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!

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Feelreal Multisensory VR Mask Raises US$100,000 in Kickstarter

There’s been no shortage of quirky add-ons for VR headsets which promise you a more immersive experience, from full-body haptic suits to a VR chair which turns on three different axes.

Well, a recently-launched Kickstarter offers you the opportunity to help crowdfund Feelreal, a new kind of VR mask which magnetically attaches to your existing VR headset and offers you:

  • smell (with 255 different scents available)
  • heat (as if you wanted to feel even hotter in a VR headset!)
  • wind
  • vibration
  • water mist

Here’s their Kickstarter promotional video:

Now, my very first thought at looking at this device was: Wait, not only is the upper half of my face blocked off, you’re gonna block off the lower half, too? No f***ing way.

But it would appear that there is no shortage of geeks out there that want to add smell and touch to their VR experiences, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is (literally). On April 11th, 2019, the company reported:

In less than 1 hour after launching our Kickstarter campaign, we hit our funding goal of $20K! We are now over 440% funded and still have 28 days left in our campaign.

At the moment, only 4 days into their crowdfunding effort, the campaign has raised over US$100,000, five times its initial goal. At US$120,000, the company promises to release custom scent packs for the popular VR games Beat Saber and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR:

The Feelreal VR mask is compatible with a wide variety of current VR headsets, including the Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, and HTC Vive:

For more information, I refer you to their Kickstarter page and their website. They’re also on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. Who knows? Maybe soon you’ll be able to add smell and touch to the sights and sounds of VR!

Oh, and Kyle Machulis actually got to try out the device for himself at the 2018 Game Developers Conference, and he gives a complete review of his experience in this Twitter thread (warning: this is not a rave review, and the language is NSFW).

Leaked Mark Zuckerberg Email Reveals His Thoughts on How Facebook Could Dominate Virtual Reality

There’s an extremely interesting article on the Road to VR website, that’s worth a read. Apparently, an author writing a book about the history of VR has obtained a copy of a lengthy 2015 email that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook sent to his senior executives. (The email has been confirmed by Road to VR, a major news reporting website on VR, as authentic.)

Titled Leaked Zuckerberg Email Reveals Facebook’s XR Strategy, ‘Our goal is not only to win, but to accelerate its arrival’, the article quotes Mark at length about the strategy behind Facebook buying Oculus for 2 billion dollars in 2014, and what he feels Facebook needs to do to dominate in virtual reality.

Remember this prediction I made last April?

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:
– Alphabet/Google
– Amazon
– Apple
– Facebook/Oculus
– Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:
– High Fidelity
– Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
– Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
– VRChat

Well, keep that in mind, and read this direct quote from Mark’s email:

The key [VR] apps are what you’d expect: social communication and media consumption, especially immersive video. Gaming is critical but is more hits-driven and ephemeral, so owning the key games seems less important than simply making sure they exist on our platform. I expect everyone will use social communication and media consumption tools, and that we’ll build a large business if we are successful in these spaces. We will need a large investment and dedicated strategy to build the best services in these spaces. For now, though, I’ll just assert that building social services is our core competence, so I’ll save elaborating further on that for another day.

The platform vision is around key services that many apps use: identity, content and avatar makerplace, app distribution store, ads, payments and other social functionality. These services share the common properties of network effects, scarcity and therefore monetization potential. The more developers who use our content marketplace or app store or payments system, the better they become and the more effectively we can make money.

It seems pretty clear to me, from this email, that Facebook is planning to step into social VR in a major way. Mark sees “social communication and media consumption” as the killer app for VR, and they want to be a part of it. Facebook, for better or for worse, wants to dominate social virtual reality the way they already dominate social media.

I expect that we will all begin to get some idea of what Facebook has planned with the launch of the standalone Oculus Quest VR headset later this year. Watch carefully for any parallel announcement regarding the next-generation Oculus Home, Oculus Rooms, Facebook Spaces, or a completely rebranded platform where Oculus Go, Quest, and Rift users can meet up with each other. I’m convinced, now more than ever, that it’s going to happen.

Pursuing the Holy Grail of Second Life in Virtual Reality: A New Solution Using Firestorm and SteamVR

holygrail
Obligatory image from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

I first heard the news from Wagner James Au of the long-running Second Life blog New World Notes: someone has come up with a new way to navigate SL in a VR headset!

OK this is pretty amazing: Someone named Peter Kappler quietly created code to run Second Life in VR via Firestorm and Steam VR, and then posted the source code online. “It’s not a fully working Firestorm,” he allows on his YouTube, “there is still a lot to do. The file I posted is a source file in C++ for coders that wish to maybe work on a VR version for Second Life.”

There have been at least two other attempts to create a VR port for Second Life, but performance has not been impressive — Linden Lab had an experimental client of its own, but discontinued supporting it due to lack of decent frame rate. The demo video…suggests Kappler has come up with a fairly decent port; better yet, by open sourcing his code, he’s encouraging other developers to improve it further.

Here’s the eight-minute demo video Wagner refers to (there’s no sound):

Now, there is no guarantee that this open-source solution (which relies on SteamVR and the Firestorm viewer code) will be able to attain the high framerates required to avoid VR sickness. But it does look somewhat promising!

Second Life was never intended for VR; the platform is simply too dated to support it. Any solution will be a kludge at best. But I do find it interesting that people keep pursuing the Holy Grail of SL in VR, anyways. I wouldn’t mind trying this out myself, just to see how well it works.

Thank you for the heads-up, Wagner!