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June 12, 2014

Oculus VR explains why mobile virtual reality won’t poison the well

by John_A
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With all the talk of high-fidelity virtual reality coming from Oculus VR — the virtual reality headset company that’s now part of Facebook — it’s easy to believe that the only type of VR is PC-based. But that isn’t the case! Beyond what we learned recently about Samsung and Oculus working on a VR peripheral that uses your phone, Oculus has been open about working on a mobile software development kit for some time now. Heck, we even spoke with Oculus CTO John Carmack about it last year. “I think you’ll see the mobile SDK launch publicly before the consumer Rift comes out,” Oculus VP of Product Nate Mitchell told us this week at E3 2014. Beyond Samsung, a handful of developers are “experimenting with some high-end Android devices … building experiences and seeing what’s possible.”

But here’s the issue: Great VR requires serious horsepower. While the current range of flagship Android mobile devices are pretty powerful, they don’t hold a candle to even low-end gaming PCs. In so many words, isn’t Oculus worried that a subpar, Android-based VR experience could poison the well for the full Oculus Rift coming down the line? If your first experience with VR is a bad one, you may never try it again. “That’s a completely fair statement,” Mitchell said.

At the same time, he also said, “The fidelity that you can experience on mobile is pretty killer.” So, which is it? It’s sort of both.

“That’s a big reason why we’ve been holding it back,” Mitchell told us. “We’re really focusing on polishing it [the SDK] to get to the quality level it needs to be before we release it more broadly. And a lot of the key developers — it is in the hands of some key game developers who are working with it now — are making great progress.” He wouldn’t say exactly which mobile devices that devs are working with, but he did say it’s running on current “flagship” hardware (think: the Galaxy S4 — which is exactly what we heard is the phone powering Samsung’s headset).

As far as when we’ll hear more about Oculus VR products you can actually use at some point in 2014, Mitchell and co. say they’re holding back for “the latter half of the year.” When we speculated aloud that maybe such announcements were being held for an Oculus-run conference, Mitchell laughed and said, “Who can say?” The best he’d give us was this:

“As we move into the second half of this year and into 2015, there’s a lot of good stuff planned. It’s hard to say what consumers should expect because we’re still defining that ourselves, but with [Jason] Rubin on the content front, [Jason] Holtman on the platform front and then more excitement on the hardware side with some things we haven’t quite announced yet, plus the first-party content stuff. It’s gonna be an exciting… whatever! Future!”

Filed under: Gaming, Wearables, Software, Mobile, Facebook

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