Not all Kickstarter drives cross the finish line, but it looks like the Oculus Rift finally has a release window: the first quarter of 2016. That's the date handed down to us on high, from the official Oculus Rift blog.
"The Rift delivers on the dream of consumer VR with compelling content, a full ecosystem, and a fully-integrated hardware/software tech stack designed specifically for virtual reality," says the company in its post. "It's a system designed by a team of extremely passionate gamers, developers, and engineers to reimagine what gaming can be."
That's all marketing speak, but the final Rift will be the culmination of four years' development since the Kickstarter drive and four developer prototypes. According the Oculus VR, the consumer edition closely resembles the final prototype, code-named Crescent Bay, but with "a highly refined industrial design and updated ergonomics for a more natural fit."
It shows, as the pictures of the final unit lack the Velcro straps or visible positional-tracking modules of Crescent Bay. Instead, the Rift looks sleek and slim, a product you'd be happy to put on the showfloor at a major conference. In fact, according to Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, the muted design is on purpose.
"The goal is to impress people with content, not a crazy tacticool design like most PC gaming hardware," said Luckey on Reddit. "The Rift should be effectively transparent to consumers, a conduit for games, so the top priority is making it comfortable, lightweight, and functional. It is also 100% sexy."
Unfortunately, we don't know much else about the device: final specifications and pricing are still forthcoming. I'd guess that E3 will see the release of more information. The company also announced that pre-orders for the final unit will be available later this year. Despite offering pre-orders itself, retail remains a big part of Oculus VR's strategy for the future.
"Retail is going to be a really important part of our strategy," said Oculus VR VP of Product Nate Mitchell at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015 today. "So far, if you look at how we've sold people on the idea that VR is awesome, it really has been more about trial and experiencing it. When you put the device on and you have that first experience of being teleported to this other world and experiencing that sense of presence, that's when you understand. That's going to be required for moving hundreds of millions of people into VR and the Rift."
When asked if Oculus VR was building its own games, Mitchell said the short answer was "yes". In fact, the team behind Oculus' VR ecosystem is led by a familiar face.
"We have a division within Oculus, the Oculus Studios team," Mitchell explained. "It's headed up by Jason Rubin, who is the co-founder of Naughty Dog. Rubin's team is looking at investing in the VR ecosystem and bringing awesome made-for-VR games to the Oculus platform. The same way that Microsoft or Sony might go out and publish a set of titles, we're doing the same thing."
"We think that's really critical for kickstarting this VR ecosystem. Right now, there's a lot of risk associated with building a VR application. We've gone out and really invested to help take some of that risk off developers."
It's important to realize that the Oculus Rift isn't just a device, it's also a platform. Mitchell contends that Oculus is looking at first-, second-, and third-party titles for the Rift as a means of expanding that platform.
"Where Rubin's team is investing in the ecosystem, which can seen as second to third party, we also have some small first-party teams internally, like Oculus Stories Studio," Mitchell told the interviewer. "We also have some very small game teams. Hero Bound [for Gear VR] was actually built by two guys internally with the support of an external studio. What I will say is we don't have any 50, 100, 300-person studios within Oculus invested in games. We're focused more on the platform, the technology that enables awesome developers."
It's worth asking at this point if the Oculus Rift is still the future king of VR. In the past year, other manufacturers have stepped up to deliver their own VR solutions.
Sony is creating Project Morpheus, its VR headset for the PlayStation 4. The headset is planned for launch in the first half of 2016 and features a 1920 x 1080 display and 120Hz refresh rate. Valve is working with HTC and other vendors on its Steam VR platform, with the HTC Vive being the first headset announced. The consumer edition of the Vive is coming this holiday, prior to the launch of the Rift, and the device features two 1200 x 1080 screens with a 90Hz refresh rate, room size and head tracking, and its own custom 3D controller. Oculus VR is even working with Samsung on the Gear VR system for use with Samsung smartphones.
Which is to say, the market is getting crowded. What Oculus does have is committed engineers like Luckey and John Carmack and the resources of Facebook behind it. The social media company is already looking to expand Oculus technology outward from gaming. It sees VR as the next step in entertainment and potentially, productivity. I'm not sure if I completely agree, but the beginning of 2016 looks to be when VR dreams meet consumer reality.