Today’s Facebook Connect kicked off with a two-hour keynote that detailed the company’s latest virtual and augmented reality developments. There were product announcements, new apps and games on display, and compelling peeks at some speculative technology. We’ll recap the highlights for those who couldn’t catch the presentation live.
Oculus Quest 2
Everyone expected it, but the Oculus Quest 2 was Facebook’s big announcement. Like its predecessor, the Quest 2 is a standalone VR headset — no external gaming console or PC (with their related, encumbering cables and sensors) required — but this iteration offers some big improvements over Facebook’s first attempt.
The Quest 2 features a single in-headset LCD panel with a resolution of 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye and 50% higher pixel density than the first Quest’s 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye. The screen has a 72Hz refresh rate for now, but it will be boosted to 90Hz via a post-launch software update.
A custom Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor powers the headset, which features 6GB of RAM plus 64GB of storage on the base model (a 256GB model is also available). The device is also 10% lighter than the Quest.
The Quest 2’s controllers have been upgraded with a more ergonomic design, better haptic feedback, and longer battery life.
These are clear improvements to the original Quest, but Facebook expects the Quest 2 to replace the Rift as well. An optional $US79 ($108) Link cable lets users connect their Quest 2 headset to their PC to play high-end VR games via the new Oculus Link app — effectively undermining the Rift’s entire raison d’être — but easier setup and wireless usability are arguably more important to VR in general.
While the Quest 2 may be unfettered from cables, users will need a Facebook account to use it. It’s not a prohibitive requirement, but it is one that perhaps not everyone will be willing to stomach. Still, the lower price and ability to play Rift games via a simpler setup could help the Quest 2 tip into the mainstream.
The Oculus Quest 2 launches on Oct. 13 for $US299 ($408) for the 64GB model, and $US399 ($545) for the 256GB model. Pre-orders are available through the Oculus online store. Several accessories, including Logitech earbuds and an “Elite” strap with an expanded battery attachment, are also available.
New games and apps
Games are the biggest draw of VR right now, and Facebook highlighted several new ones compatible with the Quest 2. One of the biggest announcements was that Ubisoft is developing new VR-centric Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell games from the ground-up. No gameplay was shown for either title, so it’s likely they’re in early development, but the notion of exclusive titles from popular franchises like these are likely to get more people interested in the Quest 2.
On top of Ubisoft’s upcoming VR titles, there were also several other games announced, including:
- A new Star Wars Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge scenario set on the planet Batuu.
- Population 1, a battle royale title from Big Box games
- A new Beat Saber multiplayer mode
- The Climb 2
- Jurassic World: Aftermath, an action-Survival game set in Jurassic Park and offering stylised comic book visuals.
- Warhammer 40k: Battle Sister
- Pistolwhip 2089
- Myst VR
- The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners
- Sniper Elite VR
- Rez Infinite VR
- Space Channel 5 VR
- Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing
- Altdeus: Beyond Chronos
- Puzzle Bobble VR
- Medal of Honour: Above and Beyond
Several new apps were also announced for the Oculus platform and Facebook’s other VR and AR products:
- Infinite Office: A suite of collaborative VR work apps for the Quest.
- Messenger: Facebook Messenger will soon be available as a Quest VR app.
- Oculus Challenges: a cross-app scoreboard and achievements systems for Oculus.
- New Spark AR experiences: Smithsonian, NYT, and new “Storytime” books for Facebook Portal
- Oculus Link: Oculus Link lets you play Rift games from your gaming PC on an Oculus Quest 2 via a link cable.
- Oculus Move: A built-in fitness tracker for Quest 2, with cross-app support coming later this year. (The keynote demo showed off Beat Saber support.)
- New customisable Oculus avatars: These updated avatars will replace the avatars in Horizon and other Facebook apps. Developers can also use them in their own games and apps.
Alongside the Oculus Quest 2 and its upcoming software, Facebook also showed off a couple pieces of speculative AR and VR technology.
The first was “Project Aria,” a research product Facebook is using to help plan their eventual “Smart Glasses” technology. Basically, a bunch of Facebook employees will be walking around with glasses that can collect data out in the world. Facebook talked a bit about the research’s ethics, and how and when Project Aria will collect data.
The other piece of research technology on display was the EMG bracelet, a wrist-mounted interface that lets you use your hands to control AR and VR apps without a handheld controller. It also offers “neural” feedback — basically, haptic feedback through the bracelet — to simulate touch. Facebook is also using the technology to see if it’s possible to teach users to control “extra” fingers and limbs with their brains. Facebook acquired the company behind the bracelet, CTRL-labs, in 2019, but this is the first of its tech we’ve seen in use in conjunction with Facebook’s VR technology.
Project Aria and the EMG bracelet are still in the testing and research phases and aren’t products yet (if they ever will be), but Facebook clearly feels strongly about them, as it devoted a sizable portion of the two-hour keynote to showing them off.