Aug 29, 2016
Oculus Rift, the most well-known virtual reality (VR) hardware and software developer in the emerging VR industry, has unveiled plans for a boundary software system for its hardware. This joins the company’s previous announcement to release its own motion controller with haptic feedback, the Oculus Touch. Both enhancements are intended to strengthen the Rift, allowing it to better match its competitor – the HTC Vive.
Oculus’ boundary system represents a software improvement that will likely become common place within the next year. What this system does is alert the user to incoming peril within their environment. This is similar functionality to HTC Vive’s Chaperone and the proposed RealSense tech used by Intel’s Project Alloy. This will make it safer to wear a VR headset while moving – even in a household space that is filled with objects.
Touch is a hardware improvement that will deepen the user’s sense of immersion, while offering more precise controls in the virtual space. The motion-mapping will allow the user to more realistically move their virtual “hands,” while the vibration will give the user physical cues to respond to. It will also allow more simultaneous input – giving the user the ability to complete two actions at once.
Neither of these measures makes Oculus a pioneer. As mentioned, both upgrades already exist in some form with its chief competitor, the HTC Vive. With Sony’s impending launch of PlayStation VR, these moves can be seen as necessary steps to keep the Oculus Rift relevant in the consumer VR space.
That said, these advancements should not be underestimated. In taking these steps, Oculus has greatly improved two of its largest shortcomings. In enacting a boundary system, the hardware will upgrade from stationary to mobile VR. The headset will still be wired, but the user will have at least limited freedom to walk around. This will greatly increase the diversity of programs available to all Oculus Rift users.
Touch is also a step forward to freedom from a PC. Until now, users had to make due either with a keyboard or a standard controller. While traditional controllers can provide strong feedback, there was no official model for the Oculus Rift – meaning all input had to be mapped to a third party device. Adding Touch allows an in-house option that will be specifically tailored to Rift experiences. This will also give the Rift an edge over PlayStation VR, which currently uses older technology for its motion control (2010’s PlayStation Move controllers).
The VR market is still in its infancy, and a dominant tech has yet to emerge. In taking these steps, Oculus keeps itself in position to occupy a large share of the developing market. Neither Touch nor the boundary program have an exact release date. Both are slated for release in the second half of 2016.
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