Oculus didn't have big news this CES, and there are plenty of unanswered questions about its virtual reality headsets. How are we going to interact with it? Are people actually buying Gear VR, the mobile headset it released in partnership with Samsung? When will we finally see a consumer edition of the Oculus Rift, instead of the development kits that are shipping now? After seeing the company's latest prototype today, we asked all these questions of Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe. Here are the most important things we heard.
The Rift's motion-tracking technology now applies to sound
"If you think about 5.1 surround sound, that's just like a plane, a single plane that you get to hear sounds around you. And actually, it's pretty hard to get sounds in front of you with headphones. So instead of a two-dimensional plane, we've added HRTF audio — 3D surround sound audio — which gives you sound below and above. We've been working on VR audio for a while now, so this is almost a year effort.
The fact that we actually have a very precise position of your head — you haven't had that in the past. Sure, you could simulate this quality of 3D surround sound if you motion-captured and put markers and dots on a pair of headphones, you could deliver this kind of an experience in the past. But people didn't buy ten, twenty, thirty thousand-dollar rooms just to sit there and listen to audio. We're in this great position where we have the exact position of the head. So now we can fuse that and use that to manipulate the audio sound. So when you hear something over here [snaps fingers], it should sound like you're getting closer to it as you lean in. We'll be coming out with a date soon on when that SDK is going to be available, but we're sharing it here."
Oculus won't be focusing on high-end audio hardware
"We don't want to get in the headphone wars. Everybody has their own favorite headphones, and that market is very competitive. What we want to do is be compatible with them and support them, but also offer default audio out of the box. So you have these headphones that you saw here, that are going to be very similar to the ones that the consumer version has. It's easy to share the headset with people with those. We felt like these were the best headphones to go with for the base default model."
It's busy scaling up manufacturing for the consumer edition
"We're trying to keep the cost relatively the same as what we have."
"These are new headsets that we've rebuilt. They're a little stronger. We're getting the components closer to being consumer ready. When we're shipping dev kits, we're shipping tens of thousands in each batch as we're making them over a few months. We've gotten over 100,000 DK2s now, so that's a lot, but that was also over a pretty widespread period of time. We kind of incrementally build them and do quick little changes and things. When you go to the consumer market and you need to predict and estimate and build a much larger volume, it's a lot harder. The headset is not necessarily getting cheaper, component-wise, but we're trying to keep the cost relatively the same as what we have.
We've been doing a lot of work with manufacturers now to get them efficient in manufacturing. We also have a bunch of internal R&D that we're not ready to show off quite yet."
An Oculus-made control system is being shown 'sometime soon'
"We haven't showed anybody our early versions of VR input yet. We're excited to show something sometime soon. But we're not ready yet. And it will definitely change as we show it. We'll show different things that will continue to improve. I think long-term, everybody agrees that at some point, you want the lightest, smallest pair of glasses or goggles, and you want to see your hands naturally, and you want to see your body naturally, and you want to feel like you're 100 percent totally there. That is really really difficult, and we're not going to get that level of body tracking, hand tracking, eyes, mouth, whole human tracking in the early versions of VR."
"You want to see your hands naturally, and you want to see your body naturally."
The Gear VR sold better than Samsung expected
"I know they're sold out — I tried to get one just the other day, and it was in backorder. They ended up selling a lot more than they expected. That's not necessarily ever a bad thing, but we're pushing them, and we've had continual meetings — they're realizing this themselves, obviously in the demand, that they need to be making a lot more of these."
Some parts of the Rift are almost consumer-ready
"We're starting to lock in on certain components that we're going to use for the consumer V1. Optically, screen-wise, form factor, audio-wise, a lot of those are really, really close, if not already locked for what the consumer version is going to be. It will certainly look different, and there are other parts of the experience which aren't there yet, that we're working on. It's going to be a fun year of different innovative things to show."
We don't know if Oculus will release a Rift without a controller, but it won't ship with an unfinished one
"We'd rather have a very simplified input or a gamepad input."
"We won't release a version with bad input. It's something that we feel like breaks the experience. We'd rather have a very simplified input or a gamepad input. We haven't made that decision yet, but we'd rather have something very dependable that is clearly not trying to be the perfect VR input than something that's half-baked. And what we've seen out there in the community... nothing's really hit that mark yet. It's really important to the whole Oculus team to get VR input right in the beginning and not deliver something that misses the mark."
There's no date for a consumer Rift, but Oculus is 'very excited' for 2015
"We're not announcing any dates now. In the past, if you look at our history of when we show things and when we show prototypes, to where we start to make those prototypes in a form factor that's available to other people publicly — with a lot of caveats around it for being for developers or early adopters — we don't have a long period of time. We're working as quick as we can to get this ready. But we have no announcements yet. We're very excited for 2015."