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Facebook increases performance and lowers the price of VR headsets

From Leo Kelion
Technology Desk Editor

Quest 2

Image rightsFacebook

Facebook has unveiled its second generation Oculus Quest virtual reality headset, which promises higher quality graphics at a significantly lower price than many had predicted.

It also revealed that two blockbuster franchises – Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell – were developed for the platform.

The company has not been able to meet demand for the first Quest in recent months.

However, one industry observer suggested that it is likely to remain a “niche” product.

It launches 16 months after Quest was originally released.

The all-in-one machine was characterized by the fact that it offered users six degrees of freedom – that is, they could walk through virtual worlds in the smallest of spaces and look up, down, left and right – without separate external sensors or Needing to run software from a PC.

The new model has higher resolution displays that now offer “almost 2K” per eye. The company says this represents 50% more pixels than before, and they have been arranged so that the gaps between each pixel are less obvious.

Facebook suggests that one benefit is that text is easier to read.

Image rightsFacebook
Image descriptionAccording to Facebook, the improvements should make wearing the headset more comfortable and convey a better sense of presence

The downside, however, is that the use of OLED has been switched to LED screen technology, which means the blacks may be less deep than they were before, which affects the contrast.

Other improvements are:

  • Use of the more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor, which can process 360-degree videos with higher resolution as well as more complex graphics
  • A 10% lighter body with redesigned straps for a more comfortable fit
  • longer battery life

Many details had been leaked in advance.

However, the price has proven surprising.

Experts the BBC spoke to prior to launch expected the price to be somewhere between the original price and about a third.

Image rightsUbisoft
Image descriptionUbisoft is looking for two of its biggest game brands but isn’t ready to show footage yet

Instead, Facebook has cut the starting price for a version with 64 gigabytes of storage from £ 399 to £ 299. A second version costs £ 399 and offers 256GB of storage.

This could spark interest at a time when many gamers are instead focusing on the upcoming launches of new PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

“At this price, we believe the device is a loss-making product, demonstrating Facebook’s desire to simultaneously increase virtual reality adoption and capture more market share,” said Leo Gebbie of consulting firm CCS Insight.

“We fear that rivals like HTC cannot keep up with Facebook’s aggressive approach.”

Image rightsBigBoxVR
Image descriptionPopulation: You want to bring an all-on-one battle royale experience into the quest

However, another industry observer had doubts that this was the breakthrough for VR.

“The improved image quality is important, but it’s still a stepping stone, a gradual step toward mass adoption,” commented Kevin Joyce of VR consulting firm Tiny Brains.

“The Quest still needs to be reduced in size and weight, and the graphics are still what you would have gotten from a console two generations ago.

“But Facebook is steadily paving the way for VR to mainstream with a very calculated effort.”

However, a challenge for the company is the suspicion on Facebook itself after a number of privacy scandals.

A number of existing owners have suggested leaving the platform as they insist on using Facebook logins with the headsets instead of a separate system.

Image rightsTwitter

Quest 2 will be released on October 13th.

Ubisoft connection

The Oculus Quest headsets sell out within hours of inventory for most of 2020.

While the coronavirus pandemic has made technology more attractive to consumers living under lockdown, it has also limited Facebook’s ability to order more from its suppliers.

“The shipping volume in the VR sector is still extremely low compared to many other categories, and gaming is currently still the only category that is increasing sales of the products,” commented Francisco Jeronimo of research company IDC.

A contract with Ubisoft to create VR entries in the Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series that run natively on the Quest should add to its appeal.

So far, many of the games on offer have come from smaller, independent studios that have relatively low budgets.

Facebook announced that it would soon release a multiplayer version of its rhythm-based game Beat Saber, which is already one of the Quest’s most popular titles.

Image rightsFacebook
Image descriptionFacebook bought Beat Saber’s developer Beat Games last year

So far, many of the games on offer have come from smaller, independent studios that have relatively low budgets.

Facebook announced that it would soon release a multiplayer version of its rhythmic game Beat Saber, which is already one of the Quest’s most popular titles, as well as an expansion pack with the K-pop band BTS.

It also featured the latest footage from Population: One – a Fortnite-like battle royale shooter designed for VR that has been in development for years.

Image rightsFacebook
Image descriptionMark Zuckerberg hosted the virtual launch and said he held management meetings in VR

It also makes it easier to connect the machine to a PC to play tracks from a more powerful computer, and would soon support gameplay at up to 90 frames per second.

But the company also looks beyond gaming and showed a concept called Infinite Office.

This allows users to enter a huge virtual work area that can run multiple screens of all sizes. And it was said to be working with Logitech to create a physical keyboard that would work in VR.

Image rightsFacebook
Image descriptionInfinite Office allows users to set up multiple large screens in a virtual environment

Facebook said it continues to work on augmented reality glasses that overlay graphics over a view of the real world.

It is now calling the Project Aria initiative, and said several hundred of its employees would soon be equipped with prototypes to collect data as they move around their homes, Facebook offices and public spaces.

Image rightsFacebook
Image descriptionFacebook employees collect data through augmented reality glasses with cameras and microphones that are not sold to the public


By Simon Hancock, editor of BBC Click

Unboxing the previous quest was the first time I really felt like VR was finally ready for consumers.

An elegant part of the kit, everything just worked from top to bottom. It only took a few users now.

While the second generation processor, memory, and display resolution improvements will be appreciated by those already working in the area, it’s the prices – the cost of a low-end smartphone – and the blockbuster games that hopefully Facebook is new will win eyeballs.

Image rightsFacebook
Image descriptionThe biggest visual difference between headsets is that the Quest 2 is white while the original was black

In the year of the launch of large consoles, the question arises whether even this extremely aggressive pricing strategy attracts enough attention.

However, if there are any problems with the supply chain of the PS5 or the new Xbox series, rest assured that the Quest 2 is poised to break some very real avenues into the gaming market.

Related topics

  • Facebook

  • Play
  • Virtual reality

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