An Oculus Rift without wires is the best thing ever.
Among the slew of updates that came out of Oculus Connect 4, everything from new updates to Rift software and Facebook Spaces upgrades, there were two devices we hoped to get our heads in—the Oculus Go and Oculus Santa Cruz headset.
The newly announced $199 Oculus Go standalone headset was a huge surprise, a clear aim by Oculus to hit a larger goal of getting one billion consumers into VR. But considering the all-in-one device ships next year, with developer kits dropping next month, I was surprised the headset was nowhere to be found during the two day conference.
Why? One reason could be the developer kits are dropping next month. So close to an actual product launch, Oculus may have wanted to fix a few things before actually putting it out in the wild, where they would be quickly judged prematurly as a final product.
But I did get my head into Oculus’ Project Santa Cruz headset, the second generation prototype of their standalone VR headset. A different device entirely from Oculus Go, Project Santa Cruz now sports 6DOF motion controllers, dropping you into fully untethered positionally-tracked VR—and it’s the best i’ve experienced yet.
Even without a price or concrete launch date (early 2018 developer’s kit), one thing’s for sure, Project Santa Cruz is a glimpse into the future of VR over the next couple years.
An important industry-first, Project Santa Cruz is just like jumping into an Oculus Rift with Touch controllers, minus two big things—a powerful gaming PC and a cord attached to the back of your head.
Using four ultra-wide cameras placed on the outside corners of the headset, Project Santa Cruz can track your movement and controllers (inside-out tracking), letting you move naturally and unrestricted in whatever large space you’d like.
In the case of my demo, I freely walked around a giant mock living room measuring roughly 10 by 20 feet. Having grown accustom to limiting my own ability to walk around in a Rift, I can’t emphasis enough how liberating it was to jump, dive, and strafe from one side of the room to the other. Expecting a cord to yank the back of my head that never did, I eventually forgot I was even wearing a headset.
Probably one of the more optimized demos to test the limits of the Santa Cruz headset and inside-out tracked controllers, I played the Oculus Touch favorite shooter, Dead and Buried. Shooting it out against ghosts and tossing dynamite, this felt no different than being in a Rift. And that’s the most exciting part of it all because remember, i’m completely wireless and I didn’t have to lug around a giant PC to live out my wild west fantasies.
No photos or videos were allowed, but aside from the experience, the design looks and feels similar to the current Oculus Rift aside from a few exceptions. Project Santa Cruz has slightly rounder edges, is a bit heavier in the front, but also fits more comfortably and snug on your head. The headset straps around the back of your head thanks to a stretchable rubber material, which makes putting the headset on and taking it off much easier. The head strap honestly keeps this sucker securely on your head, considering you’ll be ducking and jumping more frequently now untethered.
When it comes to Project Santa Cruz controllers, they are smaller than Touch and fit more comfortably in my hands. Developed by the same team that made Touch, it comes as no surprise that these controllers build and improve upon what was already working for Oculus controllers. Touch uses an analog stick and ABXY buttons on the top, but Project Santa Cruz’s controllers do away with these and replace them with a trackpad. More responsive than Touch, hand movements seemed more accurate, but i’d like to put them through more tests outside my two 10 minute demos before issuing a final verdict.
Its unclear how Project Santa Cruz will perform outside the highly controlled environment curated by Oculus during my demo or if the headset actually needed to be charged/swapped out between demos (again all behind closed doors). But one thing’s for sure—it worked.
No cords required. No computer needed. It’s what we’ve all been hoping for so long. This is the future of wireless VR.
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