In what’s being widely called the “Year of VR”, GDC 2016 will be the first major battle in the War For Your Head. VR headset frontrunners Oculus and HTC/Valve are due to begin shipping the Rift and Vive in less than a month, with Sony’s PlayStation VR coming not far behind. Three headsets, three platforms, and each of them wanting to win the right to be worn by you.
GDC 2016, the world’s largest game developer conference, begins tomorrow. By all measures this will be the biggest year for VR at the conference. So big in fact, that the organizers of GDC have spun up VRDC, a sub-conference of sorts (of which Road to VR is the official partner) to contain the mass of VR content, running alongside GDC itself.
As the destination of the reveal of the Rift DK2, PlayStation VR (and predecessor Morpheus), and Vive DK1 over the years, GDC has been an important theater for the headset’s early skirmishes. With each of due to ship to consumers in just months or less, you can expect these companies to vye for ‘top of mind’ when it comes to VR headsets that will be ‘top of head’.
Here’s a preview of what we expect to see from Oculus, Sony, and HTC/Valve at GDC 2016.
Oculus planted their flag in the ground last year for a Q1 2016 shipment. The consumer Oculus Rift (often called the CV1), went up for pre-order in January and the first units are expected to ship to customers on March 28th (new orders are currently backlogged to July). With the Rift shipping at the end of the month, what more is there to learn? A lot, actually.
Oculus Home for PC
There’s not much left that’s a mystery on the headset itself: we know what it looks like, how it feels, the resolution, and that it’ll have built-in (but removable) headphones, along with an IPD adjustment. What we know very little about, is what Oculus’ software platform will be like, and we expect to hear much more about it from Oculus at GDC 2016 this week.
On Samsung’s Gear VR, which is powered by Oculus software, the company calls their VR platform Oculus Home. We expect the same name and style to carry over to the Rift. Oculus Home will be the in-VR hub for your Rift games, the Oculus store, and social features. We’ve seen glimpses of the Oculus Home launcher in action at prior events, but haven’t been able to dig into what the store integration will look like, nor have we seen any of the social functions like friends lists, communication, or multiplayer integration.
Rift Launch Preview (How Much Touch?)
Oculus is holding an invite-only event today previewing a selection of games coming to the Rift. Info from this event is under embargo until Wednesday, so be sure to check back then to see what we’ve gleaned.
The big question for this game preview is: how much will Oculus emphasize Touch, their VR motion controllers which aren’t expected to ship until the second half of 2016?
Oculus is in a precarious situation with their headset launching, at minimum, several months before their motion controllers, while competitors Sony and HTC/Valve both have their controllers ready to go at launch.
Because of these mismatched timelines, all of Oculus’ launch titles have to be compatible with the Xbox gamepad that the company is shipping with each headset. And while motion controllers are clearly the way forward for VR input, Oculus can’t be too aggressive about the fact that Touch is coming down the line, otherwise they risk putting the spotlight too heavily on titles that players won’t be able to play until Touch arrives, while offending the current crop of developers who have committed to gamepad support.
For this reason, I’m not expecting Oculus to announce a Touch launch date or price at GDC—that is unless they’ve managed to move the Touch launch date into early Q3, or have a surprisingly low price to tell us about that will give their complete headset+VR controller package a nice lead over HTC/Valve’s $800 Vive.
We may, however, get to see the evolved Touch design that Oculus teased back in January.