Why the Oculus Santa Cruz may cost $399

We argue with data why the Oculus Santa Cruz will be the first VR headset to become mainstream. This article includes sales data estimates on the Oculus Go from Superdata, and we use that data, and personal experience with the Go to explain why VR developers should consider pivoting to develop for the Oculus Santa Cruz primarily.

Written by Micah Blumberg, Neurohacker, WebXR developer, Researcher, and Journalist bio at http://vrma.io

Forward: if you just want basic information about the Oculus Santa Cruz check out my interview at OC4 with one of the developers of Santa Cruz

The price of the Oculus Go was an eye opener, it costs $199, but so is the price of many Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets that also cost $199, sold by both the Microsoft store and by Amazon.

Microsoft has been showing us for months that they can commodize the AR VR industry optimize their supply chain management and design such that they can sell a 6dof VR headset that has two motion controllers for hand tracking (two 6dof motion controllers) with all the tracking done by the headset itself (inside out tracking) without requiring the laborous setup of external cameras or external base stations and they can sell it for $199.

Oculus Go sales are leading the VR industry (more on sales data below) it has the best lens of any VR headset currently on the market, and it puts me into VR almost as soon as I put the headset on, point the controller forward and press a button to calibrate and your in, all of these reasons add up to why I use the Oculus Go everyday. The Oculus Go is great but without hand presence there is no need for the headset to have 6 degrees of freedom since 99% of VR users use VR to watch media, movies, stories, and non-interactive content, this is similar to how in the early days of radio people all over the world would sit in rooms together and listen to stories.

People want to use VR to consume stories, and so there isn’t any reason to pay more for a VR headset, until and unless you get to have your hands in VR, and or until you get to have bluetooth keyboard support, mouse support and a VPN to protect your device from wifi hackers. So far only the Oculus Go has a lens that is good enough for me to use everyday to read text in a mobile VR browser, and that’s part of why I am bullish on the Oculus Santa Cruz, because if the Oculus Go is such a great product, then the potential for the Santa Cruz is so much more for all the same reasons plus the addition of hand presense and the ability to play some of the same types of apps I loved on the Oculus Rift like Facebook Spaces and other Social VR applications. (I’ve owned used and or tried extensively almost every AR VR headset except the Magic Leap which has a disappointing display similar to hololens. The best display on the market is probably the ODG R8 and or the R9 by Osterhout Design Group, but those are industrial AR glasses primarily. A different class of device compared to stand-alone VR devices)

If Microsoft can sell a VR headset that has two motion controllers for $199 that requires a computer, and Oculus can sell a VR headset that is stand-alone for $199 and doesn’t require a computer or a phone, then it’s possible to release a device that combines the hardware from Microsoft $199 with the hardware from Oculus go $199 and the result would be a stand-alone VR headset that includes inside out 6dof position tracking that does not require external cameras and includes two 6dof motion controllers.

Despite Microsofts innovation Desktop VR is losing steam and stand-alone VR is poised to dominate and replace desktop VR. *supporting arguments in the SuperData below.

Why is the desktop VR losing steam? Well we can speculate, I have personally heard that many influential folks in the VR industry are letting their desktop VR headsets collect dust, it’s kind of a dirty secret, and there are several big reasons for that, one is that it’s not easy to instantly jump into VR whenever you want. I’ve heard more than a few developers complain about automatic windows updates force themselves when people are trying to use their PC to demo VR at a show for example. SteamVR checks for updates everytime you turn it on. You have to start a lot of programs, navigate a lot of menus, and troubleshoot through your tracking system setup, and then the GPU Video Card sometimes requires an update in order for the system to work. Any of these updates can cause delays, and or can cause your system to stop working. Sometimes users are stuck troubleshooting annoying problems like the sound not working, like the display not working, like the microphone not working, or like the tracking is glitching out and not working as well as it can be. This is probably because of the multiple software stacks that are developed by completely independent companies that somehow have to work together. The point of that paragraph is that it’s not like the VR headset is instantly working when you put it on, not like the Oculus Go and other Stand-Alone category headsets that have a simplified software stack that isn’t being disrupted by updates from multiple companies.

Another problem is you can’t travel very easily with a Vive or Rift, because then when you arrive you need to setup the base stations or tracking camera, and then you need through run through a roomscale setup and calibration program, and there is just so many parts and so many cables that it’s really rather difficult to pack into a bag and carry with you. (By contrast the Oculus Santa Cruz is three small parts, the headset, and two controllers, no PC or Phone setup, you can just toss it in a bag and bring it with you anywhere and everywhere.)

Another major problem with desktop VR is the cable that tethers you to the desktop, once you have tried the Oculus Santa Cruz, which has been demoed in an extra large room each time, that allows you to have more foot travel than you could possibly have when tethered to a PC, and it allows you to move around freely without needing to worry about tripping over a cable, you realize with clarity that being tethered to a computer is utterly wrong.

So recently when the news of the new USB C standard cable came out as a joint effort from Microsoft, HTC, Google and Oculus called VirtualLink a bunch of VR blogs jumped on the news like it was awesome news, but I scoffed at the news and I furrowed my brow and I went on twitter and barked a lot about how it feels like the wrong people are in charge of developing VR with major companies shipping stand-alone VR headsets that have 6dof position head tracking but only a single lame 3dof controller (a laser pointer mouse in VR) that does not let you reach out and touch objects in VR.

I know VirtualLink is the wrong idea because I fell in love with the Oculus Santa Cruz the first time I tried it because of the amazing freedom of being able to move freely without being tethered to a computer, with my hands in VR. My prediction is that once people try the Oculus Santa Cruz for themselves no one is going to cheer for a USB-C cable that tethers them to a PC.

Just because a VR headset is cheaper doesn’t mean it’s the value that will trigger the mass market to purchase it, the iPad costs a lot more than the Vive Focus and the Mirage Solo, but the iPad also also has a better value proposition for consumers, you can type on it, you can secure it with a vpn, you can connect a bluetooth keyboard, you can have multiple webpage tabs open at the same time (splitscreen), all of this could be done on these Stand-alone VR headsets for almost no additional cost, and when it is done Stand-alone VR is going to compete finally with iPads and chromebooks.

Emphasis: If Oculus wants the Oculus Go to reach the mass market they need to increase the value proposition on the software side.

Oculus Go already has great software support but it needs even more. We should also be able to have more movement in our social VR experiences, people want to be able to move around more, even if that means teleporting around their Oculus Homes.

Doing Stand-alone VR with a bluetooth keyboard also has the advantage that you can work in a co-working space, or in a public cafeteria or coffee shop or on an airplace with total privacy. Some people will give up using laptops to have the privacy of an Oculus Go with a bluetooth keyboard, and it’s the improved lens and screen clarity from Oculus on the Oculus Go that really makes text readable and comfortable enough to spend considerable time in. So please Oculus/Facebook if you are reading this, please including bluetooth keyboard support and VPN support in the Oculus Santa Cruz, and in future iterations of the Oculus Go! I will note that another great feature of the Oculus Go is the soft strap that allows you to put your head against the back of a seat rest comfortably, or to even lie down in bed comfortably and watch a tv show or movie above you. Oculus Go needs to improve device support for consumers who want to use VR while lying on their back in a bed, or in a hospitable bed, because some of the apps don’t work that way, and some of them do, but I wish they all worked that way, especially for people who are stuck in hospitals, and for people who are sitting in reclining chairs.

The Oculus Go is also great because it’s so emminently hackable this summer I conceived of a project to combine the Oculus Go with EEG via the Brainduino EEG system and WebXR, and to accomplish this I organized hacknights in San Francisco at Noisebridge via the NeurotechSF meetup, the San Francisco Virtual Reality meetup, and the Noisebridge meetup join these meetups on meetup.com

Here is a link with a video of our progress so far combining EEG with WebVR: https://www.facebook.com/worksalt/videos/2332211350138832/

The Superdata data:

VR developers should be thinking about pivoting to develop for the Oculus Santa Cruz primarily, but perhaps also for the Oculus Go secondarily, and to standalone devices generally provided that they include hand presence via two 6dof motion controllers so you can reach out and touch VR, and move VR objects around. Standalone VR devices are basically game consoles, with the same advantages that game consoles have, in the price range of game consoles from $200 to $600 dollars.

Standalone VR includes devices like the Oculus Santa Cruz, the Oculus Go, the Vive Focus, the Lenovo Mirage Solo. None of these devices require a phone or computer to operate because the necessary hardware is built in. However out of these devices only the Oculus Santa Cruz lets you have both of your hands in VR, only the Oculus Santa Cruz in this set lets users have the kinds of VR experiences that were previously only experienced by those with desktop VR systems (such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive)

A recent report from Super Data (I think) backs the idea that Oculus Santa Cruz may become first VR headset that reaches the mass market. Superdata predicts that stand-alone VR will grow from $2.1 billion this year to dominate the VR industry with $14.6 billion in 2021

According to Super Data the Oculus Go made an estimated 289,000 shipments in Q2 of 2018, but excluding the Oculus Go major VR headset sales were down 50 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the first half of 2017

Superdata projects that Oculus Go will ship 1.8 million units this year. They expect Playstation VR will ship 1.47 million units year in second place. Superdata predicts that only 170,000 HTC Vive headsets, 120,000 Oculus Rift headsets, and 120,000 Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets will ship this year.

Traditional console VR (Playstation VR) will grow from $766 million to $1.79 billion by 2021.

Previously Superdata predicted VR would reach $4.5 billion this year, that prediction has changed to $3.9 billion (2018) Super data revised it’s estimate of the size of the VR industry in 2021 from $19 billion to $17.7 billion.

According to Superdata the VR market will reach $4.5 billion this year growing to $19 billion in 2021, it is now calling for $3.9 billion in 2018, and $17.7 billion by 2021.

Given this data I think that we should see major VR companies like Google, HTC, and Microsoft follow Oculus’s lead by putting a lot of energy time money and focus into optimizing their supply chain management efforts to produce low cost devices like the Oculus Go, but also we should expect major VR companies to follow the lead set by the Oculus Santa Cruz and try to include two 6dof motion controllers so users can have both of their hands in VR, that will enable developers of PC VR products to migrate their VR experiences that they have invested years of development in making to the VR headsets that most users will have.

Additional Conclusions:

I decided to repurpose an older VR group as a dedicated Oculus Santa Cruz group. I’ve tried the Oculus Santa Cruz three times and I really believe that it represents the future of VR. It gives you hand presence on a mobile all in one VR headset, you get two 6dof controllers and a 6dof headset. This means that you can play the kind of VR experiences that were previously only playable on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Microsoft Mixed Reality (or other desktop VR systems with two motion controllers) You can walk around in VR and you can reach out and touch things. Note that because it’s mobile VR initially the graphics won’t be the same as what you get with a PC but the caveat is that eventually devices like this will stream cinematic quality holographic lightfields rendered on multiple cloud GPUs that technically look better than anything that can be rendered on a single home GPU.

Here is a link to the group:

If you want to learn more about how the future of VR is going to involve streaming cinematic quality holographic lightfields rendered on the GPU cloud then you should listen to both of my interviews with CEO of OTOY Jules Urbach that you can find in this article:

Of course you could stream this to a desktop GPU as well but at the point that mobile and desktop VR graphics look exactly the same, because they are both being streamed from the cloud, then the desktop no longer makes sense, the desktop becomes an archaic device people will laugh at, like the carphone, a phone that is permanently tethered to a car, why would anyone want their mobile phone stuck to a car? Why would anyone want their VR headset stuck to a computer?

The good news is that with the price and features of the Oculus Go we can really see that Oculus at least is prioritizing doing everything they can to help VR to reach the mass market. That’s why I’m really excited to be attending OC5 Oculus Connect 5, to try the latest VR experiences, and report on the latest software developments and the latest VR hardware previews, although folks are saying that Santa Cruz won’t be released until 2019 (probably because they are waiting on Samsung to ship their next generation Snapdragon processors) that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to see a lot of great new stuff. I’m especially looking forward to the possibility of bluetooth keyboard support on the GO, and a lot more things to do with Social VR.

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