Meet the VR Experience Customized By Your Body

VRScout’s Zeynep Abes checked out the VR Village at this week’s SIGGRAPH show in L.A. She was taken by Strata, a VR experience from The Mill, a global media studio better known for producing hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s recent, “The Story of O.J.” video.

Strata was actually released last year, but neither I nor, apparently, Abes, had heard of it until this week. The experience combines an Oculus Rift headset with a chest-worn heart monitor and a Bluetooth device called Muse:

Before putting on the Oculus Rift, the developer placed a headband on me, called Muse, to track my brainwaves—to monitor wether or not my mind was calm or active. Muse is described as a meditation assistant, but in this case it was used to help Strata tune into my heart rate, breathing, and stress levels. The experience can respond to my emotional state and create a virtual world depending on that data.

Muse is just one of a growing fleet of consumer-facing biometric devices that leverage low-cost sensors and the power of computers consumers already own, namely smartphones and laptops. While Strata requires a relatively expensive Oculus Rift-and-PC combination to run, the $249 Muse headband was originally designed to work directly with an Android or iPhone app.

That said, the notion of leveraging biometric sensors to create customized VR experiences based on an individual user’s state of being at a given moment is intriguing, to say the least. Imagine the old “iTunes Visualizer,” but in virtual reality, and responding to/controlled by your breathing and heart rates, and other biometric data:

Strata gave voice and form to the invisible happenings within me. The minimalist designs with the dreamy color palettes for each world gracefully reflected me back to myself; my breathing created ripples across the water, my stress level changed colors around me and heart beat pulsed in sync with the floating orbs of light around me. A state of calm washed over me as the experience started to come to an end.

It’ll be interesting to see if these types of devices and experience gain traction once they’re able to work with standalone VR rigs like the ones coming soon from Google’s partners, HTC, and, most likely, Facebook and Samsung.

Is Samsung Leaving Oculus To Launch Its Own VR Platform?

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc. is taking another stab at turning its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset into a mass-market phenomenon. Later this year, the company plans to unveil a cheaper, wireless device that the company is betting will popularize VR the way Apple did the smartphone.

Facebook’s new headset is designed to bridge the gap — a device that will sell for as little as $200 and need not be tethered to a PC or phone, according to people familiar with its development. It will ship next year and represent an entirely new category.

That explains Monday’s drastic cut of Oculus Rift prices.

Code-named “Pacific,” the device resembles a more compact version of the Rift and will be lighter than Samsung’s Gear VR headset, one of the people said. The device’s design and features aren’t finalized and could still change, but the idea is that someone will be able to pull the headset out of their bag and watch movies on a flight just the way you can now with a phone or tablet.

I actually picked up a Rift and a Gear VR earlier this week. Both have impressed me so far (in a very small amount of use). Rift, in particular, is a nice piece of kit. It’s lighter and more comfortable to wear than its closest competitor, HTC. I’m really curious to see how small and comfortable Facebook-Oculus can make a standalone unit.

Facebook’s new VR handset will ship in 2018 so will miss this year’s holiday shopping season, giving rivals a chance to hit the market first. But the $200 price and Oculus’s reputation among developers could give the gadget an edge with consumers.

I bet that Samsung Exynos VR system will also run Facebook-Oculus’ platform, and it could beat Facebook to market this year (I have no idea). But having covered Samsung through the first decade of the smartphone wars, I wouldn’t put it past them to pivot away from Oculus and launch their own VR store.

And I wouldn’t put it past Facebook to have already nudged them firmly in that direction. Which would be shrewd as hell, right?

1. Buy Oculus

2. License Oculus software and distribution platform to Samsung for Gear VR

3. Let Samsung deal with building hardware to give away to smartphone buyers: It builds your (Oculus platform) install base.

4. Advance the tech enough to build your own consumer-grade headset. Set the price bar super low ahead of time to screw with hardware competitors. Because you can, because you’re Facebook and have all the cash.

5.  Kick Samsung off the Oculus platform. Suddenly, your biggest competitor has no content. None.

6. Run for Preside… j/k

Gurman has a long, solid track record of breaking consumer tech product news, by the way.

Oculus Slashes Rift Bundle Price to $399. That’s a 50% Drop in Four Months.

Oculus just announced a sale on their Rift + Touch bundle. For a limited time (six weeks, starting today), you can pick up the bundle for $399 USD. That’s a $200 savings.

The new pricing also represents a 50% savings, or $400, from the same bundle’s $798 price only four months ago.

Note that the new sale pricing only applies to the bundle. Purchased separately, the Oculus Touch controllers are still $99. This is all being marketing as part of the company’s Summer of Rift promotion, which features sale prices on a wide selection of games and other content, as well.

Without getting too far into reading tea leaves, all available data points to two possible reasons for the price cut:

1. Oculus hasn’t sold very many Rifts. VR headsets generally haven’t sold well, with the possible exception of Samsung’s Gear VR. I say possible because many of the units Samsung has moved have been freebies thrown in with the purchase of a new Galaxy smartphone.

2. The impending launch of standalone VR headsets from HTC, Lenovo, and Samsung spells significantly increased competition for mindshare and early install base capture. Oculus is doing what they can to bring new users into their ecosystem now, before these new platforms hit the market later this year.