Facebook's (META -0.11%) Oculus subsidiary is making its biggest splash yet in the virtual reality (VR) market with Oculus Quest, and within a month or two, we should know if the company is living up to the wildly high expectations set by Mark Zuckerberg himself. Oculus Quest, when launched in "Spring 2019," will be the industry's first wireless headset with an accessible price point of $400.
Zuckerberg has said he wants a billion people in VR, and that going wireless and lowering costs are big steps to that end -- putting a lot of pressure on the final product. Here's what we can expect from the device, and what we should watch for going forward.
It's all about wireless
One of the major limitations of VR historically has been that it's tethered to a high-powered gaming computer. This is necessary to pack the processing and battery power needed to make VR possible.
Quest is attempting to run high-end VR by making some (hopefully minor) compromises along the way. It's running at 72 frames per second versus the 90 frame standard for high-end VR headsets, and will run a less powerful graphics card than most PCs. We also don't have word on how long the headset's battery will last given the self-contained design, but this certainly won't be an all-day device. HTC Vive's wireless system lasts 2-3 hours, which is the best comparison for Oculus Quest right now.
Inside-out tracking, which tracks a player's position from cameras in the headset rather than fixed external trackers, is also unproven but promising with current VR headsets. Microsoft's (MSFT 0.70%) mixed reality headsets use inside out tracking, but are compromised when controllers go out of site. Oculus has an even bigger challenge: Tracking in an un-tethered space, and having to track controllers in the same space. If it's done well, Quest's inside-out tracking could be a game changer, and early reviews have been extremely positive. If Quest gets inside-out tracking right, it could be a hit device at a $400 price point.
Check out the latest earnings call transcript for Facebook.
Is multiplayer coming?
One of the most exciting possibilities for Quest is multi-player in the same physical space. When Oculus demoed Quest at Oculus Connect 5 this year, one of the experiences it showed was Dead and Buried in an arena setting with multiple players in the same world. This could enable warehouse-style VR games with a relatively low-cost setup, compared to others building $100,000-plus area-style experiences.
Wireless multi-player would literally be a game changer for the VR industry. It would not only enable multiple users in games, but would also allow for multiple VR users in enterprise applications, which could ultimately be the biggest VR market for Oculus.
Oculus could change the game
It's hard to overstate how important Oculus Quest is for the VR industry. If it lives up to Oculus's hopes and media reviews, it could change the industry's trajectory. Instead of high-end headset sales of 1-2 million devices per year, we could see tens of millions of units sold per year. That would drive better content and a cycle of more development, with more money flowing into the industry.
VR is a place where Facebook can prove that it can make hardware and build a platform for content distribution. That's ultimately why Zuckerberg wants to be in VR, and Quest is his best shot at building a foothold that would be tough to knock his company off.