Our developer Victor has been busy catching up on the news with this year’s Facebook Connect event. Let’s find out what his thoughts are and predictions for the next year in the VR/AR space.
What announcements at Facebook Connect are you most excited about?
Definitely the Quest 2, a new hardware. I’m very excited. Just before the conference, there was a leak and the videos were out, and you know, in it were the specs for the new hardware. I have to say, when I saw the hardware update I was very, very pumped because it was a massive upgrade. And indeed, during the conference they confirmed it. The speculation around the studio is that the extra power is going to be used to render the extra pixels on screen and so far, we think our predictions are maybe they will have a little bit of leftover extra performance, but we will see with further testing.
Based on my experience last Oculus connect, the keynote is where they talk about future tech, where we are in AR/VR. That was the part that I was looking forward to this year as well and they didn’t disappoint at all. The keynote had Mike Abrash talk about their latest tech and yeah, it’s very promising and very exciting.
What was the most interesting part of Mike’s talk?
Well, during his talk I think the most exciting thing for me was the promise of AR in the future, where it’s just a single pair of AR glasses on your head and you can use it to basically navigate, cook, work, communicate, and everything. So the future does look promising, it looks straight out of a science fiction book which is very exciting. I think their ultimate goal is to create a device that is, you know, frictionless, for you to talk to anyone anywhere in the world and that’s a proper human talking. It’s not like a phone call or a video call; it’s like you’re present in the same space with the other person and you can see their body language, you can see their mouth movements, and everything. That’s basically what they’re aiming towards. He talked about some aspects of the tech that they’re working on, and one of them is face tracking and the other is body tracking that was announced a few years back. So that’s one piece of the puzzle it solves, the mouth and the body language part.
This year he also talked about how to calibrate the users into the same 3D space so they can be environment aware. For example, if you want to talk to a person who is a hologram right next to you, the other user on the other end will be able to see your surroundings as well, so that they don’t get cut in half by your desk, that sort of thing. So yeah, it’s a very complex problem to solve but I really see their general direction in this is basically to work towards frictionless human communication at its full capacity, not just video or phone calls.
How do you think the advancements of Quest 2 will affect development of new titles?
I think we need some further tests into the hardware to see its performance, but importantly this year there have been some really cool dev tools that are coming out as well. For example, I was watching the talk where they were talking about the new GPU profiling and it looks very promising. Currently, the GPU compartment of the device is more or less like a black box to our devs – a closed system, we can’t see how it works inside. We have to do a lot of a/b tests in order to be able to see what the system does when we feed different textures into the system. We can’t talk directly to the GPU compartment, and when we do a/b testing we basically prepare two sets of materials/textures with different specs, and then we feed both into the system and see how they behave. Basically we are seeing how we can optimize the experience, and you can see how time-consuming this is, it’s a lot of effort. But this year, they’re coming out with the tools that directly talk to the GPU for you, and any questions that you have for the GPU instead of being a black box like before with AB tests, you can basically just ask it to show you the information you need which is very cool and it’s a major time saver, so I think developers can benefit a lot from this tool.
How do you feel about the discontinuation of Rift S next year?
Well, I think it makes sense because we’re already starting to see a trend last year that the Quest is going to be, you know, the all-around VR headset for Oculus. They’re really pushing this hard and I think the reason for that is because of its mobility and usability, and it doesn’t really need to be connected to a computer at all times. Rift S, as Richard predicted to last year, was probably just a midway product to bridge the gap between the original Rift and the Quest.
So naturally, when the Quest 2 comes out it’s now with the full featured Oculus link and it can perform just as well as the PC headsets so really, I don’t think there is a need for a dedicated headset anymore, it’s just going to be all in one. And that ultimately increases value for everyone in the community as well, because they don’t really have to deal with a split market anymore and at the same time, it’s very easy for the consumer. Instead of wondering which one they should be getting, they can just go ahead and get the Quest. In general I think it’s a choice that makes a lot of sense.
What are your thoughts on the integration/requirement of a FB account with Oculus? Do you think it will affect how it’s received in the long run?
Well, first of all I think it’s a very big move of course, but I think it’s ultimately a step in the right direction because the ultimate goal that Mark Zuckerberg talked about at the start of their VR journey is to basically make 1 billion VR uses on the planet and a realistic way of doing that is to use the user base Facebook already has. So now with the easy integration with the Quest headset, everyone with a Facebook account can just easily log in with no friction, and that really makes it simple for a lot of users so I think generally it’s a step in the right direction.
That said, I do agree with a lot of people that there are concerns and I think Facebook is also investing a lot of time and effort into this problem of privacy and data collection, and their efforts are very visible. In their keynote this Facebook connect, they spent a lot of time explaining how they’re answering, you know, ethical questions about the upcoming AR glasses with data collection. On the one hand, they do need the data to be able to construct a virtual world on top of the real world, to be able to run mass scale AR, and that goes the same for VR as well. But on the other hand, collecting data, especially from private spaces, can raise a lot of questions, so I think this is going to be a very hard question to answer. But just like every piece of tech that came before, it’s going to come with questions. I think the ultimate question is not about whether a tech is good or bad, it’s all about how we use this tech. So I think with the proper questions answered carefully, the future looks great, we don’t really need to worry too much about it.
Do you have any predictions for the VR landscape between now and the next Connect event?
So they announced Aria, their research AR glasses, and they’re aiming to release them commercially next year. I don’t know which stage they are at with their research and you know, the progress of pushing this into commercial use, but I would predict, and this is a wild prediction by the way, that if we’re not going to be affected by something crazy like COVID next year, then it’s very likely that they’ll be able to be ready to release the AR glasses next year. And as for the Quest, I’m predicting that they’re probably making this more like a phone product cycle, where they come up with a new hardware every year and users of previous models can either wait for the next one or just buy the next generation straight away if they are going into the market for the first time. This way, they can really quickly iterate through the hurdles of developing their VR headsets. So these will be my two predictions.