The company poised to deliver a quantum leap forward in the consumer virtual reality space took a smaller but still crucial step this weekend.
Oculus VR, the Facebook-owned company working to create affordable and quality virtual reality, announced it had created a new prototype VR headset code-named “Crescent Bay.” The announcement was made by CEO Brendan Iribe during his keynote at Oculus Connect, a conference being held Saturday in Los Angeles.
“This prototype shows off the features, the quality, the presence that we need to deliver for consumer VR,” said Iribe in the keynote. “This is along the path, much like Crystal Cove was–this is not the consumer product. It’s much closer, but its not the final thing.”
Compared to the last headset made public by Oculus, the Developer Kit 2, Crescent Bay has an improved screen with a higher resolution and a higher frames-per-second refresh rate. Oculus wouldn’t confirm the specs, but if the company stuck to the unofficial roadmap that they discussed in the past, this headset is 1440p and running at 90 frames per second–the DK2 was 1080p at 75 FPS. The screen itself is likely provided by Samsung, Oculus’s partner in the creation of the Samsung Gear VR, which uses the Galaxy Note 4 cellphone for the CPU and GPU, as well as a 1440p screen that refreshes at 60 FPS.
The lenses that take the image from screen to eyes have been improved with better quality and by being more adaptable to a range of face shapes. And while previously the small camera used to track a person’s position would fail if you turned completely around, Crescent Bay can be tracked for 360 degrees. The size of the space used for positional tracking has also increased, allowing the user to kneel or even lay down on the floor and still be tracked correctly. Luckily, such body-bending maneuvers are easier since the headset is lighter and more comfortable. Iribe mentioned that the handful of Crescent Bay headsets at the conference were handmade at the Oculus headquarters and he asked conference-goers to be careful with the delicate units.
Another integral part of Crescent Bay was the inclusion of headphones into the headset. They can be removed, if the user wants to use their own audio gear. Despite that, this is a sign to developers that the company is taking audio seriously. Iribe said that Oculus has licensed the RealSpace 3-D technology from the University of Maryland to include three-dimensional audio that reacts to how you move your head and body into the Oculus software.
“Audio is very, very important. It is essential to delivering this experience,” said Iribe. “Along with the integrated headphones, we have a huge focus on getting audio software right, getting 360 VR head-tracked software right. This is something that ultimately we should be able to simulate exactly the sound you expect to hear.”
Crescent Bay is just a prototype, a stepping-stone for the next piece of officially released hardware. Much like the Crystal Cove prototype revealed at CES in January 2014 that was then surpassed by the DK2 in March 2014, this prototype is likely a stand-in for the final consumer version that will be revealed in 2015. Will that be at the next CES in January 2015? It’s not clear yet but reports point to online sales through a beta program that will begin in April of 2015.