Oculus Quest 2 is getting AR – however might the Quest Three take it additional?
Oculus is stepping into AR, and this has a huge impact on the future direction of the company and its popular line of VR headsets – especially the eventual Oculus Quest 3.
The Facebook-owned company recently announced its intention to open up its Oculus platform to augmented reality developers so they can use the Oculus Quest 2 headset to host AR games and apps instead of simple VR titles – setting the stage for an explosion of consumer and business applications on the popular standalone headset.
Introducing AR into a VR headset may seem confusing at first, especially because AR and VR hardware have traditionally been different.
While VR headsets require extensive visors that cover our field of vision and immerse us in a different reality, AR products are more like data glasses like Google Glass or Microsoft Hololens that overlay our surroundings with computer-generated images – in what tends to be a very limited field of vision to be.
But Facebook wants to leverage its existing VR hardware – and installation base – to position itself as a supplier of AR goods as well, and this could be the groundbreaking move AR needs to get into mainstream. Rather than having to build a separate interest in AR technology, Facebook can push these apps straight to current VR enthusiasts and test the water for further AR investments.
This is made possible by the series of four built-in cameras on the outside of the Quest 2’s housing. These cameras can essentially record the wearer’s surroundings and show the feed on the display inside the headset so that everyone can look outside as if through a window.
(Photo credit: Oculus / Facebook)
It’s supposedly a safety precaution – so you can see who or what you’re walking into – but there are clearly other uses for these camera functions, as shown by Facebook’s foray into AR. It is of course still at the very beginning and without AR apps on the platform, it is primarily an invitation to developers to work on ideas. The advantages for everyday consumers are also likely to be a long way off.
However, that one announcement could also have a big impact on the direction of the Oculus line of VR headsets, particularly with the specter of an Oculus Quest 3 or Quest Pro on the horizon. Here’s why.
See in color
We spoke to Peter Maddalena, director of VRCraftworks, an agency that develops VR, AR and mixed reality experiences for brands around the world – and has its roots in the same online VR community that Palmer Luckey is in gave birth to the very first prototype Oculus headset.
Maddalena says the introduction of AR capabilities into the Oculus headset manages to bypass the usual “limitation of AR glasses,” the narrow field of view they typically offer. The wide, visor-like display of a VR headset considerably expands the field of view and the range of all augmented reality objects.
“Suddenly, instead of the small screen, you have the entire field of view, which gives you more options for placing interesting objects in this room,” says Maddalena.
Maddalena admits, however, that the current iterations of the Oculus Quest headsets aren’t perfect AR wearers either. “The pressure on wearables is to become lighter, thinner, more glasses-like,” even if VR headsets remain relatively clumsy. Using an immersive headset to record and view your surroundings is a smart workaround, but it will undoubtedly remain a semi-isolating experience for now.
(Image credit: TechRadar)
The Quest 2’s four-camera setup is pretty advanced compared to other commercial headsets on the market, but these cameras are still in black and white, which means that even when AR objects are presented in color, they are set against a monochrome background from the surroundings of the wearer. However, Maddalena tells us, “What people don’t know is that there is a lot of AI that allows you to turn black and white images into color images … so this may be a stepping stone until the quest comes out with color cameras.”
These cameras also don’t align with your eyes, which means you can get a video feed from some unintuitive angles, which means your sense of depth perception is likely not as seamless with a pass-through feed as it is with one. Well, your real vision.
Of course, there is still a long way to go in making AR tools available to developers, and it may take Oculus some time to have an AR library that is worth diving into. “It’s not what I would call a killer feature,” says Maddalena, “because killer features are based on content.”
Augmented or pixelated?
Of course, so early in the days of Oculus’ AR endeavors, the real improvements will likely come with later, more advanced hardware – more specific to the needs and requirements of AR.
Smaller hardware and higher resolution screens only help; Because while computer-generated images can still look pretty good on a low-resolution screen (hello Nintendo Switch), real images and objects can quickly look a bit pixelated and not what we expect. Doing this well requires more advanced cameras that can capture color, and we can only hope that we can do that in an Oculus Quest 3 or Quest Pro as well.
(Photo credit: future)
Leo Gebbie, a technology analyst at CCS Insight, tells us that “headsets that can seamlessly connect the real and digital worlds […] require a solid base of technical specifications – including a very high resolution display and powerful external cameras – to deliver a compelling experience. At this point I would suggest that we are still a long way from seeing AR passthrough on consumer VR devices as a good idea in practice. “
The most important thing for Facebook at this point is to get in early and establish yourself as the best site for burgeoning AR development – although consumers don’t need to. Oculus headsets are still being sold for their ability to deliver VR experiences on their own, and until AR applications catch up there will be a huge installation base ready to try them out with their Quest hardware.
We’re sure Oculus will be keen to recreate the failed launch of the Magic Leap One, a consumer AR headset with a sleek design and sky-high price that just didn’t make it into everyday life despite an initial surge of hype Consumers – without the audience to attract developers or the content to attract an audience. However, the budget-friendly Quest 2 already has a user base, which significantly lowers the risk of his (and the developer’s) AR investments.
“Developers will want to reach the installed Oculus user base and using Facebook devices is the best way to do that,” Gebbie says.
The Ghost of Quest 3
(Photo credit: Shutterstock / Andrush)
In April 2021, we heard from Facebook manager Andrew Bosworth that a new Quest iteration was in development, despite supposedly being more of a “Quest Pro” than a third installment, suggesting a higher quality model alongside the less powerful Quest 2. “There’s no Quest 3, there is only Quest 2,” said Bosworth, adding that “we want to add new functionality to the headset.” […] and that’s still a little way off. “
With Quest 2 selling relatively well, there doesn’t seem to be any desire to replace it right away, and this foray into AR will no doubt result in Quest 2 becoming a testing ground for budding AR developers hoping to develop or to port Oculus’ first major augmented reality hit. However, once those teeth are cut, it becomes a successor or more powerful model to unlock the potential of AR on the Oculus platform.
Maddalena tells us that he is “always found” [the Quest 2] powerful enough, ”but future iterations will only improve the scope and scope of what VR and AR developers can do. “I’m just looking forward to being able to do more, more unusual lighting techniques and more interesting content without having to worry about reducing the number of shadows or maintaining the frame rate.”
Everyone we spoke to was confident that Oculus’ competitors would likely catch up, using the pass-through camera technology in the HTC Vive Pro or HP Reverb G2 to start testing AR applications – with a future of smoother, more powerful devices in stock that can jump in and out of various mixed reality experiences with ease. However, since the Vive Pro only has two cameras, this seems like another chance for Oculus to gain the upper hand against its competitor.
As Gebbie puts it: “I’m sure that in the longer term we’ll see mixed reality products that completely blur the lines between VR and AR and demonstrate the capabilities of the entire XR spectrum in one device.”
Consumers will play a key role
(Image credit: Oculus)
However, we are still a long way from the logistical ease required to make VR and AR headsets as commonplace as the smartphone, for example.
Faisal Galaria, CEO of Blippar – an agency that creates bespoke AR experiences – predicts that we will need headsets, “both AR and VR to slim down so that they become a natural and everyday accessory. Then AR will be ubiquitous […] VR headsets are still limited by portability and mobility and are not expected in everyday life in the coming years. “
Oculus is now also a subsidiary of Facebook, and it’s impossible to completely separate the strategies of the two companies. Galaria suggests that the hypothetical Oculus Pro will also “give users broader access to content they’ve created, rather than consuming the content they’re provided” – following the user-centric content strategy of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram (the latter also belongs the previous). After all, new Oculus users need a Facebook account, older ones have to link one by 2023.
Galleria tells us that “Oculus also has a captive audience signed in with a Facebook account, which gives Facebook the ability to analyze users and their activity and direct personalized content their own way, which is really potential for nifty opportunities , immersive, personalized AR experiences (and possibly advertising). “
So the key here may be not just the work of the developers, but the dedication of the users to ensure that Oculus’ AR platform is full of content that you won’t get anywhere else. Less Oculus 3, more Oculus Me.