With leading high-end VR headsets debuting in 2016, we’ve had about two years to see what the first-generation VR experience looks like. While there’s certainly a range of exciting games and other VR software coming soon to first-generation hardware, it feels like the market is steadily turning its attention toward next-generation technologies, and fostering a renewed sense of excitement and momentum. Here’s a smattering of exciting projects that are likely to influence the VR and AR space in the next two years.
Oculus Half Dome Prototype
Prior to launch the first consumer Rift headset, Oculus had a long history of showing prototypes and development kits. Following the company’s 2012 Kickstarter, enthusiasts and developers watched the subsequent development of the Rift DK1, DKHD, DK2, Crystal Cove, and Crescent Bay headsets before the consumer Rift finally made it to market in 2016. Following the launch of the Rift, Oculus kept their R&D efforts on future PC headsets mostly secretive. That is, until the reveal of the Half Dome prototype less than two months ago.
Half Dome introduces a much larger 140 degree field of view (to the Rift’s ~100 degree) along with a varifocal display and eye-tracking. The larger field of view will make the virtual world feel much more encompassing and immersive. The varifocal display makes the virtual visuals look more realistic by dynamically changing focus to simulate light coming from objects of varying distances, also making it easier to focus on objects closer to you; in short, it makes the light coming out of the headset act more like light from the real world, which allows your eyes to function more closely to how they would in the real world. Then there’s eye-tracking—the ability for the headset to know precisely which direction your eyes are looking—which can enable game-changing capabilities.
Oculus has said clearly that we shouldn’t expect to see everything from Half Dome in the Rift 2, or whichever PC-based headset is coming next from Oculus, but it gives us a clear direction that the company is looking for the future of its PC headsets.
It was once thought that controller-less glove & finger tracking technology would be the ideal input for virtual reality, but over the last few years the benefits of having a physical, tracked controller for VR input have become quite apparent. For one, buttons and sticks are more reliable than gestures for binary input (like initiating a ‘grab’ action, or navigating a menu), and it turns out that having something in your hand while grabbing virtual objects actually feels much more natural than making a mock grabbing posture with nothing to grasp but air.
But there’s still benefits to the full finger tracking afforded by VR gloves, like added realism and a less abstracted means of fine interaction in VR (like poking and pinching).