We recently had the chance to try out Oculus’ latest prototype of its wireless VR headset at the Connect 4 event. Codenamed Santa Cruz 2, the head-mounted display uses four front-facing sensors that allow it to provide six-degrees of movement, which allows you to effectively lean into and away from objects. This is a crucial VR feature that other wireless HMDs like Gear VR and Google Daydream lack.
While Oculus revealed Santa Cruz last year at Connect 3,the second generation prototype stands out for its ability to track Oculus' new motion controllers. The controllers themselves are similar to the Oculus Touch models released late last year and are designed by the same team. They use the same Constellation technology and similarly feature a bunch of small infrared LEDs to enable tracking.
Because Santa Cruz will not use separate, external sensors, it will rely on the four sensors on the front of the HMD to track its controllers. This means that if the controllers extend beyond the front of the headset, they can lose tracking. And just as a slight spoiler warning, we were able to break tracking a bit when we tried.
We had a chance to try out two gameplay demos with Santa Cruz. One was more of a simple tech demo, and the other felt more like a fleshed-out room-scale game that demanded we walk around our environment.
The demo one is called Boundless, and featured a small dragon-like creature named Bogo frolicking around a meadow. We were able to reach out and pet Bogo, and it convincingly reacted with delight. We were also able to walk around, pick up a stick, and play fetch. While the graphics weren’t as impressive as something you’d see on the Oculus Rift with a powerful PC, it was refreshing and freeing to walk around a fully 3D tracked environment with six degrees of movement without any wires to tether us down.
While the controllers tracked well when they were within our line of sight, we did temporarily lose tracking when we extended our arms beyond our peripheral vision. It took about a second or so for them to snap back in place once our hands were back in the safe zone.
We also tried a demo for a game called Time Stall. The premise is that there is a guy asleep in a cryo chamber, and it’s your job to protect him from bullets and rock shards that are slowly flying his way. You only have a short time to do this and once time’s up, you get to see the action play out in real-time and see whether you did enough to prevent his death. Imagine the Quicksilver scenes in the X-men movies, and you've got the right idea. While we weren’t able to save our subject, that had more to do with our performance than with Time Stall itself. The game makes great use of Santa Cruz’s untethered nature, as you really have to walk around your space to prevent incoming projectiles from multiple angles.
Because the headset is wireless, it uses a mobile processor. The HMD was a bit front-heavy, but Oculus isn’t focusing on its ergonomics yet, nor is it talking about its specific system-on-a-chip (SOC), optics or lenses, as the company says all these aspects of the HMD are still up in the air. The company is primarily focusing on proving that its inside-out wireless tracking technology is viable. As a result, Oculus hasn’t announced pricing or a release date for Santa Cruz, but the company says that developer kits will ship sometime in 2018.
We didn’t experience any latency, judder, or motion sickness with our 15 minutes with it. The controllers tracked well when they were within our line of sight, but it would be nice to see extra sensors perhaps on the sides and the back of the headset that would further prevent controller occlusion issues. As an early prototype, however, Santa Cruz shows a lot of promise and combines some of the best elements of mobile VR with PC VR.