New Oculus VR headset unveiled to tepid reviews, but survey finds optimism for immersive tech

(Oculus Photo)

Facebook-owned Oculus today unveiled its next-generation virtual reality headset that will reportedly some day replace its flagship Oculus Rift.

The new $399 Oculus Rift S headset connects to a PC to create a powerful VR experience. In a surprising twist, Facebook worked with Lenovo to manufacture the device, speed up production and improve on the original Rift design.

The device costs the same as the Oculus Quest, a standalone VR headset unveiled last year. Consumers will have a choice between a high-powered, PC-connected headset with the Rift S and a more simplified headset that doesn’t need to be tethered to a computer with the Quest.

The Rift S will debut this spring but Facebook did not provide a specific release date today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Facebook’s big F8 developer conference is about six weeks away, and the company could launch both headsets then, or at least give a release date.

The Verge reports that Facebook will begin to phase out the original Rift when the Rift S launches. In the blog post announcing the new headset, Facebook says Rift owners will be able to take advantage of continued software updates.

Initial reviews of the Rift S are tepid. TechCrunch said the product “feels like a lateral move rather than a leap forward,” while Wired wrote that Oculus took “one giant half-step.”

New study shows “enormous potential of immersive technology”

(Perkins Coie Chart)

The hype for virtual and augmented reality has built for decades, but the hardware hasn’t met the technology’s full potential. However, a study released this week found that the tech industry sees an inflection point coming, where virtual and augmented reality devices will be as ubiquitous as smartphones within approximately six years.

Global law firm Perkins Coie surveyed 200 startup founders, technology company executives, investors, and consultants about the future of virtual and augmented reality. The respondents still see barriers to greater adoption, including a clunky user experience that needs to be ironed out and a lack of quality content. But roughly 90 percent of respondents see VR/AR becoming as popular as smartphones in just a few years. The study noted that investment in AR and VR spiked to $3.8 billion in 2018, up from $2.5 billion in 2017.

Facebook, HTC, Microsoft, Magic Leap and many other big tech companies continue to refine their virtual and augmented reality headsets, racing each other to make the devices more powerful and more comfortable.

Facebook has a huge VR research and development hub in the Seattle area where it works to advance the technology. The company recently confirmed plans for a huge new office building to serve as the centerpiece of the growing Oculus campus in Redmond, Wash., just a few miles down the road from Microsoft HQ. Oculus has been on a hiring spree to fill up all this space, and it lists nearly 200 open positions in Redmond on its job board.

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