Oculus: Virtual Reality Headsets for Everyone


Oculus, the virtual reality hardware company dedicated to creating a new market of consumer VR headsets, maintained a high profile at SXSW this year.  While the company already has Segway-level hype in the gaming industry (they won “Best of Show” at CES 2014,) Oculus is still relatively unknown to the general public. It was interesting to see the three distinct avenues through which the Oculus was getting visibility at the conference:


  1. Multiple Sessions on Virtual Reality and Oculus: A discussion on the future of Virtual Reality with EA CEO Andrew Wilson illustrated how much uncertainty still exists in the future of VR gaming.  Wilson mentioned that Virtual Reality would be an entirely new market, different from “lean back” gaming on a big-screen TV, “lean in” strategy and RPG games on PC, and “lean over” gaming on mobile devices. The Oculus headset isn’t compatible with any consoles at the moment, and even most PC games are far from “plug-and-play” requiring extensive modifications before they can be previewed in current headsets.  This opens up the potential of an entirely new market (i.e.: another app store) for these headsets.
  2. Oculus Rift Headsets used by Other Brands: The experience-marketing potential of these VR headsets can already be seen in action at multiple other vendor and brand booths at SXSW: HBO stole the show with an incredible “Game of Thrones” demo using the already released version of the Rift headset. Fans waited hours to don the headset, where a custom-developed demo immersed them in a dramatic landscape from the HBO Series, allowing visitors to ascend a 700 ft. wall and eventually knocking them backwards off of it in a vertigo-inducing finale.
  3. Demo of unreleased prototype headset “Crystal Cove”: Oculus’ own promo-booth had seemingly endless waits for test-runs of their newest, unreleased prototype VR Headset: the Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove.” Braving the 2-3 hour wait with gamers and developers were healthcare grad students  (already using the current headset to treat PTSD and anxiety), experiential marketers, and even some NASA folks who are already using the headsets in robotics. The new headset addresses many of the problems people had with previous versions: much tighter and faster motion-tracking means that most dizziness and vertigo issues are gone, and two 1080 OLED screens makes for a much more immersive experience. Those who made it through the line got a 2 minute demo in a game, piloting a spaceship through an asteroid field. Needless to say, everyone emerged with a massive smile on their face.


Whether Oculus’ VR devices are the first in an entirely new consumer segment or a niche curiosity is still to be determined, but the incredible array of uses demonstrated at SXSW gives this company a lot of potential.