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/ 12.09.2018

Oculus Santa Cruz – VR’s ‘Nintendo Wii Moment’?

– Matthew Allen
Co-Founder/COO, REWIND

Recently, it was reported that Oculus is targeting Q1 2019 for the launch of its upcoming high-end VR headset, currently codenamed ‘Santa Cruz’. Designed to function similarly to the Oculus Go (no PC needed), Santa Cruz’s true promise is in the rest of its technical specifications. The headset comes equipped with cameras, enabling inside-out tracking and 6DOF head movement. When paired with the device’s redesigned Oculus Touch controllers, this means absolute freedom in VR – the ability to move and play with the most natural input system possible, your own basic motor functions. If you’re worried about colliding with objects, don’t be! The device comes equipped with a ‘chaperone’ system, designed to let users know when they’re about to collide with an object or hit a wall, allowing you to play and wander around the space free of cables or collisions!  

Oculus Connect 5 is right around the corner, and we’re expecting more official information then, but in my mind, Oculus’ Santa Cruz could present something of a ‘Nintendo Wii Moment’ for the VR industry – the device that propels the hardware into the mainstream through a focus on form, function, and simplicity over hardware power.

Enjoyment Takes Priority

There have been multiple headsets released, all with their own technical refinements to help put their spin on what ‘being in VR’ means. Santa Cruz is going to take all of that technology, and repackage it in a way that appeals to the everyday user. It will bring with it the kind of pick-up-and-play feel that VR needs – free of cables, lengthy setup processes and incomprehensible tutorials – you can put on the headset, and just…move. That’s the biggest difference – in keeping the headset consumer and home-user focused, Oculus has a very real opportunity to bring a headset to market that will really capture the imaginations of the general public.

I mentioned the ‘Nintendo Wii Moment’ earlier, but I don’t just mean that in the sense that the hardware flies off the shelves. It’s the notion of the hardware being so easy to pick up and play with that there is almost no barrier to entry. VR currently suffers because of the limitations of the hardware itself – some experiences require you to be planted to the ground, some don’t use a controller, and the list goes on. With Santa Cruz, Oculus is banking on people being able to understand how the tech works just by playing with it: moving around, pointing with a touch controller, pulling a trigger to grab. With those basics already nailed down, developers can focus on the bigger picture – creating new experiences that use these tools in unexpected ways. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is far better than developers attempting to solve locomotion and interaction problems first, before creating their experiences.

Fun First, Specs Second

Oculus is currently focusing on porting existing Rift content to the Santa Cruz, the headset is likely to sit somewhere between the Go and the Rift in terms of power, meaning that there are going to have to be some concessions made in order to get those high-end PC VR experiences to run on the hardware. Basically, don’t expect top-of-the-line graphical powerhouses. If you go in with modest expectations, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you see. Oculus Go titles already look quite sharp, with the screen’s stunning optics complimenting the device’s power to deliver clear visuals. Santa Cruz will likely be a step forward on both of those fronts. Oculus has already been teasing ‘half-dome’ lenses – a varifocal prototype designed to deliver a wider field of view, but I wouldn’t expect them in the Santa Cruz. I would, however, anticipate higher resolutions and clearer displays – an evolution, rather than the revolution.

When thinking about Santa Cruz comparisons, I’m continually drawn towards Nintendo – a company that, historically, hasn’t been on the bleeding edge of hardware. Instead, Nintendo has showcased innovations on other fronts – both technical and input-based, to stand out from its competitors. Oculus still has the Rift, and that hardware isn’t going to disappear any time soon. High-end VR is only going to get more impressive – look at HP’s VR backpack for an example of where tech is moving towards in the enterprise and bleeding-edge areas, and think of Santa Cruz as the consumer-facing equivalent. It’s technology that will impress everyone through just how easy it is to become immersed through its content, rather than with fancy visual effects. In that sense, the announcements at this month’s Oculus Connect 5 conference in San Jose, CA are going to be very exciting indeed.

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