First look: $399 Oculus Rift S is a landmark moment for VR as a mature platform

Three years on from the launch of the original Oculus Rift, Facebook’s VR division has today announced its next PC-based VR headset: Oculus Rift S, coming this Spring. 

The new, much-improved headset will cost just $399 (no UK price yet but with taxes it may well hit £399). That’s the same as the outgoing model, and $200 less than the original at launch. Plus the new headset also comes with Oculus Touch controllers at that price.

The lower price and controllers as standard will certainly be key in helping grow the VR audience. But just as important is that the Rift S sits alongside the recently announced Oculus Quest, the company’s all-in-one, mobile-chipset driven device. With both sharing the same controllers and Oculus boasting of the ease with which titles can be ported across, creating a single, mature platform for VR for the first time.

Back to the Rift S, the new headset was designed in partnership with Lenovo and features a similar ‘inside-out’ tracking system to the Quest, in that it doesn’t need any fiddly external sensors in order to work, making it incredibly easy to setup and move around if needed.

The Rift S actually has an additional fifth tracking sensor, over the Quest’s four, to ensure the best possible experience with original Rift titles, all of which work on the new hardware without any work by developers. Oculus also committed to supporting Rift through to 2021 at a minimum. Both Rift and Quest support six degrees of freedom (6DoF), another joint target spec for developers.

Visuals are undoubtedly improved we found, though it’s hard to say if how much that’s down to the better lenses or the improved resolution. The specs amount to a 1,280×1,440 “fast-switch LCD” per eye, with a 50% up in pixel density overall, running at 80HZ. It also has an improved Passthrough+ system, allowing you to see a stereo-correct image of the real world while wearing the headset. That allows you to quickly and easily paint your own Guardian Zone, or safe space if you rather, again allowing you to use the headset practically anywhere.

It all comes together brilliantly. The headset is comfortable and easy to fit to your head and vision. The visuals are crisper and responsiveness is better than we recall from the old hardware. But it’s really the ease of use, with the inside-out tracking that changes everything, this is VR hardware that’s far easier to live with.

Coming back to the broader ecosystem, the Rift S will have full crossplay with not only the original Rift but also with Quest. Oculus will also be urging developers to allow crossbuy across the Rift/Rift S and Quest platforms, though it won’t enforce this, understanding that some games will need to recoup their conversion costs.

The Rift store will continue to be, in the main, open to all that want to publish upon it. While Quest will have a curated store. Oculus will be looking at titles, even if originally rejected for Quest, that prove themselves on the more-open Rift store, for conversion to Quest. Last year’s Oculus Go looks to have already been relegated amongst all this, with Oculus saying consumers were mainly using it as a media-consumption device and that it was Rift and Quest which would push forward in the gaming space.

And it’s hard not to see them making big progress. The ludicrous hype around VR may have died down, but the product is now leaps-and-bounds better, both for consumers and developers.

Unlike at launch, there’s a consumer-friendly price point, similar to that of a new games console, whether you’re a PC gamer or want a straightforward all-in-one device. There’s a big range of software for both headsets, and easy ways, via Unity or Unreal, for developers to target them both too.

It really does feel like a new dawn for VR and Oculus assured us that it would continue to help fund content for the headsets in order to support developers as the platform continues to grow into its second generation phase.

We’ll bring you a full in-depth breakdown of the new headset and where the oculus ecosystem stands in the next issue of MCV.

Read all our GDC 2019 coverage here.

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