On Facebook’s Santa Cruz VR prototype

I’m glad to see progress being made in inside-out tracking as there are a number of use cases for which it will be useful.

It’s important to separate the technologies from the use cases though. For the foreseeable future I think there will be a split between:

- High end VR in a room or limited space
- Lower end VR that’s portable but still meant for limited spaces
- AR

(Eventually they will converge but that’s a long way off according to current price/performance/thermal trajectories.)

This prototype is Facebook’s acknowledgement that they are targeting all three.

Obviously they already have a solution for the former — the Rift. Inside-out is useful for the other two. The high end doesn’t need inside-out as it adds additional cost to an already expensive system and likely doesn’t provide better tracking than cameras, lasers etc. so you’re not going to see this on medium-term top-end headsets. Inside-out doesn’t eliminate the cable; other tech is needed for that.

Mobile VR is likely their near-term target. Daydream and Gear VR don’t have inside-out and that’s the biggest difference between them and the high end. Simpler graphics are generally an acceptable tradeoff for portability and price, and good-enough inside-out tracking (probably leaning towards being seated as with the Rift) will make a world of difference to that experience. So I see Facebook going head-to-head with these other solutions soon, offering inside-out and FB integration as their value add.

Solutions that use your phone won’t be able to bake in inside-out at price points that make the overall cost competitive with all-in-one systems so those will continue to sit at the very low end of VR with no positional tracking until the price of all-in-ones drop enough to erase that category altogether.

AR is a no-brainer for inside-out as you need to be able to use it anywhere and graphical complexity is reduced due to not needing to render the world itself. I think mainstream AR is still a long way off due to headset complexity and social issues so Facebook probably isn’t targeting this arena for the near term but no doubt they will eventually.

When Magic Leap releases it’s probably going to be a juggernaut so Facebook having at least some pieces of the AR pie will help them keep some skin in that game.

Exciting times!

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