Innovation

Oculus streamlines how companies can create VR and 360-degree content for PC, mobile, and headsets

At Oculus Connect 3, Facebook unveiled a slew of new updates to the Oculus platform that included features to make VR more accessible to the many businesses that are already investing in it.

ocavatars.jpg

The new Oculus avatars.

Image: Oculus

Advances to the Oculus platform, announced at the Oculus Connect 3 event on Thursday, could make it easier for businesses and school to create more useful virtual reality (VR) content, and better leverage the technology to get work done.

At the opening keynote of the Oculus Connect 3 event in San Jose, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg explained how the company believes that the next stage of VR development will come from "building great software experiences." This, Zuckerberg said, is the key to unlocking the "next phase of virtual reality."

To build out this software, Zuckerberg said the company would be investing an additional $250 million in the developer ecosystem, to complement the previous investment of the same amount. The company is also launching a $10 million education fund for the development of education content for VR, and is dedicating part of the app store to education content, exclusively.

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

Oculus will be taking quite a few steps to make it easier for developers to engage with the ecosystem, and for businesses and users to make better use of the technology. For starters, Oculus will be covering Unreal Engine licensing fees for any app sold in its store, for up to the first $5 million in gross revenue. A new platform called Oculus Next Gen will also enable content creators to bring their own stuff to VR more quickly.

The company also spoke on the concept of the VR web, and how it is an easier way to build simple VR apps with a few lines of Javascript. Basically, this would make VR content available through a browser, and it might be a way for businesses to more easily build a product demo or marketing experience with less effort.

These experiences will be built through a new framework called ReactVR, based on the React framework. A new VR browser, codenamed "Carmel," was also announced by Oculus and will run on all Oculus devices. A developer preview for both is coming soon.

Collaboration was another key focus of the Oculus Connect 3 event, with Zuckerberg himself demoing a conference call-type scenario in an office setting on stage. To this end, Oculus is introducing avatars, which will be available in 2017. The firm also announced that users would be able to join Oculus Parties of up to eight people to talk in VR, regardless of what they're doing in VR. Another new feature called Oculus Rooms puts multiple users together in a virtual space together to watch TV, listen to music, or play mini games.

For the most part, VR primarily exists in two tiers: Cheap, portable headsets that use smartphones, like the Samsung Gear VR, and high-end, PC-based VR experiences like the Oculus Rift. However, Zuckerberg said that he believes the market needs a product that sits in between these tiers.

The proposed product would be portable and wireless, but have more power than than the smartphone-based models. Zuckerberg said that Oculus is working on a product like this now, but it's still early and they don't have anything beyond a prototype yet. This could be helpful for businesses that use VR for product demos, or at trade shows, as it would handle more compute-intensive apps or experiences, but would be easier to transport.

The use case for VR in business seems to be growing strongly. Based on data from Tech Pro Research and eMarketer, business investment in VR is projected to hit $2.18 billion by the end of 2016. By the first half of 2020, that investment is forecast to hit $7.2 billion.

Nate Mitchell from Oculus also took the stage to explain the investments that were being made in the Oculus Platform. Advancements like Ambisonic rendering will help improve the audio experience, while other advancements to visual renderings will improve how hardware works with VR.

A strange as it sounds, a new feature called Asynchronous Timewarp will result in a 50x reduction in glitches, while Asynchronous Spacewarp allows VR experiences to run on 45 FPS, so people can get into VR with less powerful hardware.

A nod was made to a new AMD machine with minimum specs that will only cost $499. Additionally, Oculus announced that they've also begun certifying laptops through their Oculus-ready program, which opens the gate for even more developers who may prefer that form factor.

Other hardware announcements included new $49 earphones for improved sound, the $199 Oculus Touch controllers that will ship on December 6, and the addition of a third sensor for $79 that creates the option for room scale experiences. This allows Oculus to more readily compete with the HTC Vive, while the enterprise can potentially use it to create better training simulations and exercises.

Oculus leaders also spent time talking about a new initiative called "VR for Good," which they said is funding programs to "break down barriers" and "change the world we share" by funding VR filmmaking that highlights diversity and different kinds of experiences. The goal is to make the world feel smaller, closer, and more connected. A new app, UNVR, was also highlighted to bring more global experiences to VR.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Facebook-owned Oculus announced a plethora of new platform updates and programs that will make it easier and cheaper for businesses and developers to engage the VR ecosystem.
  2. A new ReactVR framework and "Carmel" VR browser will easier to build and view web-based VR content, lowering the barrier of entry into the space.
  3. New features Asynchronous Timewarp and Asynchronous Spacewarp will lower glitches, while making it easier to run VR on cheaper hardware.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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