Analysis: Facebook's Oculus purchase a good thing in the long run

4 April 2014
By Danny Bradbury
Share |
No one seemed to see Facebook's acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus coming

No one seemed to see Facebook's acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus coming

Some people have way too much time on their hands. Senior staff at Oculus, the maker of the famed Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, and their families have been getting death threats following the firm's acquisition by Facebook last month.

No one seems to have seen the acquisition coming, least of all Oculus itself, which apparently thrashed it out in a matter of days after Zuckerberg decided to take it on.

Violent threats notwithstanding, there is a large contingent of people online who are upset at the Facebook deal. Oculus was an independent company, they say, developing a new and promising technology for the benefit of the community. Now, the naysayers argue, it has been bought by a large company that has already turned its users into products, of a kind, in the process of connecting them with each other.

They worry that Facebook won't honour the virtual reality startup's original ethos to create unique and exciting immersive worlds, but will instead turn it into an extension of the company's sometimes questionable approach to end-user marketing.

"How are you going to guarantee that this partnership will not cause the Rift to become 'commercialised', so to speak," asked one commentator on Reddit. "For example, targeted ads overlaid over games, intrusive tracking of applications or programs that we run, brickwalling indie developers from the Rift, and allowing our personal information to be sold/marketed/given to Facebook?"

Indeed, Zuckerberg has said that he'd rather make the device an inexpensive piece of hardware so that he can offer services, software, advertising and virtual goods.

The pushback for Oculus, which raised over $2.5m on Kickstarter, has been immense. The creator of ‘Minecraft’, said to have been working on a free VR version of the game for the Oculus headset, famously cancelled it.

But the Rift needed this kind of cash injection to get to the point where its technology would be commercially viable. It has already seen delays due to redesign issues, and a lack of available parts.

VR is not an easy task. One of the biggest problems is latency between the movement of the headset, and the updated image. 50ms is the maximum, beyond which motion sickness can set in – and advocates suggest that sub-20ms is optimal.

Another problem is motion tracking. Unless motion is tracked perfectly, the user's experience of where they are can differ slightly from the image displayed, leading to nausea.

Virtual reality devices must solve these problems while also creating a wide enough field of vision to be attractive and convincing for users. The resolution of the images displayed must be high enough to meet modern expectations.

If that wasn't enough, they then have to manage the manufacturing of the things. This takes an entirely different logistical skill set – and a lot more money, still.

Oculus knew that viable competition from far larger players was around the corner; Sony announced Project Morpheus, its own VR headset for the PS4, with the same resolution as the Rift, six days before Oculus sold.

Facebook may well manipulate and even taint the user experience for the Oculus Rift, but this is a good thing for VR as a whole. It helps push the technology into a mainstream, which has been a difficult wall to punch through.

Companies have tried it before, from Virtuality in the early 1990s which launched several VR arcade game systems, through to Nintendo's Virtual Boy, which lasted just a year. All have failed, but they have been part of a far broader effort to develop VR into something tractable.

These kinds of evolutions happen across generations of products, rather than one. Other companies, whether Sony, Microsoft or someone else, will join Oculus in contributing to a rising wave of VR that could take another five years to gain any solid momentum.

But gain momentum, it will. Technology is finally evolving to the point where it can generate believable immersive VR experiences, and people are demanding more from their online interactions. The technology is coming to the mainstream – and whichever train it arrives on, people will want to ride it.

Share |
Related forum discussions
forum comment To start a discussion topic about this article, please log in or register.    

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Design Delivery Leader, Palace of Westminster Restoration & Renewal (R&R) - Engineering Lead

    House of Commons
    • City of Westminster, London (Greater)
    • Circa £65,000 (There may be more for an exceptional candidate)

    You will lead on a number of engineering infrastructure and associated workstreams under direction from the Deputy Director

    • Recruiter: House of Commons

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Engineer, Network Equipment

    Energy Networks Association
    • Westminster
    • £49-58k per annum, dependent on experience

    Manage issues and working groups relating to all types of equipment and assets used on the UK Transmission and Distribution Networks.

    • Recruiter: Energy Networks Association

    Apply for this job

  • Programme Manager, Network Resilience

    Energy Networks Association
    • Westminster
    • Competitive salary, dependent on experience

    Co-ordinate the network resilience, emergency planning and the Single Electricity Number (SEN) work in the ENA Engineering team.

    • Recruiter: Energy Networks Association

    Apply for this job

  • Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) of Smart Building Solutions

    Premium job

    ETH Zurich
    • Zurich, Canton of Zürich (CH)

    The successful candidate is expected to develop a strong and visible research programme in the area of control and diagnostics of building systems

    • Recruiter: ETH Zurich

    Apply for this job

  • Process Controls Leader

    Premium job

    Phillips 66
    • Humber Refinery, South Killingholme, North Lincolnshire DN40 3DW
    • £60k - 75k plus extensive Compensation and benefits package, dependent upon experience

    Experienced Process Control Leader providing leadership and technical support for Oil Refinery. Extensive Compensation and benefits package.

    • Recruiter: Phillips 66

    Apply for this job

  • Regional Technical Support Manager

    Premium job

    • Warwick, Warwickshire

    You will be required to lead the regional Customer Services strategy and resources to maximise Customer satisfaction.

    • Recruiter: Siemens

    Apply for this job

  • Digital Forensic Specialist (Audio)

    Met Police
    • London
    • Circa £37,305 plus £3,406 location allowance

    You’ll contribute to a wide range of research and development activities.

    • Recruiter: Met Police

    Apply for this job

  • Marine Engineering Technician (Electrical)

    Port of London Authority
    • Gravesend, Kent
    • £34,318 per annum (inclusive of allowances)

    The successful candidate will be responsible for undertaking maintenance of machinery and hull systems in a fleet of small commercial craft

    • Recruiter: Port of London Authority

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Systems Engineer

    BAE Systems
    • Weymouth, England, Dorset / Frimley, England, Surrey
    • Competitive package

    Would you like to be involved in designing, developing, and delivering cutting edge combat systems for the world's most advanced military submarines? BAE Systems is recruiting Principal Systems Engineers

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Communications Engineer

    BAE Systems
    • England, Hampshire, Portsmouth
    • Negotiable

    Communications Engineer Would you like to play a key role supporting the UK's Maritime Communications Infrastructure? We currently have a vacancy for a Communications Engineer at our site in Portsmouth. As a Communications Engineer, you will be carrying o

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶


Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T