When Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at the fifth edition of Oculus Connect developer conference in San Jose, California, earlier this week to launch the Oculus Quest, one could hear loud cheers from the crowd. Zuckerberg called the Oculus Quest, a $399 (Rs 28,933) standalone wireless virtual reality headset, a big leap in the virtual reality space that has yet to catch on with mainstream consumers.
“This is it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “This is the all-in-one VR experience that we have been waiting for. It’s wireless, it’s got hand presence, six degrees of freedom and runs Rift-quality experiences.” For Facebook, and Zuckerberg personally, the Quest is a big deal. It is a headset that could potentially convince developers to take VR seriously. But the question is if Quest will finally get consumers also interested in virtual reality.
There are great VR devices available in the market, like PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift. But despite the heavy investments by Facebook, Google, HTC, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony, just a handful of people have actually bought VR headsets.
At the Oculus Connect developer conference, Zuckerberg admitted that VR adoption has been slower than estimated. The company hopes to have 1 billion people using virtual reality, but Zuckerberg did acknowledge that Facebook may not have even reached 1 per cent of that goal. That means not even 10 million people are using Oculus devices. In fact, the slow adoption of virtual reality headsets is evident from the latest IDC report which said worldwide shipments of VR headsets were down 33.7 per cent year-over-year in second-quarter 2018.
According to IDC, shipments of screenless VR systems fell from 1 million headsets in Q2 2017 to 409,000 in Q2 2018. The research firm said the initial figures were inflated due to screenless viewers from Samsung and Google that were bundled with new smartphones. Evidently, this screenless viewer category was the largest contributor to the decline in shipments for the overall VR headset market.
And that’s not all. Sales of tethered VR headsets were down 37.3 per cent in Q2 2018, mainly because both Oculus and Sony couldn’t manage to sell enough devices in large numbers. Market leader HTC did ship close to 111,000 headsets in the second quarter with Oculus at 102,000 and Sony at 93,000. Put simply, the Virtual Reality revolution is yet to become a reality.
Oculus Quest tries to solve some of VR’s big issues
“Oculus Quest is helping to address a number of hardware challenges, including high prices, PC tethering, and tracking beacons”, Bryan Ma, an analyst with IDC Singapore explains to indianexpress.com over email.
The current generation VR headsets suffer from many issues – the technology can cause motion sickness, the cost of owning a VR headset is high and one does have to invest in a high-end PC to get the best possible experience. Oculus Quest, formerly known by the code-name “Santa Cruz”, tries to address three big issues that could instigate the adoption of virtual reality headsets in the near future.
Unlike PlayStation VR or Vive Pro, the Quest does not require a dedicated PC or console to provide graphics. It’s a standalone, wireless virtual reality headset featuring a display resolution of 1600×1440 per eye, two hand controllers, four wide-angle cameras, 360-degree audio, and in-built sensors that enable “six degrees of freedom.” The Quest also promises to offer full positional tracking which decreases the chances of motion sickness.
But the biggest highlight about the Quest is its price: $399. That’s the same price as Oculus’ current Rift bundle and almost $400 less than the Vivo Pro, which requires a high-end PC to offer superior graphics.
“With a 6 DoF HMD with two hand controllers all in one piece without a need for a PC or the trouble of a tether coming at $400 is definitely something not just enthusiasts are kicked about,” says Jignesh Talasila, CEO of Loop Reality, a Hyderabad-based VR startup. “The competition, be it Vive Focus or Daydream or Mirage, are selling their devices with half the features at the same cost or more. When I buy a device I should be able to use it for any kind of VR experience,” he adds. Talasila is of the opinion weak demand of VR headsets has nothing to do with the price, a lot also depends on the power, graphics, immersion and so on.
To date, VR has not really lived up to the expectation. Cheaper devices have not delivered the kind of experience the masses were expecting, while the top-end devices were simply ignored due to pricing. Yes, the Quest isn’t a high-end VR device, because it lacks the PC’s processor and graphics power. But it somehow looks like a device which could take Virtual Reality (VR) into the mainstream market.
“Oculus Quest is going to help VR reach more audience for sure,” says Pranshul Chandhok, Chief Technology Officer at Grey Kernel, a VR & Advanced Visualisation startup. “The true retina VR that everyone wants requires much more power, Quest is much more comparable to last generation gaming consoles (PS3/XBOX 360) in terms of raw horsepower,” he adds.
Lack of killer apps is still a concern
During his 15-minute speech, Zuckerberg told a sea of developers that the company would need 10 million people in its ecosystem in order for it to be profitable, and that he would need their help. “We need to build an ecosystem that is self-sustained,” he says. “This is the basic roadmap to succeed.”
Facebook says the Oculus Quest is designed to work with previous Oculus software, and will launch with more than 50 games, including Moss and The Climb. Vader Immortal, a new Star Wars VR series, will be available exclusively on Quest. The question, however, remains: Is the content enough to excite consumers to buy Quest?
“The bigger issue is about having content that appeals to a wider audience than just gamers, hobbyists, and selected industry verticals. And of course, that’s exactly why Oculus is running its event: to help developers create their content,” Bryan adds.
Part of VR’s struggle is the lack of steady content. Consumers are not going to buy the virtual reality headsets without the killer apps or a compelling experience. To date, there’s not a single game or app that can on its own draw towards virtual reality. And this is a matter of concern, because developers will simply not make content for the platform when the existing consumer base is too small.
Pranshul admits that the content has to be good enough to warrant buying a pricey headset. “We are going to require a new generation of developers who understand these technologies and are able to imagine a world outside of rectangles on mobile, to build compelling 3D worlds and interactions,” he says.
Still early days in India
There’s enough evidence to suggest that VR has a long way to go to penetrate in India. Currently, India’s VR headset shipments are relatively small at less than 50k units/year excluding Google Cardboard and low-end plastic viewers (but including devices like Samsung Gear VR, which has some basic sensors, etc).
This means the market size is so small that it is not feasible for the Facebook-owned Oculus to bring its virtual reality headsets to India. “I wouldn’t expect Oculus Quest shipments in India anytime soon given the company’s focus on markets like the US, but grey market units would probably make their way over,” Bryan says.
“India is still lacking the consumer adoption of high-end devices,” admits Pranshul. While VR from an enterprise standpoint continues to grow, Pranshul adds that the major problem customers have been facing is portability and unavailability of high-end gaming systems in their workplace.
“Corporates have started to understand and find utility in VR. They have started using VR for showcasing products, marketing and training their workforce. We are receiving 5X more queries on regular basis on how VR can be a part of their organization as compared to last couple of years,” he says.
As the VR technology evolves, so will be the content. Jignesh pointed out that there is so much happening in the virtual reality space and the market is “going to explode”. The cost to get into VR for an average user is high, because the technology is still new and yet to be explored fully. He sees VR headsets have a huge range of potential use cases in gaming, education & training and testing.” Once the tech stabilises the core areas like healthcare will embrace it,” Jignesh adds.