The Acquisition - Shock Followed by Sadness, Followed by Intrigue
Oculus VR popped up onto my radar as soon as it hit Kickstarter asking for $250,000 in funding to get a virtual reality headset built for consumers. Between then and now, we've seen them receive over $100 million in funding, which led to the company being acquired by the largest social network known to mankind: Facebook.
The news broke toward the end of March as I was sitting at a bar in San Jose writing some content for NVIDIA's GTC 2014 conference. I was really taken aback by the news, and I was filled with pure anger that Oculus VR allowed itself to be consumed by Facebook.
Now, I'm not fully against Facebook as I'm a daily (or even minute-by-minute) user of Facebook. I use it every single day, hundreds of times a day. Personally, professionally, I'm connected to Mark Zuckerberg's social network like it is oxygen. But as a company, it doesn't really do much for the world other than keep people connected, consuming petabytes of personal data for various government spy agencies of the world (that's an entirely different story).
So when I heard the news of Facebook acquiring Oculus VR, it made me angry. For the entire day, it felt like I heard news that my wife had cheated on me with my best friend, or at least that's how it felt for me. I've had a few sit downs with some of the guys with Oculus VR, shooting e-mails back and forth every now and again. This has given me the unique feeling of having a personal connection with Oculus VR, which is great.
After the news of the acquisition, I walked around in a near zombie-like stance for a few hours. I couldn't believe that Palmer Luckey would 'sell out' like this. It felt like everything he built up for the last year or so had been thrown out the window. This is where I entered the sadness stage.
The sadness stage didn't last as long as the shock stage, as I became more and more critical and less personal over the news. I was sad because the analytical side of myself let its guard down, and it felt like a personal attack on me--the fact that Facebook acquired Oculus VR.
Until this point, I had looked at, and referred to, Oculus VR-again, both personally and professionally--as the "Valve of the VR world." Valve is a private company who doesn't need to bend and move for its shareholders, being able to hold off a game like Half-Life 3 for over ten years. This wouldn't happen if Valve were answering to EA or Activision.
The sadness I felt was strong, but it was quickly diminishing, as intrigue began to set in.
The intrigue was that Facebook has billions of dollars, as well as a name that billions upon billions of people know. There are nearly a billion monthly active users on the social network, with Facebook being a household name. A household name now owns Oculus VR, but that household name isn't all sunshine and rainbows.
Facebook has the money and influence to do wonderful things with Oculus VR, but we don't know the scope of it so far. What's intriguing is that Oculus VR is still a separate company, something that its founder, Palmer Luckey, has come out and confirmed to the world.
But with this tornado of emotions swirling around inside of me, I still have a mountain of doubt to climb over--something that isn't going to be an easy task. Most people are quite hurt by the news, and rightly so--we don't know what the future holds for Oculus VR, but this is why I'm here to convince you that it's going to be great.
VR is Quickly Becoming a Mainstream Topic, and It's About Time
Since consoles became the target of game development, high-end PC gaming has suffered. Sure, we have NVIDIA and AMD releasing kick-ass GPUs, multi-GPU technology, multi-monitor technology with NVIDIA's Surround Vision and AMD's Eyefinity, and countless other technologies.
But, the problem is that games are built around consoles--and not just their limited, ageing hardware. They're developed with controllers in mind and not keyboard and mice; they're developed for sitting X feet away from the TV, and not arms reach away from your monitor. This waters down the gaming experience, something I feel has happened in the last decade.
Virtual reality, on the other hand, is the first time that technology has been truly exciting, because it's a truly new direction for technology. VR, and more specifically, Oculus VR (and well now, Facebook) are going to be the new Apple--in the way that the iPhone truly did change everything for the entire tech world.
The original iPhone made every competitor on the market at the time stand up and take notice, but before it came out, most companies either laughed, saying that a company like Apple couldn't make it in the phone business, or continued chugging along--companies like Nokia, RIM, and Sony Ericsson, champions at the time, are either gone, or struggling.
The same thing is happening with Oculus VR right now, before it has even delivered a product to consumers. The first development kit, DK1, was a very basic device, but still blew minds when used. It had a pathetically low resolution of 1280x720, which provided a "screen-door" effect in front of you, as well as the heavy lag associated with the display.
DK2, the second development kit, has a Full HD (1920x1080) display, with multiple technologies that make it a huge leap over DK1. DK2 features a 100-degree field of view, a refresh rate of 75Hz, and an OLED panel. Positional tracking was a big part of DK2, where an included camera picks up points on the Rift headset, which provides a much more real, you're-in-the-world feel.
This is all before we know the final specifications on the consumer version, which I suspect will use a 2560x1440 (or 2.5K) panel and even more technology baked in for lower latency.
Oculus VR has delivered the VR subject to the masses, prompting a technology giant like Sony to unveil a VR headset--showing off Project Morpheus at CES earlier in the year in Las Vegas. VR being a mainstream topic is a very big deal as it means that companies are spending large sums of money behind the scenes, because they see it as the next big thing.
Oculus VR Can Now Begin Ordering Rift-Specific Displays and Parts
Facebook would have to have some large sums of money at its disposal, and some big backers that could finance any moves it wants to do in the technology world. With nearly a billion users, it has virtually unlimited powers in the tech world.
The one thing that stops Oculus VR from completely dominating the VR world is money. Even if Oculus VR had the hands-down best VR headset on the market, and could release it tomorrow, it doesn't have the funds to get millions of them made and put onto shelves across the world.
That's one problem Facebook can solve.
The other problem Oculus VR would have had is getting its hands-on the right technology to bake into the Rift. Oculus VR has been pushing for a higher resolution display, touting that even a 4K display would still be a limiting factor before VR could be truly world-changing. So we're now talking about 8K displays, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Let's say that Oculus VR could get its Rift headset onto the market. There would only be a few hundred thousand made, as it couldn't afford to just order the countless displays from manufacturers.
This is another problem Facebook can solve.
Now that it has Facebook behind it, Oculus VR can spend hundreds of millions of dollars securing high-res displays from display manufacturers, something it could not have done pre-acquisition. Post-acquisition, Oculus VR can actually ask a display manufacturer to make an Oculus Rift-specific display, based on its own design and specifications.
This is what Facebook's influence and money can offer. Something that seemed to not really click with most people, including media and tech sites, is that even if Oculus VR had the perfect VR headset, it could not have made the impact it wanted to, with the limited venture capital funding it had.
Even if it did, we would've seen Rift 1.0 quickly followed by Rift 2.0 and so on, because it would have placed say 500,000 orders for displays, pumping out the same number of Rift headsets. Then as it vacuumed up all that money from consumers, it would have to instantly dump it into display manufacturers' hands for Rift 2.0, and so on.
Facebook has enough money that Oculus VR can now go to manufacturers and ask them for very specific orders in very large quantities. Before the acquisition, what would Oculus VR had done? Now, it doesn't need to worry about that.
Facebook's Future With VR Could Be Very, Very Important for the World
Just think about where VR could help people... really think about it. Education, the elderly, science, technology, gaming, visualization, travel... it really has no limit. The world of VR really opens up with the money that Facebook has behind it, propelling Oculus VR into the VR stratosphere.
I see Facebook pushing virtual reality, and more specifically Oculus Rift, into countless markets. Not straight away, but over the years, Facebook is going to push VR.
Facebook has countless games with 100 million+ gamers on them; CityVille and FarmVille are addictive games for all ages, as an example. Moving into the VR world is a big thing for gaming, and because gaming is very social, those world's will collide.
Facebook would have connections in all industries and walks of life, so they could build true virtual world's for use with the Oculus Rift. Imagine giving them out as educational tools to schools across the world. Kids could use virtual reality to get a better idea of something they're being taught about.
Imagine being able to explain (as a teacher) to your students about dinosaurs. Sure, you can tell them how big they were and how ferocious they looked, but imagine being able to give kids the chance to slide a VR headset on and stand directly next to a dinosaur, tilting their heads up, looking up to a gigantic, feels-like-it's-there dinosaur.
Or the government buying up Rift headsets en masse, offering them to retirement homes for the elderly who aren't too mobile. Someone who may have wished of travelling to Paris or New York their entire lives, but will never be able to do so. A VR headset can transport them to any world they want.
The possibilities are truly endless for virtual reality, and with Facebook behind Oculus VR, there's a whole new world to be explored, together.
I was really quite hurt when I first heard the news of the acquisition, but now that it has sunk in, I'm actually quite at peace with the news. I think that Facebook could do truly great things with Oculus VR, and because Oculus VR stays independent, the team can continue chugging along doing what it does best: building VR headsets.
The more time I've spent thinking about it, I can't help but be excited about the Rift when it lands. Not just that, but now Oculus VR has the money to acquire other VR-related firms, and to work closer with some of the world's biggest game publishers and developers.
Something else Facebook has just accomplished is talent acquisition--Facebook now owns Oculus VR, where talent from Valve is now placed in, and the gaming God himself, John Carmack. Facebook now has some of the biggest names in the industry, some true weight to play with.
I could write an entire op-ed on the talent acquisition itself, but I thought I'd leave it to last to make it stick in your head more. $2 billion is not that bad of a price to pay considering that most people who have heard about VR would know Oculus VR.
And that $2 billion also includes getting John Carmack and various other important talent under your social network wings... and $2 billion, what is that to Zuckerberg, anyway, right? The world of VR is only just beginning... are you ready to hop onto the virtual train and take the journey with the rest of us?
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