By John P. Mello Jr.
May 6, 2020 9:02 AM PT
The next generation of Oculus Quest virtual reality headsets is in the works, but pandemic-related product development and supply chain problems may delay market arrival.
Oculus, which is a division of Facebook, has multiple potential Quest successors on the drawing board, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. Smaller, lighter versions with a faster image refresh rate for more realistic rendering are in the advanced testing stage.
Facebook planned to reveal the new models at its annual Oculus Connect conference at the end of the year, but it may have to wait until 2021 to start shipping them because of COVID-19, according to Bloomberg.
The models being tested reportedly are 10-15 percent smaller and weigh about a pound. The current Quest headset weighs 1.25 pounds and can be taxing when worn for extended periods of time.
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
More Pleasant Wearable
Saving a few grams here and there can make the headset less tiring to wear, noted David Krum, associate director of the Institute for Creative Technologies’ MxR Lab at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“The fatigue and discomfort adds up over time, so a small weight savings means you will find it more pleasant to wear. You will be able to wear it longer and get more done,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“Even if a headset is perfectly balanced and rests comfortably on the head and face, the mass of the headset can still affect rotational inertia — it can be harder to turn your head and harder to slow down or stop your head. This can affect head movement, add muscle strain, and add to VR sickness,” Krum explained.
“Comfort matters, but also the time it takes to put on the headset and even how it fits over your hair,” he said. “Bicycle helmets are better when they allow ponytails and other hair styles. There is no reason why VR helmets shouldn’t allow different hairstyles as well.”
Lightweight, mobile headsets also lower the barrier for getting into VR for consumers, observed Andrew M. Summer, a visual solutions engineer at the Envision Center at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
“They don’t have to set up a complicated computer and base station. With a device like the Occulus Quest, everything runs on the device. It’s straightforward from the consumer’s perspective,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“The more people that can get their hands on VR, the more it will grow,” Summer added. “The best thing for VR is word of mouth and getting your hands on it, because it’s difficult to explain what the experience is like without going through it.”
Although reducing the size and weight of Oculus would be a stepping stone toward wider adoption of VR, the industry remains immature, said Tuong Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory company based in Stamford, Connecticut.
“Even if these headsets were given away for free, what am I going to do with it? How often am I going to do it and how long am I going to do it?” he wondered.
A VR headset is a single-purpose device, which “makes it more difficult for the mass market to adopt in the same way that some people don’t want to buy a game consoles,” Nguyen told TechNewsWorld. “Do I want to spend $300 on something that does one thing, or on a phone that may cost me the same thing, but it does many things?”
Reducing the size and weight of VR headsets could make them more attractive to businesses.
“As the costs and weight are reduced, new cost-effective avenues are opened for businesses to explore using them in training, instructional walk-throughs for equipment, or new ways to advertise products and services to prospective customers and investors,” observed Karen Panetta, dean of graduate education at Tufts University’s School of Engineering in Medford, Massachusetts.
“For healthcare, it is opening new pathways to enable rehabilitation or cognitive stimulation for those with impaired memory or other cognitive disorders,” she told TechNewsWorld.
Too Fast for Business
People will use uncomfortable equipment if they are mandated to and if you pay them to do it. However, they will avoid using such equipment for any other cases, USC’s Krum noted.
“With headsets that are more pleasant to use, people might be more interested in trying additional applications within that headset, and this could lead to more widespread use in the business arena,” he said.
However, there are some hangups for VR hardware in enterprise environments, Gartner’s Nguyen pointed out.
“Think of how rapidly these devices are being updated. As an enterprise, your update cycles aren’t that short. You buy a device and keep it for multiple years,” he said. “It’s good that Facebook and the industry are innovating very quickly, but that’s not how buying cycles work in industry.”
While COVID-19 may be holding up production of the next generation of Quest headsets, it also could be encouraging businesses to reconsider their travel budgets.
“I think VR and AR has good potential for helping reduce travel, but some work needs to be done for people to buy into such solutions,” Krum suggested.
At a recent IEEE Virtual Reality Conference that had to be held online because of restrictions due to the pandemic, “attendees could view talks and meet with other attendees over online video streaming, or through online VR rooms by wearing VR headsets,” he noted.
Work needs to be done before VR can support meetings, but it can be useful for learning about places, said Krum. “It is very possible to become familiar with a place in VR, maybe even plan out tasks with others for new construction or renovation plans.”
Content Is Key
The pandemic has helped boost the ranks of VR users, but even before the pandemic, Oculus Quest supply exceeded demand, noted San Jose, California-based Kevin Krewell. principal analyst at Tirias Research, a high-tech research and advisory firm.
“An improved headset should accelerate that demand as it becomes more capable and can support more demanding applications,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“The key to the VR market is a combination of capable hardware and compelling content,” Krewell said. “The content is really starting to show up with such titles as Beat Saber and Half Life: Alyx,” he added. “Great content will drive hardware sales, just like it does for regular game consoles.”