At the Oculus Connect developer conference in Hollywood, Oculus VR has revealed its next step towards a consumer-ready virtual reality headset: the Crescent Bay prototype. Crescent Bay has a better and lower-latency display, 360-degree head tracking, much reduced weight, and integrated headphones. Crescent Bay is a feature prototype — it won’t be made commercially available, but many of its features should make it into the Oculus Rift Development Kit 3. Early hands-on impressions of the Crescent Bay VR headset are very positive indeed — though the general consensus is that it still very much needs a separate controller or gamepad.
The most obvious differences are the addition of integrated headphones, and the whole thing just looks a lot lighter and more svelte. Everyone who tried the new VR headset at the Oculus Connect conference remarked on how light it is, and how it doesn’t cause as much neck strain. It sounds like the front goggle section is now constructed out of a lighter/more hollow plastic. With Crescent Bay being a feature prototype, though, rather than a development kit, Oculus VR might’ve intentionally veered towards thin-and-light rather than heavy-and-rugged. After all, if it’s mainly going to be used by journalists and influencers at conferences and trade shows, you might as well spend a little extra time and money on making it super light and ergonomic.
For the integrated headphones, Oculus VR licensed RealSpace3D’s technology to provide positional 3D audio. Crescent Cove also provides true 360-degree head tracking, thanks to a new camera on the back of the headset. The LED markers are still used for motion tracking — and now there are motion-tracking LEDs on the strap that goes around the back of your head. There is a new display inside the headset, but technical details aren’t available. According to hands-on demos, overall latency is significantly reduced.
Oculus VR also announced some improvements on the software side of things, too. The Oculus Platform will be a unified catalog/store for developers to distribute their VR apps and experiences. Moving forward, the Unity 3D engine will support Oculus Rift as well. Curiously, Oculus also said it would open-source the design of the Rift DK1 headset, to generally boost anyone else looking at jumping into the virtual reality market.
Moving forward, there’s no word on when Development Kit 3 will be released — but DK2 followed Crystal Cove by a couple of months, so that seems a reasonable timeline. Perhaps most importantly, it’s still not clear when we’ll see a consumer-oriented version of the Oculus Rift. Crescent Bay is certainly a big step in the right direction towards a mass-market device — but there are still a few stumbling blocks that Oculus will need to navigate its way around. The external camera that tracks your movements can still only track you in a fairly small area — so you can’t actually run away from dinosaurs or zombies. Not to mention, Oculus Rift is wired — so you’re not going to stray too far from your PC, in any case.
One possible solution for both the tether and limited motion tracking would be some kind of gamepad or controller. There are rumors that some kind of controller is coming from Oculus — and indeed, we thought one would be shown off at the Connect conference — but so far nothing has emerged. In any case, we’re sure that Oculus VR still has a few more tricks up its sleeve — especially now that it’s got billions of dollars in backing from Facebook.