Oculus' Jason Rubin On Rift's Future And Sunsetting External Sensors

Oculus upgraded its release window for Oculus Quest and Rift S from a vague ‘spring’ window to May 21 this morning, which gave us the opportunity to chat with Oculus VP of content (and former Naughty Dog co-founder/co-president) Jason Rubin. We spoke about how Quest and Rift S could affect VR adoption, whether or not we’re moving into the next generation of Oculus, and why external sensors are taking a long walk into the sunset (for the foreseeable future). You can find an abridged version of our chat below.

The big upgrades for Oculus Quest and Rift S are how they affect cable management, one of the biggest gripes levied against playing games in VR. Neither upcoming headset requires external sensors thanks to inside-out tracking that places all the sensors in the actual headset, and Quest has no cables at all. It is completely standalone. Rift S has one cable that forks into a USB and DVI cable and plugs into a compatible PC.

Why focus on these specific upgrades for the new headsets?

We think it fixes the greatest issue that consumers have said keeps them from buying VR and going back into VR and that is all of the cables and everything else that is going on with the external sensors set up and keep it managed. And that’s true across any high-end six-degree of freedom headsets, whether it’s on PC or console. Certainly it has been possible in the past to not have the external cables and use three-degrees of freedom, like Oculus Go, but that doesn’t give the gaming experience that everyone seems to want with your hands and everything else you want visible, so we are basically moving forward from now on, exclusively with inside out tracking for these systems, and that we think will make a much better product for consumers going forward.

Rift S has a bunch of other upgrades. For example, it has a better screen, it has the better optics that we launched with Go, it gives you a better overall experience. There are some trade-offs that we made, as well, some things it doesn’t have that were in Rift, for example, it doesn’t have over-the-ear headphones, which helps bring the price down and allows you to have the very nice halo strap it now sits with. It does have a headphone jack that will allow you to plug in headphones. Together, we think these two devices really make the conversation, as you walk into a Best Buy and whatnot, much easier for the consumer and retailer to have.

Are Quest and Rift going to be treated separate platforms?

We want to make these ecosystems much closer together. So, if you have Beat Saber? Fine. Your high-scores will show up against PC players and it’s competitive. You can play between them. If you have a multiplayer game on PC you can play against Quest users, and Quest users can play against PC users with cross-play. That means that the first person who buys a Quest has the entire Rift audience to play against, and the first person to buy a Rift S has the entire Rift audience as well as the entire Quest audience to play against, which is great for developers.

So Beat Saber, for example – is the Quest version and the Rift version considered the same game? Or are they two different games and you get both versions when you buy Beat Saber? How do you distinguish?

The answer to that question is, as much as we can, we’re going to try for cross-buy and cross-play in the same title. I think, in general, over time, that is going to be the situation. I would ask the Beat Saber team the question you just asked, because ultimately that is a developer answer, but I believe the answer would be… it’s the same game.

In that case, I would say it’s the same software. There will be other pieces of software where it’s not exactly the same, and that can happen for many reasons in both directions. Clearly, there are some things the PC can do with its GPUs and CPUs that can’t be done on Quest. But that doesn’t mean once you’ve built the game for PC that there isn’t a subset of what it does, or some sort of version you can’t put out on Quest. There very well may be developers that create a game on PC and a “game lite” on Quest, because it just can’t get the game to work, and they sell “game lite” at a different price and it’s a different game and there is no cross-buy or cross-play.

In the other direction, Quest is untethered, so you can make a huge room work, and it may be that there are titles made for Quest that require a huge room and the developer says, “We can port this to Quest relatively easily, but we do have to change it some way so it’s in a bigger room,” or whatever, and it won’t be the same title. It may not allow cross-buy. It is going to be up to the developer in every case, but in the case of Beat Saber, to answer your question directly, I think they would say it’s the same game.

What’s the main reason for removing the headphones?

There are a huge number of trade-offs when you’re designing these pieces of hardware. Everything either adds money or subtracts money, adds weight or subtracts weight, adds comfort subtracts comfort, etc, etc., etc..

In the case of the headphones, on both devices we realized it is extremely easy to get it in and out of the device if we do the in-strap audio with Go. People really liked that for the fact that they could put it on and go quickly. We could put the [Oculus] headphones on, that is relatively easy, but then there are people who say, “I really want to take those off because they’re good headphones, but they’re not as good as mine.” They end up taking off those [Oculus] headphones, then they have to put on extra headphones. Sometimes they just want to get in, but then they don’t have their headphones on, and as we interviewed customers, it seemed like the right thing to do was to put the in-strap speakers in for ease of use – they’re there, they always work. If you’d rather use your own headphones, for whatever reason – you have big ears and you need big headphones, or you want in-ear headphones – whatever it is, we don’t care, it will plug in, work just fine, and be fully compatible. That seemed to cover the most people and make the most people as happy as possible.

Is Rift S now the premiere headset for Oculus? Or can we expect a higher tier, more expensive headset that uses more cables and sensors closer to the current version of Rift?

Right now there are three things in our product line. There is Go, which is three degrees of freedom. There is Quest, which is an all-in-one six-degrees of freedom. And there is Rift S, which is our PC tethered headset. None of them have external sensors. We’ve deprecated external sensors for now. There may be a time in the future – maybe, I am not suggesting this is going to happen – but there may be a time when we want to track your feet and we need an external sensor to do that, or whatever. I’m not saying external sensors have no… I don’t want you to come back and quote me five years from now if it turns out full-body tracking is necessary [laughs], but for the type of thing we’re doing now, which gamers have settled on as the quality experience, there is no need to deal with external sensors.

The three devices have similar, but not identical screen resolutions; similar, but not identical lenses in all cases; they’re all superior to Rift in those ways. We have not announced any additional products beyond that as of today. It’s also worth saying that Rift, I believe, has been taken off even out own internal website for sale. Rift has been sunsetted. There are probably still some available on some retailers somewhere. They are certainly available on eBay, but we’re done with the external sensor business and we’re moving on from Rift to the higher resolution.

Are Quest and Rift S a new generation for Oculus hardware? Would you compare this upgrade to something like moving from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4?

We believe that the Rift generation, the Rift ecosystem, is not changing. This is not a PlayStation 3 to 4 move. A PlayStation 3 to 4-like move would entail us adding some feature that would make software incompatible backwards, because you wouldn’t have that feature. There is nothing about a Rift that somebody owns that is obsoleted by this new technology. It will be less convenient to use, to be sure. I’m telling you, inside out tracking is a hell of a lot better than all the sensors and USBs and all that stuff. But once you have all that hooked up, you have roughly the same experience and the software is compatible. This is a refresh and improvement of the current generation, rather than switching generations.

This may be a question for developers, but there won’t ever be Rift S-exclusive games?

It doesn’t seem like there would be any good reason to do so. As with any piece of hardware, when there is a change there are things that are different. You can’t say they’re identical. For example, with the higher-resolution screens on Rift S, there is text on Rift that would be hard to read that wouldn’t be hard to read on Rift S, but I would imagine developers – to get the larger audience – will just make sure it is legible on both.

There are poses with inside-out tracking that are incompatible because everything is being seen from your headset. Putting your hands behind you is something inside-out tracking doesn’t do well, where external sensors, especially if you put one behind you, deals with that fine. That being said, you also can’t see your arms when they’re behind you. We have software ways of dealing with what can’t be seen by the eyes. There may be some incompatible moments in a Rift title, because Rift S has different restrictions.

There are differences, but my assumption is developers will just figure out what stuff isn’t “perfect” for Rift S, and I know they’re already working on this, and just tweak it. Going forward they’ll have Rift in the corner, and Rift S on their desks and they will make sure everything is compatible across both because why wouldn’t you? The differences are not large enough that there should be any Rift S-only software.

Having said that, developers are primary for us. If a developer makes a decision and it’s rational and it’s not offensive to the consumer and they can explain it, we’ll do it. I can see no reason, from a business standpoint why anyone would cut off all the first Rift users for arbitrary reasons. If they come up with a valid reason, okay, we’ll listen and then maybe.

Oculus Quest and Rift S will be available each for $399.99 on May 21. For more on Oculus Quest and Rift S, follow the links.

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