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Decoding Oculus CTO’s Previous Keynote for Clues About Upcoming Announcements

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The Oculus CTO, John Carmack who now acts in a less formal role of consulting CTO for the company is all set to give a keynote address in next week’s Facebook Connect (formerly Oculus connect) event. While looking back at his keynote address at Oculus Connect, he made a cryptic comment.

Carmack said that his last year’s keynote hinted at possible announcements to be made at the Facebook Connect event next week. But he undersold this thought by adding that many challenges and pain points remained unresolved.

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The last year’s keynote address covered many topics like Carmack usually does. And it was also unscripted. Carmack touched upon the aspects where the company was doing well and the areas to be improved upon, including both hardware and software. Let’s take a look at the summary of the keynote and try to figure out what is to be expected next week.

VR Friction

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Carmack emphasized the importance of reducing friction in retaining VR users. Less the friction more will be chances that the consumer will use the VR headset. He spoke about the launch of Go, Quest, and Rift S which were either standalone models or utilized the inside-out tracking feature.

This made them more user-friendly than gear VR and the original Rift which caused greater friction during usage thus making them less attractive options for the consumer. He suggested that Oculus Quest can be further improved, and the company should keep working on minimizing friction in order to retain VR enthusiasts.

The Quest will continue to receive the primary focus as it offers the best retentive hardware among the Oculus VR headsets.

On the release of future headsets, Carmack didn’t mention anything in particular. He just hinted at the possible directions the company would venture into in order to further improve the market standing of its VR headsets. Some of the essential features that he touched upon are as follows:

Hardware architecture

He mentioned the two headset architectures were used during the development of Quest. There is an “all-in-one” standalone design where all units are packed together, and the split architecture where the battery and compute unit is placed at the back of the head strap.

The computing unit can also be located in a computing puck which could be held in your pocket. Carmack added that each of these designs had trade-offs in terms of their performance, battery usage, and their manufacture.

Displays

In this front Carmack touched on the pros and cons of LCD and OLED displays, and between split displays and single displays. He talked about their differences across features like pixel density, IPD adjustment support, screen brightness, contrast ratio and their manufacturing process.

Carmack gave examples of how the company has tried out all of the above options in its various models. In a point to note, he did seem to emphasize the potential of OLEDs to be made into a curved design that could benefit VR displays. For Carmack, an ideal display would be a bowl-shaped display. This is yet to see an effective prototype. Coming to the resolution he said that VR headset should move towards a display of 4K to match the display quality of a 1080p TV.

Diffusers

He talked about the option of using diffusers to counter the “screen door effect” in the display. He went on to add that despite the company’s effort a diffuser is yet to be used in a released product.

Refresh Rate

Carmack spoke about the suitability 120 Hz for media playback in a VR headset for the fact that it can be divided easily between cinema framerate, TV frame rate, and video framerate. Although it’s difficult, a mobile headset can be provided enough power to run content at 120Hz.

Chipset

Carmack defended the company’s choice of an older Snapdragon 835 chip as it is “older and more mature chipset”. He did mention that the company was working on its expertise in this area and the future headsets were likely to have improved chipset closer to the state of the art quality.

Oculus link upgrades

He talked about Oculus Link being a “first step” for introducing PC tethering functionality on Quest which makes it similar to the wired Rift model. However, Carmack assured that the future of Oculus Link is wireless. To improve the quality he said that in-depth collaboration with Qualcomm was required. He also said that they were working on enabling the PC VR library to be played on the Quest interface to significantly decrease friction.

Video Experience in VR

Carmack repeated that VR should not be limited to gaming but act like a “universal platform”. He focused on the need to deal with the fragmented nature of immersive video experience on VR headsets to improve the user experience. One approach to achieve this is by making the video content accessible through a simple, high-quality native Quest interface.

To this end, the company has come up with Oculus TV app which allows the users to access immersive videos and Quill artwork from the native Quest interface. Another possible development alluded to was the integration of smartphones with VR. Carmack brought up this point so that people could spend time on VR without losing time on their phones.

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