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2018-03-29

- By Adam Nagus

In this blog, I will talk about the Oculus Go and compare it to other similar products before discussing why it exists and what I hope will be the future for the budget Virtual Reality devices.

What is the Oculus Go?

At the Game Developer Conference (GDC) 2018, many more people got a hands on experiences with Oculus' latest virtual reality head mounted display (HMD) the Oculus Go.

The Go is an all-in-one HMD originally announced back in November 2017 by Mark Zuckerberg at Oculus Connect 4. An all-in-one HMD differs from the Oculus Rift which requires users to remain tethered to a high-end PC, the Oculus Go is a standalone device that doesn't need a PC and doesn't need the user to attach or slot in a smartphone in order to function.

Mark Zuckerberg described the Oculus Go as sitting in the 'sweet spot' between high-end PC VR and mobile VR. The HMD demonstrated at Oculus Connect was a silver colour, looking similar to the current Oculus Rift headset, though much more streamlined and no cables.

Oculus Go vs Gear VR

We know that the Oculus Go offers full three degrees of freedom (3DoF) which has it on par with the current mobile VR offering from oculus and Samsung, the Gear VR. I mention the Gear VR because I am attempting to understand what gap or sweet spot Zuckerberg is referring to, when mobile VR has existed for a while now.

Samsung has been bundling the Gear VR with its flagship mobile phone for a couple of years, so how does the standalone Oculus Go, compare at least on paper to the Gear VR?

Feature Oculus Go Gear VR
Field of View Unknown but better than Rift 101 degrees
Processor Snapdragon 821 Depends on phone
Memory 3GB RAM 4GB RAM
Audio Internal spatial audio speakers, 3.5mm headphone jack Phone speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack
Storage 32GB, 64GB 64GB onboard storage, microSD slot
Battery Unknown Depends on phone
Display LCD display (1280x1280 usable @ 72Hz) AMOLED (1024x1024 usable @ 60Hz)
Sensors 3DoF Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer 3DoF Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer
Controller 3DoF Controller 3DoF Controller
Network WiFi WiFi, Cellular

What the information above doesn't tell us is how a device designed to do one thing (VR) compares to a mobile phone. One thing we expect is that the battery life of the Oculus Go should be better than a phone and Oculus have confirmed that the Go has better heat dissipation which unlocks more performance than a GearVR using a Samsung S7.

The Oculus Go and Gear VR both come complete with an orientation-tracked controller so not much to separate them when it comes to controller interaction.

Where the Go starts to get interesting is its ability to use exciting new technology like Fixed Foveated Rendering and Dynamic Throttling.

Fixed Foveated Rendering is a new feature developed in partnership with Qualcomm, allowing developers to render the edges of the VR eye texture at a lower resolution than the center. This is a significant performance optimization for titles that render to high-resolution buffers or for those that have a complex fragment shader. The impact this will have on the performance of titles, along with the reduction on resource usage will be a significant improvement allowing content creators to optimize more effectively.

The new Dynamic Throttling will allow games and apps to automatically change the CPU and GPU speeds, meaning developers need only specify a baseline performance requirement and Oculus Go will detect if it is necessary to clock the CPU/GPU up or down. This will work to help avoid the dropping of frame rate while still building complex scenes when needed.

Speaking of framerates Oculus Go will also support a new 72Hz Mode. This mode will allow developers to choose to run the display at 72 frames-per-second (FPS) instead of the normal 60 FPS. This should be a great boost in immersion for mobile VR and also make video shot at 24 fps less likely to be impacted by screen tearing as 72 is a multiple of 24. 72 fps is still not close to the 90-fps expected when using an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, however for a standalone untethered VR device, it is a step forward compared to the existing mobile VR offerings.

Oculus Go vs Oculus Rift

OK, so we have established that a standalone device does have some features that enhance the VR experience for consumers over existing mobile VR solutions, however if you work in the XR industry, what experience would you want potential influencers and consumers to have for their first time in VR?

With the Oculus Go, a consumer will not have positional tracking in 3D space, which is something I miss when using mobile. I am very excited about inside out tracking functionality coming to the next generation of VR HMDs, that removes the requirement for external sensors and cables being setup around the VR environment to track where a person is in the real world.

With better less intrusive tracking, higher screen resolutions, better optics and wireless tethering to a PC all just around the corner, is it worth a consumer paying an additional $500 in some cases over the Oculus Go $200?

Which Virtual Reality HMD is right for you?

For me I am pushing for a 3-stream approach to VR technology.

  1. Low barrier - Devices that do not require any technical skills, minimal setup and are cheap enough for lower middle-income families to afford or entertainment venues or companies to buy in bulk.
  2. High End Consumer - Require some technical expertise and pushes what can be done with consumer level graphic cards. Aimed at early adopters, enthusiasts, technophiles and entertainment venues.
  3. Professional Level - Pushes the technology to the cutting edge, the limitation of the device is based on the current advancement in optics, processing and power and doesn't focus on what consumers can afford. This level will focus on the best possible experience that can be achieved and allow new use cases to be realised. In addition to this professional level, I'd like to see a slightly higher level created, which is similar to how the car industry build concepts cars that show off innovation, but probably won't go into production for many years if ever. The concepts are created to inspire the next generation of inventors and engineers to push what is possible as well as grabbing the headlines. We sometimes see this at CES with TV that are impossibly large and expensive but may eventually become a reality for people's homes.

What about Low barrier devices like the $200 Oculus Go? Well I look at it like this. Just because Aston martins, Ferraris, McLarens and other pinnacle of automobile engineering exist, do you not buy a car until you can have the ultimate road handling experience?

I'd like to see airports and airline companies buy a bunch of Oculus Go HMDs, to offer to passengers who are already in a sitting only position. Passengers will then use the Oculus Go to use to watch movies, documentaries and play games. Eventually low barrier devices will be used to collaborate online in virtual social space such as facebook's VRChat through the on-board Wi-Fi. For business users, there will be meeting rooms and private pods to talk in whilst in the airport or the airplane. I keen to design a VR app to be used by passengers who are not confident fliers especially during take-off and landings, to ease their discomfort and support reducing the impact their phobias have on their lives. High End Consumer devices would be too cumbersome for use during transit and I wouldn't feel frustrated that consumers are not getting the full room scale experience, considering they are buckled into a chair anyway for the next 1 - 17 hours!

At the end of the day, it is the content that makes the experience even more so than the technology. I remember going to a conference in Florida in May 2017, a very large global system integrator was showing off Virtual Reality on their stand. I was pleased to see they were using an Oculus Rift instead of mobile VR to demonstrate what VR could do, well I was impressed until I tried the demo which was a very low quality 360 video which could have easily been 720p resolution. The demo was terrible and clearly demonstrated that content is key, and it doesn't matter how amazing your hardware is if you don't have content that is capable of creating an immersive and enjoyable experience for the majority of users.

To my fellow XR enthusiasts and industry leaders, let's keep pushing what is possible and be clear on how me message what virtual reality is and how there are different levels to the experience.

If you have tried VR and it wasn't a great experience, I hope this blog demonstrates that there are different types of immersion and hopefully you will get the chance to try out some different experience in the future which will amaze and entertain.

Please check out some other articles and demos whilst you are on our website.

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