Azor: I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing things emerge as a result of what you’ve done. There are probably use cases for VR that you never imagined. What are some of the use cases you’ve seen that maybe aren’t gaming? What have you seen that you never imagined?
Luckey: I’m not a creative person. Everything I think of is derivative. But the good news is that people have been thinking about virtual reality for a lot longer than I have. Most of the applications outside of gaming, people thought those up in science fiction a long time ago. There’s no application that hasn’t been covered by science fiction before.
Medical training, education, architecture visualization, these are all things that have nothing to do with gaming. Being able to communicate. Being able to have business meetings with people on the other side of the world without being in the same room. The fidelity is there today, where it’s the same quality as actually going to see them. This type of experience we’re having in this room could feasibly be simulated as real, or almost as real, in virtual reality. That has nothing to do with gaming at all. It’ll just save me a lot of flights.
Personally I’m most excited about the opportunities for education. VR has tremendous potential to present ideas and concepts in ways that are better than just pictures or text or videos. We can bring a lot of experiences that are only available to a select few right now to everybody in the entire world. I’m not talking about virtual reality as it exists today, but as the costs fall, it’ll be something that’s available to a lot more people. You can buy a smartphone now for $100 that blows my phone from 2009 out of the water.
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As that happens, think of things like museums, which people in only a certain geographic area can enjoy. Countries that people are never able to go see. All that will be available in virtual reality. You can argue that it’s not as good as the real world, that it will always lack something special, but it’ll be better nothing, and I think there’s a chance that it will be as good or better than the real world in many scenarios. But I’m optimistic.
Azor: What were some of your influences? You were the one-man show that was pounding the table and meeting with everybody four or five years ago, saying that we can make this. What inspired you to see the vision and bring us to where we are now? I know you read a lot of sci-fi.
Luckey: I read a lot of sci-fi. When I first started working on virtual reality, it wasn’t any grand ambition. I was just trying to make one really good headset for me, and I thought that somehow that would be useful. I hadn’t thought it through. But I started experimenting with VR for fun, to see what I could do with it.
I started by modifying old year that I could get my hands on, from the ‘80s and ‘90s. I realized quickly that those architectures were critically flawed in a lot of ways. They didn’t take into account modern technological advancements. So I started working on entirely new architectures, and they got better and better. At first I would show my friends and they’d say I was a nutcase. Yeah, I know. But it started to get better, and people would say, “Okay, this is still stupid, but at least you’re doing something worthwhile.”
Eventually it got to a point where my younger sisters, even they thought I was doing something cool. That was huge, because they hate me. No, they love me. But it was around then I started realizing that this was better than I thought it could be. VR was better than I thought it could be when I started experimenting with it.
From there you make it sound like I had some incredible vision, like I went out and pitched it to people and convinced them of my vision for the world. But it was really pretty simple. It was people like you and Michael. I showed it to them and they said, “Okay, I totally get it.” That’s how we managed to get so many people on board from the hardware and software industries. That was how we convinced all of our partners that this is going to be the future.
Question: Palmer, you had to apologize for saying that $600 was a cheaper price. Frank, are you compensating for the Rift being a bit more expensive than we thought?
Azor: We made this commitment to Oculus before we knew what their pricing was going to be. When we met, it was pretty simple. When you see Brendan, he won’t talk to you. He says, “Watch this demo,” and then he’ll talk to you, because he knows it sells itself. He put me in the demo, I came back to the real world, and my first question was, “How can we help?” His response was, “Invest in making this accessible to as many people as you can.”
For months now, since they came out with the end spec, we’ve been saying, “How can we get this in the hands of as many people as possible?” We obviously have the marketing reach, the distribution, all that stuff. But the biggest investment we could make was investing in the price point to make it as affordable as possible. We made that commitment long before they announced the price point.
Luckey: We didn’t even know what the price point was going to be for a long time. Around the time when we started messaging how much it would cost for a PC and the Rift was around the time where it started becoming clear how much it was going to cost. To you guys’ credit, we’ve been able to push down the cost of the PC in a lot of ways, further than we thought was going to be possible. That’s been super helpful.
Question: With the next generation of GPUs, will we see a laptop bundle with the Rift?
Azor: You’ll see us design pretty much every system, moving forward, with VR in consideration. You can count on just about every form factor that we build, where possible, to be a VR-supportive platform. In a very short amount of time, it’ll even more affordable than $1600.
Question: For these bundled Rifts, are you putting aside units from the earliest production run to fill those?
Luckey: When you buy a PC that’s bundled, you’re getting all the pre-order bonuses we’ve talked about. You get EVE: Valkyrie when it’s pre-ordered. You’re reserving your place in line for Touch when you get this with a PC. I wouldn’t say that they’re being pulled or reserved from production, because we’ve always accounted for that. We’ve always planned on working with these guys to get these PC bundles out to people.
It depends on how this will all work out. There probably will be people who, when they buy a Rift and PC together, end up getting a Rift and a PC together earlier than some people who are pre-ordering on our website right now.
Question: As a photographer and someone who writes about photography, there’s a lot of talk in that community about new technologies and 4K video. What opportunities can you see in VR for photographers?
Luckey: One thing we’re already seeing on Gear VR, one of the most popular applications, is 360-degree photos. Whether they’re stereo or live, being able to capture the entire environment rather than a small frame. It’s a totally different way of taking a picture, trying to frame everything in the shot – even the things behind you and yourself. It’s fun to look at nature shots. “Where’s the photographer?” It turns out he’s crouching behind a rock. You can’t see him, but he’s there.
There’s going to be a lot more people who are working on this. The people who are good at film and photography, it turns out they’re good at VR as well. It’s the same people thinking in the same ways with new tools. We’re also seeing a lot of people do 360-degree videos. We’re seeing people build things that merge video, photos, and realtime rendered content in new ways.
That’s going to expand over time. The hardware you need to generate really good VR photos is somewhat high end. It’s in the domain of the professional photographer. But that’s coming down over time. I have a little camera called a Theta. It’s this little tiny point-and-click thing, and when I hold it over my head and click, it captures a 360-degree photo. As the quality of those goes up, people are going to start using VR capture as the primary way of taking photos. It allows you to not just crop the photo a little bit, you can crop the photo into any part of the scene. On top of that, you’re capturing a lot more than a photo or video ever could.
I’m just copying what science fiction says, but if we look into the future, the perception around VR versus traditional photos is going to change. Today, when we look back at old photos, you say, “How is it that this entire period of history had only these tiny little black and white photos?” That’s all we have for a visual record of those time periods. I have a feeling that people are going to look at normal photos in 50 years in the future. “Can you believe they could only capture one tiny static rectangle with a bunch of noise on this phone they carried around? We have no idea what was going on!” People will start to look at VR capture as the definitive method, not just for art, but also for journalism and personal photography.
There’s a person at Oculus who works at our Japanese office. He captured his wedding using 360-degree cameras. He won’t begrudge me saying this—He’s not an artist. It wasn’t artful. But it was a functional capture and he was able to show that to people in his family on Gear VR later, people who weren’t able to make it. That’s an example from right now, where someone is capturing something and able to provide a better experience than they would have just a few years ago.
Azor: From a hardware perspective it’s going to be pretty amazing. I’m not a photographer, so I’m not qualified as an expert. But just as a spectator of cameras, like the ones we have here, they’re marginally the same, on a macro level. They’ve evolved over time. Pictures have gotten higher resolution. But this spurs form factors for cameras that we’ve never seen before.
Luckey: There’s gonna be cameras in your eyeballs. Didn’t you see that documentary? The Terminator? (laughs)