I have to confess that this is the first time that I have been to OC. Having worked in VR and immersive media since the conception of the Oculus DK1 and lived through fun challenges with the DK2, the CV1 and now with the new GO. It was incredible to see the amount of people in the industry pushing new boundaries and making possible what were pipe dreams 5 years ago. The event, that spans two days in San Jose, kicked off in true Silicon Valley style with a stream of Keynote speeches from the heads of the various departments within Oculus and Facebook.

Day one started with a keynote introduction from the Oculus top brass. Starting with Mark Zuckerberg, the big announcements came. These were:

1. The announcement of the Santa Cruz headset, now called Oculus Quest.

2. Improvements in the Oculus Go, giving the ability to play back at 5.7K resolution video.

3. Combining Oculus stores so apps can be seen across all platforms.

4. YouTube VR will be accessible on Oculus.

5. Camera partnership with Red to create cinema quality VR.

6. Pushing 180 and 3D 180 video content.

With day one focussing on the headline news that Oculus will be releasing the Oculus Quest, I made sure to try the new headset and put it through its paces. Like all things that impress you, they become commonplace. The first time I tried VR, it was using one of Oculus’ developer kit headsets. The DK1 was not great as you can imagine and incredibly low res but I was blown away by it. Since trying VR for the first time, the Oculus Quest stands out as the most impressive VR experience I’ve had. The headset is fairly similar to the designs of the Rift and Go. It also features two touch controllers that are almost identical to the Rift controls. Then that’s it. No wires, no cables, no backpack, no phone, no sensors, no trackers, nothing. The experience, playing the few games that I played was truly amazing, the tracking never seemed to break and the guardian systems made sure I didn’t walk off into the walls. Even the games where I was ducking and diving, even running at times, failed to fault.

I also discovered whilst being at the event, a surprising quality and interest in viewing 180 3D VR. In certain applications, it could be a really useful and quick turnaround process. It’s very engaging and you can cram in a lot of quality as you don’t have to stitch or cover such a wide area. I have to admit that there is a part of me that feels its a slight regression having worked so much on the full 360 video. Still for certain applications like sports, where you won’t really have a great urge to turn and look at the crowd, it could be really useful.

The RED and Facebook partnership was a bit of a let down. The two companies have combined forces to create a 6DOF ‘cinema grade’ camera. Impressive as the camera looks, it actually comes across as very limiting and almost unusable due to the pipeline costs. RED and Facebook refused to give much information about the camera away, ranging from the amount of data it would amass all the way to how heavy it is.

The camera comprises of 16 Red 8K cameras fronted with bespoke Schneider 180 fisheye lenses. It sits upon a custom made monopod / plinth of sorts. I’d say its between 50 cm and 80 cm in diameter. You will also need to accommodate a trolley mounted data centre to run it. As a proposition, its rather mixed, initially it was referred to as a camera, then as time went on it was viewed more as a scanner, to be used similarly to a LIDAR system. I predict this is because it would produce obscenely excessive amounts of data making it not viable as a film camera. So if you use it to create high quality stills with depth information, you could then use that information as a background to add in action filmed on green screen. This is the main issue, there is no point to use it that way. Being lens based its not going to be anywhere near as accurate as a LIDAR system and if you are using it to create still plates you don’t need video. For a long time LIDAR systems have also taken high resolution stills to capture the colour data from the scene so this is nothing new, that being said these would also end up being higher resolution then the RED cameras stills if captured on a simple Canon 5DSR.

It was a disappointment that it turned out to be something basically unusable and smells of a one off PR stunt. To note, I have never seen any production use on of the Facebook made cameras.

Day two kicked off with a refreshing and down to earth Keynote from the CTO of Oculus, John Carmack. This long and exhaustive presentation covered every quibble and quoible that the creative community have with the current systems. I can’t go through all of them now as there were so many. The main highlight for me and the film making community was the research into creating a 5K 3D player based on rendering the footage in strips. More to come on that one!

The whole occasion was rounded off with drinks, food and entertainment.

Look forward to next year’s Oculus Connect 6.