Oculus is making hard shift away from its proprietary developer APIs in favor of OpenXR, an industry-backed project that aims to standardize the development of VR and AR applications. As of the latest SDK update, the company says OpenXR will become “the preferred API for all new applications going forward.”

Oculus announced this month that it plans to begin deprecating the existing Oculus Mobile and Oculus PC SDK in favor of OpenXR.

OpenXR is a royalty-free standard that aims to standardize the development of VR and AR applications, making for a more interoperable ecosystem. The standard has been in development since April 2017 and is supported by virtually every major hardware, platform, and engine company in the VR industry, including key AR players.

Image courtesy The Khronos Group

OpenXR has seen a slow but steady rollout since reaching version ‘1.0’ in 2019; this new announcement from Oculus is sure to hasten the pace significantly.

The move begins with the v31 SDK update, in which Oculus is shifting to OpenXR as the “preferred API for all new applications going forward.” According to Oculus, that means only its OpenXR SDK will receive “full support” (like QA testing, bug fixes, and up-to-date documentation). New developer features, like the recently announced passthrough API, will be delivered only through OpenXR extensions from this point forward.

Applications built with the older Oculus Mobile and Oculus PC SDKs will of course continue to work on existing headsets, but starting on August 31st, Oculus is downgrading those SDKs to “compatibility support” only, which means limited QA testing, only critical bug fixing, and no new developer features.

One year after, on August 31st, 2022, Oculus will require that new applications be built with OpenXR, and the Oculus Mobile and Oculus PC SDKs will move to “unsupported” status.

Even after that date, older applications built with the Oculus Mobile and Oculus PC SDKs will continue to work on existing headsets, but Oculus is pushing hard to get all new applications built with OpenXR.

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While both Unity and Unreal Engine—the two most commonly used tools for building VR applications—offer some degree of support for OpenXR, neither have shifted to OpenXR as the default for building new VR applications.

In Unity, OpenXR support is still considered “experimental.” Oculus expects that the Unity OpenXR plugin won’t be “fully supported” until early 2022, at which point it will become the recommended option for building VR applications.

As for Unreal Engine, Oculus plans to make an OpenXR backend plugin the default in the v32 release of the Oculus SDK, and expects “full support” for OpenXR in Unreal Engine with the release of Unreal Engine 5 (expected in early 2022). Once UE5 gets is full release, Oculus says that new VR projects for Oculus headsets built with UE5 will be required to use OpenXR.

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  • oomph2

    That is great. With this oculus has shown the maturity & leadership quality. Businesses that are built on standards survive for long & those which remain isolated become experimental & lose sight of masses then forgotten

    • kontis

      Most likely the only reason Oculus went with OpenXR is because in the 2014 they got their ass kicked by Valve and Sony and started panic mode.

      They were the super viral return of VR brand and people were starting to name any headset “an oculus”, so they were 99% sure they would be the most popular VR system, but they were the LEAST popular of all those big 3.

      PSVR was no 1 and then Vive, which was selling 2:1, despite the same price, probably because it had motion controllers and room scale while Oculus was telling people to use a gamepad and always be seated, because standing while playing VR could be dangerous.

      In tech every company that loses embraces the open source and “free” alternatives. AMD often does it when trying to offer less advanced versions of features that Nvidia already has.
      So when the fake OpenVR proprietary API from Valve became the biggest VR API on PC Oculus felt obviously threatened, so they embraced a truly open API as a weapon against fake solution from Valve that had Open only in the name.

      I’m pretty sure if Oculus were initially more successful they would never agree to OpenXR as it’s not very compatible with their one and only goal: beat Apple and kill iPhone.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        I think you have a very skewed view on why they started using OpenXR. Especially because they are also one of the founding fathers of OpenXR. Back then the Oculus SDK supported more advanced features and grew faster for Oculus needs than OpenVR did.
        Also, the Vive isn’t from Valve, and as my memory serves, Oculus was selling just as much as the Vive.

        • Agree with everything. But actually Rift was selling one third of the Vive units, until they reduced the price

          • david vincent

            In my memory, Vive outsold its rival by a factor of 2:1 until the launch of Touch.

        • Zerofool

          Also, the Vive isn’t from Valve

          Yes, it is. The mechanical/electrical/optical design and software is 99% Valve. HTC only helped with the industrial design of the shell and Valve used them for their manufacturing and distribution expertise. Look it up.
          You can see HTC’s true headset design capability when the Valve/HTC close relationship ended – starting with Vive Pro, each of their HMDs have been an uncompetitive, out of touch, overpriced joke of a product.
          And even the best VR product they released – the Wireless Adapter (engineered by DisplayLink) – isn’t that useful for VR arcades – it can’t replace backpack PCs for free-roaming experiences, because you can use only three of them in the same play area…

          • Andrew Jakobs

            Sorry to say this, but the Vive Pro is much better than the original Vive.

          • Zerofool

            The resolution bump was a welcome one, no doubt. The lenses were almost identical – very slight improvement in edge-to-edge clarity. Comfort-wise it’s a little better than Vive+DAS. But these are small iterative improvements that came two whole years after the original one, and at almost twice the price ($800 vs $1400), while using the same wand controllers, albeit updated to support 2.0 lighthouse tracking. “Much better” is not how I would describe it.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    Even after that date, older applications built with the Oculus Mobile and Oculus PC SDKs will continue to work on existing headsets, …

    At least for a while. It isn’t very likely that they will support their proprietary APIs for eternity, so just like with every OS, eventually older apps will stop to run if the developers don’t switch to OpenXR. This will less of a problem with Quest, where most of the developers are still active, but a bigger problem for PC, where we have seen an initial boom of VR releases after 2016 that then never got updated again.

    Most of these titles aren’t really that valuable, but it will be sort of “historically sad”, because this was a wild try-and-error phase with a lot of experiments. By now mechanics are more established, horrible nausea is the exception, but nobody releases a trippy VR title where you play as a stoned elephant that smashes a brightly colored world with his trunk, controlled by head movement, until aliens appear to abduct you (Dumpy Going Elephants).

    If there is a classic VR demo, it is probably Rift Coaster, used in most of the first VR reaction videos and the template for hundreds of (worse) VR coasters. It never even made the jump to the Rift DK2, because it wasn’t ported to Oculus SDK 0.4 (???) and the UDK “The Citadel” demo environment where Rift Coaster takes place wasn’t compatible with UE3. And I’d really like if people today could see how VR started in 2013, and how much more important than realistic graphics a unique concept can be.

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    • James Abrahams

      Isn’t it crazy, that original rift coaster was so good and I’ve tried so many since and they all suck.

      • kontis

        Funny thing, it was developed without VR headset.

        • Christian Schildwaechter

          boone188 on MTBS, 2013-04-13

          Can someone with a rift test my roller coaster? now w/ sound

          RiftCoaster

          I’ve heard a lot of talk about roller coaster simulations for the rift, but as far as I can tell, nobody has actually tried it. I needed a little starter project to me get up to speed in UDK. So I basically took the epic citadel and plopped a little roller coaster on it. Nothing fancy. Just a proof of concept.

          The only problem is I don’t actually have a rift yet. So I am hoping that someone with a rift can try it out and tell me if it works.

          Thanks for helping! Hope it doesn’t make you puke.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        The author later explained that the most important aspect was the realistic roller coaster physics, where the cart moved as it would in real life, including the trackless jump. Plus it was short and to the point, with slow, tension building phases of harmless movement.

        Other developers tried to stretch the experience without really adding value, and often didn’t implement proper or any physics. Instead the cart movement was simply animated, so you got things like flat 90º turns without a change in speed. Your brain knows that you would have been thrown out of the curve at that speed, so it reacts by making you eject whatever poison you ate that caused your body feeling and vision to get so far out of whack. Coasters with bad physics are one of the best ways to make people sick.

        Google has released “Cardboard Design Lab”, a small VR app to instruct developers about good VR practices by demonstrating the effect. One of the lessons was “use constant velocity”, consisting of a short, straight coaster track with the cart riding at constant speed, and a second short track with two tiny hills and a flat curve where the cart accelerated or slowed in a physically impossible way. The latter track ran for only 10s, with guaranteed nausea after 7s.

    • kontis

      My hope is that once Valve goes all in with a standalone PCVR headset using the experience with Steam Deck (RDNA3 + Ryzen 4 should make that possible in a few years) they will be heavily investing in compatibility layer for Linux.

      This has a nice side effect that some dx9 games already run better on Linux when translated to Vulkan than natively on Windows and some very old games that have serious issues on Windows work flawlessly on Linux.
      Valve wants every single Windows game on Steam to run on Linux by the end of 2021.

      Similar thing may happen if Valve decides to run every VR game on Linux. All that mess may get a single combability path, which could be good for VR preservation just like Wine/Proton is already becoming good for Windows games preservation.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        I hope that VR game preservation becomes a thing and someone will manage to create compatibility layers on top of OpenXR. There are some additional challenges though, e.g. the early Oculus SDKs checked for an EDID, a sort of unique identifier for HDMI devices. The app didn’t work unless there was a HDMI device physically connected that reported the EDID of the DK1. People build tiny micro-controller dongles just to fake the presence of the HMD.

        For those that would like an impression of Rift Coaster: there is a side-by-side YouTube video called “Oculus Rift Игры: Rift Coaster” that sort of works with the “3D Side by Side” viewing option in the Oculus browser. The resolution is rather authentic at 1280*720, but it looked better in the DK1. The IPD is horribly off though.

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    • Andrew Jakobs

      As with most sdk’s/DLL’s, those older games will keep working as they are shipping with the old dll’s. Yes they might not work (without an emulation layer) on newer hardware, but that’s a problem with many games that were written for older hardware.

  • xyzs

    Good move.
    Soon, providing vr compatibility infos by supported brand will be pointless.
    Can’t wait for that.

  • VR Geek

    Ironically…OpenXR does not build in Unity for Quest with Vulkan yet as it throws an error stating you need a newer version than 2019 when building with 2021. I am unsure about openGL and Unreal. What a mess!!!

    • David Wilhelm

      Meanwhile, in Unreal 4.26, if you build for OpenXR and then run a final build, not only is performance significantly worse than a native build, but even the orientation of the controller is slightly different!

      • Rupert Jung

        Wow, that sucks. :(

  • ZarathustraDK

    I rarely praise Facebook for anything, but christmas came early :)

    Less walled gardens and proprietary API’s are a good thing.

  • Rupert Jung

    As log as the performance is as good as native and ASW keeps working, I am happy.

  • Zerofool

    In theory, this should mean that any app built on the OpenXR API sold on the Oculus PC store should work flawlessly with any other PC HMD that supports OpenXR. But somehow I doubt that we’ll get that in reality.
    I hope Lone Echo II will be the first big title built with the OpenXR API to ship, it would be interesting to see.