Facebook’s Oculus takes triple hit

(Image courtesy Oculus VR.)

(Image courtesy Oculus VR.)

There’s a battle raging now for who will be the dominant platform of the coming virtual reality metaverse.

Facebook, which has been getting a big chunk of the media attention with the Oculus Rift Kickstarter and its $2 billion acquisition, has suffered a few blows lately, even as rival Google picks up steam.

I’m not including Sony in this race because while its Playstation VR platform seems to be doing very well, it’s a gaming platform, and will likely coexist along side any eventual general-purpose platform. It has a good price point for mainstream adoption by video game enthusiasts, good relationships with developers, a strong brand, and a large install base of the console itself. But, just as consoles don’t compete directly with personal computers, laptops, and mobile devices, I don’t think that the Playstation’s closed ecosystem and strong gaming focus will broaden its appeal much beyond games and media consumption.

The sh*t-memes scandal

Virtual reality developers and early enthusiasts were already annoyed that Oculus had sold out to Facebook, then annoyed again when Oculus — temporarily — went back on a promise to allow compatibility for other platforms, such as the HTC Vive.

But when Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was discovered to have given money to a racist, sexist, pro-Trump, anti-Clinton “sh*t memes” campaign, developers started backing away from the platform. Luckey, formerly the company’s poster boy and gee-whiz mascot, was also notably absent from the Oculus Connect conference earlier this month.

Sure, an occasional embarrassment like this does not, by itself, necessarily doom a company. But it does leave a bad taste in people’s mouths, especially at a time when the industry is trying hard to deal with its diversity issues.

When given a choice of two platform that are generally running neck-and-neck, why not go with one that has a slightly better technology, instead — and is headed by a woman, HTC’s Cher Wang?

The Samsung disaster

Of course, the best-selling hardware running Oculus software isn’t actually the Oculus Rift. It’s the Samsung Gear VR, which has reported over a million units sold.

It works with late-model Samsung phones, costs just $99, and was bundled free with new phones this year. The quality isn’t as good as that of the tethered sets, but is up there, and certainly the best available on a mobile-based platform.

Then Samsung phones started exploding, the company refused to give refunds for the Gear VRs — and Google just out-innovated it with its new Daydream platform.

The brand is not dead, but it’s definitely tarnished, and will take time to recover.

The controller issue

The Oculus Rift launched with a standard gamepad-style controller, not the motion controllers like those of the HTC Vive. The Oculus Touch motion controllers only became available for pre-order this month, and delivery won’t start until December.

Ouch.

The price problem

Why bother getting a high-end tethered headset when you can get a Playstation VR for half the price? One reason is room-scale virtual reality — being able to actually move around inside a virtual environment.

But you need more than just a high-end computer, headset and controllers for that. You also need sensors that can detect your movement.

Here is how much it will cost you to get room scale VR with the Oculus Rift, on top of the new VR-capable computer you will have to buy:

  • Oculus Rift headset: $600
  • Oculus Touch controllers: $200
  • Additional sensor for room-scale VR: $80

Total: $880

Here is how much it will cost you to get the same setup with the HTC Vive. Again, you’ll need to start with a VR-capable computer. In addition, you will need:

  • HTC Vive headset: $800
  • Controllers: included
  • Base station sensors for room-scale VR: included

Total: $800

If you’re the kind of person who isn’t satisfied with the Playstation VR and and need a really high-end experience, and are willing to pay for it, why not go all the way to the HTC Vive, and get a better product, at an equal or slightly lower cost?

Tethered virtual reality — where you connect a headset to a computer — is a niche use case, anyway for the home user. It’s more appropriate for enterprise settings such as manufacturing prototypes and medical training simulations, and for video arcades. And HTC has been gaining ground in this area, with hundreds of arcades in Asia expected to be on the platform this year, and a couple of thousand next year.

Oculus hasn’t released their sales numbers, but HTC just said that they’ve sold 140,000 headsets since they launched in April.

According to a July report, Facebook plans to sell 400,000 Oculus Rifts by the end of this year, but it’s impossible to know whether they’re on track, and if the Vive is peeling off customers on the high end and the Playstation VR on the low end.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • I’m going to add 2 more big issues to the list.

    #4 market fragmentation of essentially 3 Oculus systems now. Basic, 180 degree Touch, and 360 room scale. As a developer do you make room scale experiences knowing a large % of Oculus owners can’t use it?

    #5 Oculus room scale performance questions. VIVE lighthouse tracking is superior to optical hands down. Having said that we know little about Oculus room scale, how big a play area can you make? At OC3 they mentioned you might want a 4th camera for room scale. So do 3 cameras give you a triangular play space and you need a 4th camera to get a true room sized space?

  • Uncle

    Actually knowing that Palmer is not just another sheep from the leftist/SJW/P.C./BLM/Safe Room herd, made me choose Oculus, even thou I was thinking of Vive before, also the fact that Oculus touch has actual Thumb sticks unlike horrible horrible touch pads on Vive, when playing FPS, Open World, games like Skyrim, Fallout I dont imagine any other way of motion, I dont want to teleport, Jump, ‘Hold trigger to move forward’, I want to use old proven thumbstick.
    Right now among 3 major VR platforms, only Oculus has proper controller that mixes the new “360 “touch” motion ala Vive and the Old = Thumb Sticks.
    PSVR has the old Navigator controller but im not sure how many games will support it if at all because it basically makes your character one handed, you can hold move controller in right hand to do 360 touch and Navigator in left to move, but navigator has no positional tracking.
    But many PSVR games support dualshock, so thats good.

    So im starting with PSVR + PS4Pro, I believe it has stronger future, more triple A games, Robinson the journey from Cryteck coming next month and its proper AAA game from big dev, Residnet Evil 7 will be PSVR exclusive at least for some time… PSVR has future, Sony unlike other VR companies has a strong back fro PlayStation brand, owns many developers, so i see bright future, it already sold more than Oculus and Vive combined.

    I also want a PC platform, manly because with 3rd party drivers we can convert any game into VR, even if its just 3D stereo and your head movement control the camera is already more immersive than playing in 2D, Fallout, Skyrim…
    Right now Oculus is the only VR solution with proper controller, has a billion dollar company behind it to support exclusives and invest into game development, latest Oculus exclusives that they showcased early this month moved from bite size indie experiences into AAA territory, Arktikka from the Ukrainian dev looked amazing.

    The ONLY reason why I haven’t ordered Oculus + Touch yet is because I heard from people that its optics create God Rays and its Pentile screen has SDE effect that even lower resolution PSVR is much better.
    So im waiting for either better version for 2017 or price reduction, if Chinese manufacturers can create a 4K screen for 300$, im sure oculus Rift actual retail price as it is now without the touch shouldn’t be more expensive than PSVR, PSVR might be lower resolution but has full RGB OLED screen, proper ergonomics that beats every VR device currently on the market, good build quality that feels just better than Oculus or Vive (Vive is the worst, feel like 10$ ski mask with rubbers pushing to your face) and Oculus and Rift even thou have higher resolutions screens use very cheap AMOLED Pentile screens.

    • X Lord B

      You held off on oculus because of something people are saying???? I have the oculus cv1 and i can assure you the godrays are not even a problem…. They already released driver updates to address certain issues. you only every see godrays on a pure black background with white text and if you move your head around but once the games start up you dont see any at all..

      • Uncle

        So the bundle Oculus + Touch is going to cost me with shipping and taxes 1000USD, is it worth it?
        Its the cheapest bundle I can get.
        I wont pre-order it now, no reason to, ill wait until the touch comes out, maybe they will reduce the price for Oculus or offer something interesting.

        My main issue is that I dont have extra HDMI on my GTX1080, my single HDMI 2.0 is used for my 4K TV that use as monitor, but I heard that HDMI and DisplayPort are compatible at low resolutions, basically I can use a simple dumb DP to HDMI adapter (for 4K you need active DP to HDMI 2.0 adapter and it adds lag for sure).

        P.S. To be honest if there is chance of Oculus 2 coming next year, I rather wait for it. Also I know that people already working on PSVR driver for PC and Sony also said that they might release official PC support later, with GTX1080 and supersampling I would be satisfied Until Oculus 2 comes out.

        • X Lord B

          doesnt your tv have a dvi connector?

          • Uncle

            TVs dont have DVI connectors, also it cant do 4K/60Hz/Full RGB.

            Maybe they will surprise us, Oculus is already outdated, we have Chinese HMDs with 4K screens out for 300$, I mean how hard is for Oculus to update its device at least to change the horrible cheap Pentile screen to full RGB and swap the god ray inducing lenses to the ones used in PSVR.
            Yeah 4K screen will be sweet, but I can work with current resolution just make it like PSVR Full RGB and proper lenses

          • X Lord B

            Chinese hmds with 4k? where i havent seen any and not sure what device they would be using to run an hmd in 4k ?

          • Uncle

            I use GTX1080 to play 4K games, I guess youll need the same for VR.

            You see Chinese being Chinese created a monster: HMD with real 4K screen BUT HDMI 1.4b LOL (That doeas 4K/30Hz MAXIMUM)

            Basically they want you to set the game to FHD 60 or 75hz or 2K 60hz and it will interpolate the image to 4K/120

            Google: PIMAX 4K (310$ migh6t be less on sale)

            They already created a Hybrid of Vive and Oculus: The Hypereal Pano PC VR Headset

            Take a look at the image

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d3358078e74eeb5b9f94debfd6cdb06a266645b8f9990a5a61eb365ba4d2c369.jpg

  • Carlos Loff

    Hi, I sell stuff in RL, services, but it is a sale anyway and… NOTHING is free, sellers just rase the overall price and say this and that is offered – This said, I love t he idea of the Samsung Bundle and would love to try it and have it, but I also would love a Ferreari

  • Kevin

    What a bunch of horse hockey. I demoed both the rift and vive before I purchased and both are great headsets. Stating that vive is superior just isn’t true. I actually preferred the rift for several reasons, mainly headset comfort and screen seemed a tad clearer. All the flak that the rift gets for shipping with the xbox controller is garbage as well. There are plenty of great games that make good use of it. The touch controllers will surpass the vive wands when they ship. The vive wands are huge, button placement is aggravating, and the touch pads aren’t as good as thumb sticks. Stating that the lighthouse being a superior tracking system is hog wash as well. From what I’ve read the camera tracking is better at tracking your entire body. My advice is demo whichever systems you are considering. All will have minor pluses and minuses depending on what you’re looking for. Let me list a few areas where I think the rift surpasses the vive.
    1. Rift touch for reasons I listed above and they incorporate tactile feedback.
    2. Having an xbox controller is an asset for certain type games, ie chronos, eagle flight, blaze rush, etc.
    3. Headset is more comfortable than vive in that it weighs less and doesn’t have as big of a cable bundle coming out of it. After being in vive for 30 minutes I can tell you I could really feel the weight of that cable pulling on me.
    4. The sensors for rift are much easier to set up and move if you need to. No mounting required.
    5. Touch controllers for rift look to be better suited for hand presentation in vr as opposed to the vive wands.
    Bottom line is both rift and vive are excellent headsets and I was completely blown away by both. If possible demo both before you buy and don’t base your decision on someone else’s opinion.

  • Burk

    Palmer is he only reason why I still have a Rift. Trump 2016!

    • JCat_NY

      Sold mine before the whole Palmer debacle. Became twice as glad I did after the news.

  • wowgivemeabreak

    Why say the Vive is better when it is an almost unanimous opinion that the Rift is the superior headset? In addition to that, it’s an unanimous opinion the touch controllers are superior to those of the Vive.

    • Rene

      Were that true, but it is not. A number of pro reviewers have determine the Vive & Rift have similar render qualities, each have their own down-quirks, and both have big wearability issues (albeit the Rift is lighter). The hand controllers of both are a great 1st gen product but both are massively lacking ergonomics and both are not true wrist, hand, finger trackers.
      What is also understood s that the lighthouse approach, for translation tracking, is better and highly scalable to the Rift’s burgeoning USB port burning camera system. But, both these systems are inferior to the direct physical scene tracking and gear spatial placement in Microsoft’s HoloLens. Now that Microsoft is partnering with other HMD gear makers and licensing their direct scene HPU to them, we are about to see a huge bump in next generation gear.
      The competition in this space is bringing about huge improvements, but it does mean anything you buy now will be a throwaway rather quickly.

  • “Sexist”…”anti-Clinton”

    Have you studied Bill Clinton’s harassment of women and Hillary’s role in attacking them? Trump’s not a great guy by any means but the competition is hardly better and may in fact be worse.

    • lmpierce

      It has been reported and validated elsewhere that Palmer Luckey has funded memes to disparage Hillary Clinton…example: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/09/22/palmer-luckey-the-facebook-billionaire-secretly-funding-trump-s-meme-machine.html. The point of the HB article is not to raise a debate issue between Hillary and Trump, the point is to explain the backlash against Luckey and the consequent impact on actual and potential sales of the Oculus Rift. An outright debate between the merits of Hillary versus Trump in the comments for this article would be considered off-topic and moderated accordingly.

      • Uncle

        The Daily Beast is nothing but leftist blog that writes anti republican and pro-immigration propaganda.

        Also, is owned by the IAC, where Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton, serves on the board of directors.

        The beast was campaigning against Bernie from day one calling it a vote for Bernie is a vote for Trump, they are clearly a Clinton mouthpiece.

  • JC

    Maybe it was BAD idea to mess around with VR until the USA has chosen it’s path for the next 4 years. For us foreigners it looks for all the world like the civil war has broken out again, only far more pathetically vicious and meaningless. It is extremely sad to see such a great nation sink so low.

  • Carlos Loff

    Are you ok Maria ? I come here everyday and it is all so quiettttttttt

    • I’ve been sick. I’m behind on all my work, both day-job and HB stories. Chugging dayquil now.

      • Allan Carr

        Maria you need to take care of yourself. You are a valued and valuable resource for the metaverse and geeks who strap phones to their faces. 🙂

      • Carlos Loff

        Take some time out, you deserve it more than more, so yes, take care of you, it will all be here after you replenish your energies, no stress, get better, cheers

      • Da Hayward

        hey get well soon Maria big hugs.
        Rest up and look after yourself, We will still be about when you feeling better