During the third-annual Oculus Connect keynote, Facebook-owned Oculus VR announced something nobody expected: a standalone Rift headset.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced the virtual-reality headset and revealed its codename, Santa Cruz. Here's everything you need to know about Santa Cruz, including how it's different from Oculus Rift and when it will be available. Keep checking back, as Pocket-lint plans to update this piece over time with the latest details. Also, check out our Oculus VR hub for more.
What is Santa Cruz?
Santa Cruz is a new VR headset from Oculus, but it's in the prototype stages.
The most interesting thing about this prototype headset is that it is a standalone headset, meaning it is wireless in the same way that Microsoft's HoloLens is wireless. The grand goal is that, unlike with the Oculus Rift VR headset, you'll be mobile with Santa Cruz, because you won't be tethered to a PC. You can simply pop on the VR headset and freely walk around.
How does Santa Cruz work?
Santa Cruz is basically a cable-free version of the Rift. According to TomsHardware.com, it offers six degrees of freedom (6DoF) with spatial tracking, where as the mobile Gear VR headset only offers only 3DoF with no spatial tracking. With this technology, you can physically walk around, and the virtual environment should respond to your movements accordingly.
From what we can tell, the form factor of the Santa Cruz looks nearly identical to the Rift. It appears to have a motherboard/computer on board, which is roughly the size of a deck of cards, attached to the rear head strap. There might be three USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0) and an HDMI port on this computer, and then underneath all that, there is a rechargeable battery.
There are no external sensors. Instead, the Santa Cruz uses inside-out tracking. It has four cameras, one on each corner of the front of the head-mounted display. We do not know their resolution. Oculus is being secretive on how the tracking works, but somehow, with just four fisheye cameras - and a lot of software magic, Oculus told CNET - it can deliver a wireless experience almost as good as the Rift.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said there's outside-in tracking and inside-out tracking when it comes to how VR software sees motion. With an outside-in system, which is used in Oculus Rift, there's usually physical tethering to a computing device, but an inside-out tracking system can be completely untethered. All the spatial tracking takes place in-headset.
Zuckerberg described inside-out tracking is "one of the toughest problems in computer science".
We're assuming the headset's cameras provide some data, which is piped via HDMI to a SoC inside the computer on board (an additional band sits above the top adjustable band to relay information from the back to the front of the headset), and then the headset's software, which some reports believe is Android-based, kicks in and uses that data to perform its VR "magic".
The key feature of the prototype headset is therefore the new computer vision software that optimizes positional tracking. Obviously, however, there are a lot of unanswered questions here, including questions about the precise processing power available in the prototype. Oculus should be more forthcoming about Santa Cruz as the project progresses.
What's it like to use Santa Cruz?
Those who have used the device say the weight of the computer and battery pack are not that noticeable. During the two demos Oculus VR offered, people reported they could move about freely in the virtual world, but theirs hands, arms, and legs were not visible. However, like rival HTC Vive, they did see a guardian system of translucent barriers when they got too close to a real wall.
One of the demos, which was pre-installed on the headset, was a brief walk around a cartoon world. This experience showed off the inside-out tracking. People reported being able to lean in and look closer at animated objects such as pigeons and flowers and even peer inside windows. The graphics weren't mind-blowing, and there was a slight jutter on the bottom of the screen.
Overall, the consensus is that Santa Cruz is in early-days territory, but the future looks promising. As soon as Pocket-lint has a chance to play with the standalone headset, we will post a hands-on with our first impressions.
Is Santa Cruz like Samsung Gear VR?
No. Gear VR is sort of a “dumb” VR headset that relies on a smartphone for its display and processing power. Project Santa Cruz is a complete VR system. It's like an Oculus Rift - only it's cabe-free and offers 6DoF.
When will Santa Cruz be available?
There's no word yet on when consumers will be able to play with Santa Cruz. It is still in prototype stages, and developers will likely have a period of time to play with it before the public gets a chance.
How much will Santa Cruz cost?
Oculus VR hasn't even said it plans to sell the headset, though we're assuming a finished version will one day hit retail. Until then, there is no word yet on how much the consumer version of Santa Cruz will cost.
Keep in mind the Rift's $599 headset package, when combined with the controllers' $199 price and the extra camera's $79 price, makes the full Oculus platform more expensive than the $799 HTC Vive, which has two Lighthouse tracking boxes and two handheld controllers.