the Oculus Quest is tailor-made to give demos, since it is standalone headset, easy to transport and easy to set up. It’s also a sizable step up from the rather disappointing cellphone-based VR that is all that some people have experienced so far. The Quest is a game-changer.

In my first week, not only have I spent CDN$699 on the Oculus Quest headset with 128GB of memory, I have also spent almost CDN$100 on games and apps for the device:

I understand that Facebook is taking a 30% cut of the sales on the Oculus Store. Some people speculate that Facebook is actually selling the Quest hardware at a loss, just so they can make money on selling games and apps. The astonishing consumer uptake of the Oculus Quest will certainly attract software developers, once they realize that they have a potentially large audience to sell to. Expect a huge increase in the number of apps on the Oculus Store as the year goes on. There’s probably going to be some fantastic Black Friday sales, too! In fact, somebody has already created a website to help you pick out new apps as they are released.

So, what do I think of the Oculus Quest so far? I am absolutely enchanted. The first apps on the Oculus Store appear to be solid. Beat Saber and Dance Central promise to give me a calorie-burning workout at a time when I am already trying to lose weight via Weight Watchers. Wander uses Google Earth 360-degree photography to allow me to wander the world. (I spent some time visiting the pre-fire Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and admiring the view from the Eiffel Tower observation deck yesterday evening.) Nature Treks VR allows me to meditate in beautiful scenery. Tilt Brush (which was free for me, as I already had purchased it for the Oculus Rift) allows me to express my creative side. There’s really no downside to this. This gadget is the new iPhone, the new iPad, the new PlayStation. I’m sold.

The only real problem that I have experienced is that I simply do not have enough big, empty space in my rather small apartment to really experience the boundless freedom of the wireless Oculus Quest. Often, especially when I play Beat Saber or Dance Central, I brush my hand up against the Guardian boundary system that lights up and warns me when I get too close to walls or other physical obstacles. It’s annoying, and I want more space! I’m seriously considering completely redecorating my living room, throwing out my coffee table and some other furniture so I can create a bigger open space in which to play.

Now, I do have an obliging empty patch of grass located just outside my apartment that would do the trick for true “room-scale” VR. While Oculus does not recommend using the device outside (because you can easily damage the lenses in the Quest by direct exposure to bright sunlight), many people have reported being able to use the device around sunset outdoors without problem. (Of course, having my apartment neighbours wonder what the hell the fat man is doing as he flails around outdoors in a wireless headset and hand controllers is another problem entirely.)

So, as I predicted, the Oculus Quest is a hit, and it promises to bring many more consumers into virtual reality. And, if you’re sitting on the fence, I encourage you to demo a friend’s unit for yourself, and see what all the fuss is about.

Advertisements

Facebook Doesn’t Have a Coherent Social VR Strategy—But They’re Working on Something Big

Ben Lang of the Road to VR website doesn’t mince words in an article titled Facebook Has Four Separate Social VR Apps, and None of Them Are on Quest:

Facebook’s fragmented approach to social VR hasn’t gotten any better with the launch of Quest. The company now has four separate social VR apps, and none of them are currently available on its newest headset.

With Oculus, Facebook has aimed to build the premiere VR ecosystem, but when it comes to allowing users of the company’s different headsets—Go, Quest, and Rift—to actually interact with one another, it has completely dropped the ball.

And, as I blogged about earlier, Oculus Quest users do not have access to any Facebook-branded social VR platforms: no Facebook Spaces, no Oculus Home, no Oculus Rooms, no Oculus Venues. Facebook has basically left social VR to third-party vendors like VRChat and Rec Room, both of which will probably see a jump in user concurrency figures with the launch of the Oculus Quest headset, which I predict will prove very popular with consumers.

Adi Roberston, a senior reporter for The Verge, posted a tweet about Ben Lang’s article, which led to a very interesting response from Infinite Retina, who apparently has heard some industry gossip and is willing to spill some tea:

Infinite Retina said:

We hear Facebook is working on a major VR initiative that will come out in next 15 months. Code named “Metaverse.” They ended Facebook Spaces to get the programmers to work on this new thing.

My first response to this tweet was “Hallelujah! They’re killing Facebook Spaces!“. (My second response was “Holy shit!“.)

As I have said before, Facebook has the potential to be a major disruptive force in social VR, if they could only get their act together. And it sounds as if that is exactly what they are planning to do. All the current players in social VR had better be paying attention, and planning accordingly. They have only a small window to make an impact with their products before Facebook launches their “Metaverse” product, and when they do, it’s gonna be pretty much the only thing that the news media will be talking about (if the oceans of fawning press coverage over every stupid little upgrade to Facebook Spaces is any indication). And Facebook has very deep pockets for things like programmer salaries and advertising budgets.

Fasten your seatbelts! Things are gonna get really interesting!

Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest VR Headsets to Ship May 21st

Well, the waiting is finally over. Pre-orders start today for both the Oculus Rift S headset (the replacement for the original Oculus Rift VR headset) and the standalone Oculus Quest, and they will begin shipping on May 21st, 2019. A lot of eager fanboys on the Oculus and Oculus Quest subReddits are no doubt bitterly disappointed that the Quest did not start shipping today, but three weeks is not too long to wait.

Of course, I placed my pre-order on the Oculus website for the Oculus Quest with 128GB of memory for CDN$699 this afternoon. Gotta have the latest gadget!

My Oculus Rift headset, which I originally bought in December 2016 and had replaced in January 2017 due to a defect in one of the lenses, is still serving me quite well and I see no need to upgrade to the Rift S at this time. After all, it’s not what I would consider a next-generation update, it’s more like a half-step upgrade. I can wait.

But Facebook’s announcements at their F8 developers conference were not the only news today! Valve officially announced the details of its upcoming high-end Index VR headset and hand controllers. At US$999 it’s certainly not cheap, but it does look like it would be a significant upgrade to the current crop of VR headsets. Pre-orders for the Valve Index start tomorrow, May 1st, 2019.

It looks like the battle for the high-end PC-based virtual reality headsets is just beginning! If I were Facebook/Oculus or HTC, I would be a little concerned about Valve’s entry into the marketplace.

Interesting times ahead!

Facebook Reality Labs Gives Us a Preview of What Your Avatar Could Look Like in the Future

Have you ever wondered what your virtual-world avatar could look like, 10 to 20 years from now?

A recently published article in WIRED covers the work of Facebook Reality Labs, which is developing stunningly lifelike virtual reality avatars, called codec avatars, which can recreate the full gamut of facial expressions:

Examples of Facebook Reality Labs’ Codec Avatars

For years now, people have been interacting in virtual reality via avatars, computer-generated characters that represent us. Because VR headsets and hand controllers are trackable, our real-life head and hand movements carry into those virtual conversations, the unconscious mannerisms adding crucial texture. Yet even as our virtual interactions have become more naturalistic, technical constraints have forced them to remain visually simple. Social VR apps like Rec Room and AltspaceVR abstract us into caricatures, with expressions that rarely (if ever) map to what we’re really doing with our faces. Facebook’s Spaces is able to generate a reasonable cartoon approximation of you from your social media photos but depends on buttons and thumb-sticks to trigger certain expressions. Even a more technically demanding platform like High Fidelity, which allows you to import a scanned 3D model of yourself, is a long way from being able to make an avatar feel like you.

That’s why I’m here in Pittsburgh on a ridiculously cold, early March morning inside a building very few outsiders have ever stepped foot in. Yaser Sheik and his team are finally ready to let me in on what they’ve been working on since they first rented a tiny office in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood. (They’ve since moved to a larger space on the Carnegie Mellon campus, with plans to expand again in the next year or two.) Codec Avatars, as Facebook Reality Labs calls them, are the result of a process that uses machine learning to collect, learn, and re-create human social expression. They’re also nowhere near being ready for the public. At best, they’re years away—if they end up being something that Facebook deploys at all. But the FRL team is ready to get this conversation started. “It’ll be big if we can get this finished,” Sheik says with the not-at-all contained smile of a man who has no doubts they’ll get it finished. “We want to get it out. We want to talk about it.”

The results (which you can see more of in the photos and videos in the WIRED article) are impressive, but they require a huge amount of data capture beforehand: 180 gigabytes of data every second! So don’t expect this to be coming out anytime soon. But it is a fascinating glimpse of the future.

Would you want your avatar in a virtual world to look exactly like you, and have their face move exactly like your face, with all your unique expressions? Some people would find this creepy. Others would embrace it. Many people would probably prefer to have an avatar who looks nothing like their real-life selves. What do you think of Facebook’s research? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, thanks!