UPDATED 14:20 EDT / SEPTEMBER 16 2020

EMERGING TECH

Oculus Quest 2 for $299, smart glasses, AR apps and more debut at Facebook Connect

Facebook Inc. plans to deliver a multitude of new products that include a new Oculus Quest 2 headset for fully immersive virtual reality as well as smart glasses that can project augmented reality-style “holograms” over user vision.

The social networking giant announced the new and upcoming products at its Facebook Connect virtual conference today. A rebrand of the former Oculus Connect, it was presented by Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg today, which is now presented by Facebook Reality Labs.

Virtual reality provides a “feeling of presence,” Zuckerberg argued in his keynote, and this has become even more important in a post COVID-19 world where people are more separate than ever. He and Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, painted a vision of a world in which legendary engineer Douglas Engelbart’s vision of augmented human intelligence, which spawned modern personal computers and user interfaces, finally comes to its full potential.

“That’s why a whole lot of people have been spending a lot more time in VR since COVID hit. I know I have,” said Zuckerberg. “And it’s a way to get out there even when you can’t leave your house to see your friends and feel connected even when you’re physically apart. I’m really focused on this area of social software because as I’ve said before this area of augmented and virtual reality are going to be the most social platforms ever.”

The most interesting new product is Project Aria, smart glasses from Ray-Ban brand owner EssilorLuxottica. Coming next year, they’re not quite AR glasses but will combine video overlays and audio triggers with a stylish form factor.

For developers, there will be Spark AR, a software development kit that will unlock AR capabilities for mainstream retail and game production.

New Facebook VR social experiences are also being released, including Horizons, currently in beta test mode, and Venue, an app to make live events more social. Facebook said it’s already doing business meetings inside VR boardrooms instead of just Zoom meetings.

Oculus Quest 2

Earlier this week, a Facebook marketing arm accidentally leaked two videos talking about the technical specifications and social features of the successor to the Oculus Quest. According to Zuckerberg, more than 90% of people who used the original Quest had never used VR before.

The new Oculus Quest 2 has a single high-resolution panel liquid crystal display screen, will use the newest Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor and uses a soft strap for better ergonomics. It uses fixed “foveated” rendering, meaning it will fully render the focal region where the eyes see best — directly where the person is looking — and not put as much processing power where it’s not needed.

With nearly 2K resolution per eye, more than 50% more pixels per eye than the Quest, it will be even more comfortable on the eyes than before. It will use 3D positional audio and not require beacons when moving around the room – a must for a mobile device that will allow people to move around. The Quest 2 also will have 6 gigabytes onboard RAM and an option 256GB of built-in storage.

Just like the original Oculus Quest, this is an all-in-one VR headset, which means it’s a mobile device. But it’s also possible to use an Oculus Link USB-C cable to connect it to a VR-ready PC and make it into a fully powered VR device.

“The Quest 2 clearly marks a turning point for VR,” said Nils Wollny, chief executive and co-founder of Holoride GmbH, in-car VR entertainment startup. “Being more powerful, more convenient and more affordable at the same time, the headset has the potential to massively drive VR’s breakthrough into the mass market like no other.”

There are more than 35 titles available for the Quest platform and they have generated revenue in the millions of dollars since launch. Upcoming titles also include “Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge,” Jurassic World Aftermath,” “The Climb 2, Myst,” Beat Saber Multiplayer” and “Warhammer 40,000 Battle Sister,” among others.

Pre-orders for the Oculus Quest 2 open today and the device ships starting Oct. 13.

“Releasing this device in the context of a global pandemic must have been a Herculean task of the Oculus team and earns additional respect,” said Wollny. “Being on time for this year’s holiday season will accelerate its adoption and secure a pole position in the market.”

Virtual reality and the social experience

Facebook Reality Labs launched in order to build a multitude of meaningful social experiences in workspaces for the Oculus Quest 2 and communities in enterprise spaces. They include many telepresence and other meeting systems such as productivity apps such as Portal, Zoom, GoToMeeting, TaleSpin and similar.

That’s why the Oculus Quest 2 includes capabilities that connect with the Spark AR SDK that allow it to build upon and use collaboration filters for teams that will allow them to connect remotely.

This idea has been explored by numerous companies who have been developing the idea of virtual meeting spaces such as Spatial Systems Inc., MeetInVR, IrisVR Inc. and Scope AR.

Facebook also previewed “Infinite Office,” a productivity app, that enables people to create an office within VR that lets them be anywhere they want to be and bring their office with them. And in partnership with Logitech, they can bring their keyboard and hands with them, critical for any VR office.

Horizon VR, currently in beta, is a virtual reality social world from Facebook that is a bit like “Ready Player One” but more cartoonish, where people can attend concerts, games and standup performances.

Project Aria

Currently, our world is dominated by the idea of “heads-down, eyes-down devices,” but Facebook suggested a world in which our eyes empower users to “see” holograms overlaid over our vision instead. In this way, our co-workers or friends can come along with us into the world. This is how AR can come with us, and it’s what Facebook’s “Project Aria” is all about.

The idea includes many of the examples mentioned because AR and VR are mixed – thus the jargon term “mixed reality” because both augmented and virtual reality are blurred terms even in the industry.

In enterprise terms, collaboration in a virtual space can happen between someone looking at a 2D screen with someone wearing a 3D headset who is within a 3D space working on 3D objects and manipulating them. They can be talking to several co-workers walking in the field wearing AR goggles and working on an airplane engine. That engine is recast to the person in the VR 3D space who sees an actual 3D model, who can manipulate it and draw on it, and their manipulations are then seen by everyone else.

The smart glasses themselves are a ways off, however, not to be delivered until next year.

Image: Facebook

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