Seven Big Questions Facing VR For The Rest Of 2017

by Jamie Feltham • August 15th, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 24th, 2017 and has been republished today to continue the conversation. What are your burning questions for the VR industry the rest of this year?

We’re just over halfway through 2017, and it’s been a rollercoaster for VR. We’ve seen headsets surpass a million in sales while others have had their prices slashed and new peripherals have been released. But while we’re entering an exciting time to be a VR consumer, we constantly find ourselves asking that one vital question: what’s next?

When it comes to VR, we all know that’s a loaded question. So we’ve broken our thoughts down into seven main questions on our minds about the near-future. Every major company working in VR right now has some big mysteries surrounding them. If we were to get two minutes with each of their leaders, this is what we’d ask them.

When is SteamVR 2.0 coming and what does it entail?

The first version of Valve’s SteamVR platform provided us with superior 360 degree room-scale tracking and position-tracked hand input at the hefty price of $799 via HTC’s Vive. Recently, though, Valve has begun charting the path to SteamVR 2.0 with quick looks at in-development upgrades, like new base stations that are smaller, cheaper, and may offer an improved experience. There’s also the enticing new Knuckles controllers, which selected developers are currently teasing us about.

SteamVR 2.0 looks plenty promising, but we still have a lot of questions about it. Is the Vive set to fall behind with these newer components? Will Valve release content showcasing the multi-base station setups it’s been touting? What we’re most eager to find out, though, is when and where we’ll see these updates rolled out. Will we be buying Knuckles controllers through Steam directly or will they be packaged with LG’s upcoming SteamVR headset? Hopefully we’ll find out in the coming months.

Will HTC cut Vive’s price?

One of the most interesting VR narratives of 2017 so far has been the pricing strategy of Facebook’s Rift. Entering the year with the same staggering price of $698 for the headset and Touch controllers, that bundle dropped to $599 in March. Now the pair is on sale for an amazing $399, and will be priced at $499 once the promotion ends. It’s been quite the rollercoaster for Rift and has led many to question just how well it’s selling. But regardless of context, these moves put a heck of a lot of pressure on HTC’s Vive.

The Vive has always held the highest price point of any VR headset so far in this race; $799 for a premium VR experience with everything you need for room-scale bar the PC. With the previous $100 gap between Vive and the Rift with Touch (which was even smaller if you picked up a third $69 Rift sensor for 360 tracking), you could easily make the case for getting HTC’s headset over Facebook’s. That argument is much tougher now, though, and we think HTC needs to respond. The company has been quiet since the cut was announced, though. Can we expect a cut in the near future?

What’s the latest on Oculus’ standalone headset(s)?

Facebook and Oculus are insistent that 2017 is all about content; we won’t see any new hardware released in the remaining five months of the year. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect any demos of future devices in prototype form. It’s been nearly a year now since Oculus debuted its prototype standalone device, Santa Cruz, at Oculus Connect 3. Since then standalone VR has moved even closer to reality; Google is releasing a line of WorldSense devices with partners like HTC Vive later this year.

We’re fully expecting an update on standalone VR at Oculus Connect 4 in October, then. Interestingly, a report surfaced earlier this month suggesting that the company might be making not one but two all-in-one devices right now. According to the report, Santa Cruz will be the higher-end of the two, emulating Rift-style experiences and releasing later down the line. The other device is said to be a $200 kit that might be much closer to something like the Gear VR. We’re not sure how much of that is true, but we’ll be eager to find out at Connect.

Are Microsoft’s Mixed Reality headsets any good?

Microsoft seems like the wild card in VR right now. Later this year the company is releasing five Windows 10 Mixed Reality VR headsets with partners like Acer and Dell. All of these devices will sport the inside-out positional tracking seen on HoloLens, meaning they won’t need external sensors like on Rift and Vive to track your position in a virtual world. They’ll also run on Windows 10 without the need for external apps like Steam or Oculus Home. They will, however, be ranging in price, features and components, starting at $299 for Acer’s entry.

There’s a lot about Microsoft’s approach to VR that sounds too good to be true. Inside-out tracking on PCs that it claims are less powerful than the minimum spec needed for Rift and Vive seems like a dream, but some developers with early units say it’s true. Our most recent hands-on suggests it offers a good experience, too. We can’t speak to the final quality of any of these devices, however, nor how they’ll working with the six degrees of freedom (6DOF) controllers companies are building for them with Microsoft’s reference design. If these headsets hold up it could help usher in mainstream VR. If not, it could be disasterous. This is one of the most important questions of 2017.

Where is Xbox One X’s VR support?

Sticking with Microsoft, there’s still much to learn about its refreshed Xbox console, Xbox One X. Revealed in full at E3, we know the console delivers 4K graphics for traditional games, but the promised VR support — first mentioned at E3 2016 — is nowhere to be seen right now. Microsoft’s messaging around that support has been somewhat mixed, but we’re hoping we’ll eventually see a VR headset for the console in 2018.

Right now, Microsoft is hinting that console VR should be a wireless solution, so it’s a good bet that whatever it’s working on will be an untethered device that streams from the console. Just how the company plans to achieve this without issue remains to be seen, but if they can pull it off then Xbox One X’s VR solution could be a big step up from Sony’s wired PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset.

What role will Google’s WorldSense headsets play?

Google’s Daydream mobile VR ecosystem hasn’t quite made the impact we were expecting it to make one year on from its reveal. Though Google promised a range of compatible headsets, only its so-so Daydream View device has released so far, though other manufacturers have come to its support with phones that run the Daydream app. We were expecting more from Daydream, though, especially considering Google is about to make another big push for the platform with its WorldSense headsets.

This is a series of new standalone devices running Daydream and made by partners like HTC and Lenovo. They offered 6DOF positional tracking, though we haven’t seen them used for room-scale experiences. Indeed, Daydream is populated with games that were designed for 3DOF headsets like View, and apps are controlled with a 3DOF motion controller, so room-scale doesn’t seem to have a place on the platform. We wonder, then, what purpose these devices really serve, and what type of customer will take interest in them when they launch later this year.

Will PlayStation VR solve its input issues?

Sony’s PSVR might well be winning the content war for VR headsets, with big releases like Skyrim VR, Doom VFR and more on the way this year. While we’ve seen developers like Vertigo Games and the Superhot Team prove that high-quality ports of PC VR games can happen with noticeable but acceptable performance drops, we do find these games constantly clashing with the lackluster PlayStation Move controllers that can only replicate part of the Oculus Touch and Vive wand experience.

If PSVR is going to keep up with the competition then we’d really like to see some controllers that addressed its input issues. Its PlayStation Aim controller is a good first step towards righting that wrong for the FPS genre, but it’s not suited to the swords and spells of Skyrim, for example. We’d love to get a refreshed set of Move controllers with analogue sticks, for example, perhaps with some other hardware revisions that may improve the dreaded drifting.

What's your reaction?
  • Sunny Viji

    2nd camera for psvr

  • daveinpublic

    If not, it could be disasters.

  • Fear Monkey

    PSVR needs either a new camera or the same camera with a port so you can connect multiple cameras for tracking.
    PS move 2.0 or just modded controllers with sticks. I am surprised that they havent made the PS3 move controller with the thumb stick work with PSVR yet.

    • Graham

      Totally agree. If you could only have one of the two, personally I’d rather have a second camera to give more stable and wider tracking. It would just lift the psvr experience a notch.

  • NooYawker

    The real question is, who will survive when dozens of companies start releasing their VR hardware? These things run on the PC so virtually anyone can license Valve’s tech and sell their own. And according to Valve, 1000’s of licenses has been issued. Will Vive survive? They don’t have a billion dollar company financing them like Facebook. HTC needs to sell to stay in the game, Fb makes their money a different way.

    • Adrian Sinnott

      Yeah HTC is lagging… They won’t last long unless they have some crazy trick up their sleeve as we speak—unlikely.

    • mirak

      HTC was already working on VR, that’s why they met Valve.

      If it was that easy to produce a headset, than why HTC isn’t already beat by some copying chinese company ?
      Seems that it’s not easy at all, and even LG can’t come out with something quick.

      Just designing good lenses seems pretty hard.

  • Robert Cole

    It’s interesting to read Daydream is not getting much traction…but not surprising when you need a high end special phone i.e pixel to run it. Which if purchased at retail, Pixel XL is £720, a considerable investment.

    I recently needed a new cellphone (end of contract) so getting the pixel XL gave me access to VR for an extra £69 for the View HMD with controller.

    It’s a stop gap whilst I build a new HEDT and await 2nd generation PC VR; but it’s surprisingly good considering its specification limitations. There’s certainly good content on the platform 😎

    Interesting to see the worldsense standalone? For who? Cannot wait to demo to try the tech.

    • care package

      I think pursuing phone enabled VR is a mistake myself. I think once a person gets a taste of VR ‘without’ having to dock their phone in it, phone VR will have lost it’s flavor for them. I think we all know the future of VR isn’t going to involve phones.

      • Robert Cole

        I agree the future of VR is certainly not phone based, but it’s currently the most accessible route for consumers, and when done right with good content it’s certainly engaging.

        I always consider how much compute power the average citizen has access to?

        Probably not a high end gaming PC (core i7= 70 gigaflops + gtx1080ti =11 teraflops FP32).

        Consider a Pixel XL is a £720 device, not inexpensive, neither is Galaxy S8.

        It’s the sheer cost of the powerful hardware to run VR.

        The new VR capable SOC’s and offloading some local processing to cloud computing will help drive down costs to make it more accessible. It’s going to take a while…

        • care package

          An $800 PC would run the Rift originally. Now with AST and being able to cut the frames in half the new requirements are considerably less. Something often glossed over especially from those who want to criticize Oculus. Now we hear MS’s entrance into the VR market will require even less powerful specs, with higher resolutions to boot. Moving forward we’ll see cheaper rigs needed to run VR with continually improved specs (that part will be slower moving), eventually moving toward wireless. Will that transition into AR ultimately? That one I’m not sure of, because AR and VR are quite different.

        • care package

          Phones have decent power for what they are but they have one major inherent flaw. No cooling. Heat is the silent killer of electronics.
          I’ve heard a few times from people that say it makes their phone too hot so they won’t use it.
          Phones should be clocked lower than they are IMO.
          Your Phone to PC comparison though is not really a comparison. Phone based VR barely scratches the surface of what PC VR is capable of, not to mention there isn’t even head tracking.

          • Robert Cole

            Rotational tracking Vs positional tracking is interesting, if the experience is designed around the limitations it’s not so noticeable nor detrimental. I’ve operated modified Vive’s with a 9M diagonal distance between lighthouse so very familiar with 6DOF positional.

            You are right about heat on smartphone VR. It’s an easy solution…my Pixel XL has a passive cooling case (with copper coldplate and external heatsink) which replaces the entire front fabric covered panel of Daydream View.

            I can run the most demanding Daydream apps without Thermal throttling or battery damage from excess heat.

            In contrast, with the stock setup the pixel would get so hot after 20 minutes you could feel the heat through the HMD 👎

  • Doctor Bambi

    Personally, I’m really interested to see where Santa Cruz ends up in the spectrum. If they can get full positional tracking for head and hands, that would be a very compelling device, assuming it’s tracking is close to the quality of Constellation in general use cases.

    A totally standardized device of that nature where Oculus has complete control over the processing stack could potentially lead to some incredible performance optimizations. It would, without a doubt, pale in comparison to the graphical capabilities of PCVR, but if it was at least on par with Gear VR I think that would be an acceptable trade off considering all of the benefits of standalone.

  • GreasyMullet

    All I care about at this point is Gen2 wireless using Valve tracking and knuckles. The true immersive wireless room scale experience. Everything looks like we are close but at the same time I would not be shocked if we went another year without it.

    • Mane Vr

      I am in no rush for wireless in fact when we do have wireless i hope there is a wired option cheaper for me it would be a waste of money since i don’t enjoy roomscale anyway

      • Caven

        Even for standing only, I like the idea of not worrying about getting tangled in a cable. I’ve been very happy with my wireless headphones for that very reason.

        • Mane Vr

          I understand that but i don’t even stand and my cable hangs down from my ceiling so i never worry about that. But i do understand y people want it i just rather not pay foe it since I’ll never use it. Qhem it becomes really cheap i will still leave mine plugged in so i don’t have to worry about battery life

          • polysix

            Stick with rift/vive gen 1 then. Gen 2 WILL be wireless or it’s never gonna get widespread mainstream adoption. It’s the #1 most ridiculous issue with VR right now – a frigging cable attached to your head running across the floor. Even on PSVR which I played 100% sat on the couch the stupid cable annoyed dafuq outta me. I’ve had vive and now rift and each one would be so much better without the cable.

            What they will probably do is provide a system so you can just plug it in to play and charge as you go, so you can ‘remain wired’ if you so choose but don’t wish a cabled future on us just cos you lack the imagination to see how severely cables are hurting VR.

          • Mane Vr

            There is always going to be wired hmd even when the new version comes out u more likely buy pay more for the wireless ver. Just like how we have wire controllers and wired ones they will give us a choice and i will be staying with the wired one

          • Doctor Bambi

            I definitely see how you came to that conclusion. Seated with the cord run overhead is a blissfully great experience, as far as the user is concerned, it might as well be wireless.
            There are many reasons to stick with wired besides that as well. Obviously it keeps latency to the absolute minimum and will always allow for higher resolution images. Wireless also adds an extra layer of complexity to setup, extra weight to the hmd, and adds another device that needs charging.
            Based on what Oculus has stated about wireless in the past, I think it’s unrealistic to expect integrated wireless in at least the next Rift, if not PCVR in general. The best we could really hope for is an optional first party add-on.

      • polysix

        I can’t wait for wireless with or without roomscale. That cable HAS to go.

        • Mane Vr

          To each his only the wire doesn’t bother me and cost of entry is the biggest issue with vr so adding cost with a wireless hmd isn’t the best way to grow vr

        • Robert Cole

          I won’t be purchasing another PC VR HMD until they have integrated wireless.

          Tetherless is THE deal breaker for me next time around.

  • Adrian Sinnott

    I can’t wait for wider FOV, better resolution, lighter, and wireless v2 of the Oculus or Vive. All the other devices are off the radar as far as I’m concerned. We need mind-blowing, powerful experiences that, at present, only a PC can deliver. Such experiences are engaging and unforgettable. Unforgettable experiences are what make an impression, start a revolution, and propel a technology forward at blazing speeds—not these shallow, incomplete experiences offered by the likes of GearVR, Google Cardboard, etc. Don’t get me wrong, these cheaper devices definitely help to open people’s eyes to the idea of VR, but only slightly and in a way that’s like “Hah, that’s cool. Anyway, back to what I was doing…” We need badass VR so people get OBSESSED to the point where they want to join the fight and become a developer, engineer, etc to push this technology forward as fast as possible.

    I’m obsessed and biased, though, so take my words with a grain of salt.

    • mirak

      Yeah just chillout, and be happy with what we already have, which is already more that what we could dream of.

      • Adrian Sinnott

        Haha, fair enough.

      • Robert Cole

        or Daydream of… 😉

    • Daniel

      Google Seurat man.

      • Adrian Sinnott

        Wow, no shit. I will definitely stay abreast of that technology moving forward. Thanks for the tip, goodman!

      • That looks like a technology that needs to be adapted to more than just VR –but with VR, I think it would work wonders across all platforms if it’s ported.

        Elite:Dangerous’ developers could use something similar to that to adapt their game to PSVR, while eliminating the cause of their complaints about quality loss.

        More so, it’s going to be really interesting to see what Nvidia brings to the table in the next few years in terms of mobile VR chipsets. That, combined with ‘Seurat’, could lead mobile VR to become a leading technology –provided we get some proper controls for making mobile VR more compelling overall.

        • Daniel

          Yes and with eye tracking and CNN’s… it’s going to be a very interesting place. 🙂

  • David Barrett

    For me – the strangest thing to come out of E3 was Microsoft announcing the sequel to the Oculus VR Rift release poster boy, Lucky’s Tale, being on Xbox One – with no mention of VR support. It’s almost like Microsoft were all set to announce VR for Xbox One X with Lucky’s Tale – but pulled out right at the last second and left Lucky’s Tale in limbo.

  • polysix

    “$799 for a premium VR experience”

    FFS stop repeating that utter horse shit!

    Vive (which I’ve owned and sold along with PSVR which I’ve also sold) are in no way ‘premium’ quality vs the Rift. RIFT is the premium system, can’t you see that? I was vive fanboy right up till I actually got a rift, and realised how Vive was more like a dev kit. Crap design, crap ergonomics, crap wands, crap packaging, crap support… .crap crap crap. And you still repeat HTC’s arrogant mantra of ‘the premium VR system’? The only thing premium about Vive now is the damn price. Rift has it beat everywhere except VERY large room scale tracking (which I assure you is neither here nor there for 99% of actual home users).

    In every possible way Rift feels like the ‘premium’ product/experience, from comfort, to ease of use, to controllers, to design/build/fit and finish/packaging and even in HMD clarity, SDE and lens quality.

    That it costs half of the vive is laughable. It’s worth 1/3 more than the Vive by any objective standard and Vive should NOW be £399 at least to match it and should cost less if you are actually weighing up what you get side by side in QUALITY not just the so called tracking advantage of Vive.

  • David D. Taylor

    Correction, Oculus entered the new year at $798, not $698… I should know, I bought it at that time… It was 600 for the rift, and 200 for the controllers. at GDC they dropped it to 500 for the rift and 100 for the controllers.

  • impurekind

    Hopefully all of these questions are answered in the near future. 🙂

  • daveinpublic

    I think the future of VR is staring us down right now. We’ve been waiting for that moment when VR takes off, I think it happens later this year. All of the biggest ‘limitations’ that people have mentioned will be taken care of with the Microsoft launch. It will be room scale, it will have a little higher resolution to help with text, it will be much cheaper at only $299 or so, and the computer spec requirements will go down. I don’t think anyone in the VR world is excited about it, because it’s Microsoft, and because they’re worried about the quality with the spec requirements being low and no base stations to track the controllers, but I think the controllers will work 99% as good with gyroscopes rounding out the data for when they’re out of the camera’s view. And they’re will be games that will look amazing, but they’ll just scale with the computer, like today’s games. All we need now, is for people to understand the possibilities. Also, Apple will probably get into the VR race next month with the new iPhone announcements. They could easily blow our mind with a quality VR headset. This will all push Oculus to release their improved hardware sooner, when we’ll get the fruit of their foveated rendering abilities as well.