Qualcomm-powered Oculus Quest is prospective OTT haven

Almost exactly a month after Oculus began phasing out its flagship Rift headsets, the Facebook-owned virtual reality outfit has unveiled the company’s first “all-in-one” headset, the Oculus Quest, powered by none other than the Qualcomm Mobile VR Platform based on the Snapdragon 835. Quest has been tipped by some in the industry as a prodigy with significant expectations, and although outperforming its predecessor Rift should hardly be difficult, placing any hardware on such a high pedestal is a dangerous game.

But on first impressions, we feel that despite being marketed as a headset for the VR gaming market, the Oculus Quest offers an environment ideal for OTT video services – enabled by some clever developments on both the Qualcomm and Oculus sides of the coin.

By all-in-one VR, Oculus really means PC-less. By dropping the need for a high-end gaming PC, Oculus has finally done something close to innovation in VR. For $399, you get two touch controllers with your 64 GB 6DOF (6 degrees of freedom) headset, or you can double up to 128 GB for $599. Users will, however, require the Oculus app on iPhone or Android to complete set up, although that hardly sounds like an arduous process.

To the guts of it now. Clearly Qualcomm and Oculus have worked a tight ship together here and we hope such close collaboration on the silicon level lives up to expectations. Building on its existing Snapdragon 835 feature set, Qualcomm says Quest taps into a chip architecture capable of powering the high concurrency workloads required, including graphics processing, video decoding and encoding. Oculus, meanwhile, is responsible for the tracking element, with Quest headsets using its inside-out sensor tracking powered by the Oculus Insight computer vision algorithm. Insight’s intelligent algorithms combined with four ultra-wide angle sensors enable the controllers to translate movements into VR with high accuracy and low latency. If anyone needs a quick visual of how latency can quickly turn a mixed reality experience awry in a multiplayer environment, check this clip.

Additional smart features include foveated rendering, a technique for reducing the graphics rendering workload by significantly lowering the quality of graphics in the peripheral vision, achieved through the use of an eye tracker within the headset. A neat new feature. The Qualcomm AI Engine was made available on the 835 and other Snapdragon models last year but this doesn’t appear to be necessary here.

Ironically, the launch comes only about half a year since Oculus founder Palmer Luckey exclaimed that not a single piece of VR hardware on the market today is good enough to go mainstream. After leaving Facebook last year, Luckey wrote in a blog that measuring hardware sales is a “meaningless metric for the success of VR” claiming that “engagement is everything” for VR to achieve “inevitable dominance as the final platform.” We wonder if Oculus Quest is anything close to Palmer’s utopian vision.

But while Oculus Quest is being marketed mainly as a gaming headset, the standalone device supports Netflix, Sling TV and Fox Now, among others, although a notable absentee is HBO. One crucial difference from the Oculus Go is no support for Oculus Rooms, which allows multi-user viewing of videos from Facebook and other platforms.

Research firm SuperData recently said the launch of Oculus Quest would be a defining moment for the VR industry. It projects 1.7 million shipments in one year, while Oculus shipped only 494,000 Rift headsets 12 months after release. Combined, SuperData projects Oculus will ship 2.5 million Rift and Go headsets worldwide in 2019. That’s interesting considering Quest is priced at about $50 more than the Oculus Rift retails at and $200 more than the Oculus Go, so perhaps this research knows something we don’t about consumer attitudes towards VR headsets – forecasting a move into the mainstream in as little as one year. A tad optimistic.

Additional SuperData insights show a balance shift in the market which makes for interesting reading. Hardware sales are projected to account for around 75% of total VR revenue this year, but this will drop to somewhere closer to 60% by 2021, caused by declining headset prices and the emergence of more monetization opportunities in the VR software space.

“We worked closely with the Oculus engineering team to build upon the Snapdragon 835 feature set and optimize the platform to help deliver a unique, rich immersive gaming experience,” said Hugo Swart, head of XR at Qualcomm Technologies. “The joint efforts between Oculus and Qualcomm Technologies deliver a completely wire-free, intuitive VR experience for consumers that has the potential to enrich lives and propel mass VR adoption.” Sound familiar?