The departure of Brendan Iribe, former head of PCVR for Oculus, has sent ripples through the enthusiast community, amid increasing worries that PC-tethered virtual reality, including a future "Rift 2" device, is lagging behind on the company's list of priorities. This has been further exacerbated by unconfirmed comments from sources close to Facebook and Oculus, stating that the move was motivated in part by Iribe's disillusionment that their parent company was engaged in a "race to the bottom" in terms of VR hardware and performance.
The conclusion that Facebook is engaged in a "race to the bottom" is tempting, based on the evolution of its product catalog over the last 6 months; the Oculus Go disrupted the consumer space with its accessibility, and the Quest appears poised to capitalize further on the current trend of standalone VR. Moreover, an emphasis on cheap, mass-appeal hardware falls squarely in line with the company's state goal of building a 10 million-strong user base in service of a self-sustaining ecosystem.
Rift 2: Who Is It For?
The precise nature and positioning of a potential Rift successor is still unclear; before Iribe's departure, Greenlight speculated that a Rift 2 would logically be a massive upgrade from the current device; with the Quest currently set to occupy the Rift's $400 (26h 41m) (26h 41m) price point, there would be little reason to sell another device in a similar price point, especially if Facebook is to be taken at their word regarding the broad compatibility of the Quest with Rift-quality content.
A new Rift might, therefore, have room to grow and address high-end enthusiast and enterprise markets, leveraging some of the new technologies speculated on by chief scientist Michael Abrash at Oculus Connect 5; "Pancake" optics to replace the customary fresnels, unprecedented resolution and pixel density befitting near-eye display, a proprietary optional wireless adapter, and a host of improvements to software, OS, and UX to usher in a new gold-standard for VR desktop productivity and virtualization. Indeed, Facebook representatives have taken pains to reiterate in the wake of their latest internal shake-up that they are continuing to invest in PC-tethered VR in some form.
FB PC VR
Facebook is among the privileged few companies in the VR space who can afford to sustain research and development which pushes the upper bounds of current computing capabilities, while simultaneously offering low-cost VR to untapped casual markets. Moreover, the market share of the venerable Rift platform continues to grow, even after its milestone of overtaking the HTC Vive in popularity on SteamVR's monthly hardware survey. To presume that Iribe's departure indicates that a sequel to the Oculus Rift is no longer on the horizon is both premature and ignorant of the current hardware landscape.
New high-end PC headsets, such as the StarVR One line and VRGineers XTAL show that high-end VR still holds promise, especially within emerging use cases for enterprises and out-of-home entertainment. Industry stakeholders interviewed by Variety, for instance, speculate that a company may try to use VR centers as retail outlets, and get consumers to try and buy products like the upcoming Oculus Quest standalone headset on the spot. A company with a unified and distinctly tiered hardware offering such as Oculus would be ideally positioned to implement such a strategy.
However, the possibility exists that Iribe's comments were directed at the work being done on the PC VR team, instead of a general comment about the Oculus line overall. If so, then this would cast more doubt onto Facebook's claims, and point instead to an incipient consolidation of resources among the Go, Quest, and Rift teams. The features teased at OC5, as well as OC4, might then instead see use in a higher-end standalone, superior to Quest and marketed outside of gaming and entertainment markets. This, in turn, might present an opportunity to other high-end headsets such as the Vive Pro, whose owners would do well to seize such an opportunity to address the demand for high-end VR.
Whatever the case, PC VR still has a future, even if the killer hardware does not originate from Facebook Reality Labs.