The end of Oculus Rift S and how this will shape the future of VR

If you haven’t heard, Facebook is discontinuing the Oculus Rift S and is instead focusing only on its Quest line of VR headsets. Whatever your personal allegiances may be, it was pretty clear that Oculus was the leader in the world of PC VR, both in terms of sales and accessibility. When leaders make big moves like this, big changes in the market are sure to follow. So what does this mean for the future of VR? Well, to figure that out we first have to look into VR’s past.

VR is very young. In case you don’t remember, the first Oculus Rifts were shipped to Kickstarter backers in 2016! Home VR hasn’t even been ready and available for mass-market consumption for half a decade, and yet we have seen leaps and bounds in technology as new headset revisions come out every couple of years.

It’s exactly this youth wild technological expansion that gave VR its first identity as a luxury item. Not saying “luxury” in the way that all gaming or media related products are luxury items. The headset was a high end, expensive, state of the art peripheral that power users with money to burn bought. Remember, early VR headsets required you to dedicate an entire room to nothing but VR, and that was a big ask for the standard consumer.

Here’s the thing, there will always be a market for that type of VR. Room-scale VR hasn’t gone away and the HTC Vive and Valve Index will still grant you better tracking than any of Oculus’s headsets.  In fact, you still need them to play, well, anything that tracks the exact position of your legs.

But…

Power isn’t everything. There’s a reason why not every gamer is using an Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU in their PCs right now, and it’s not just because supplies are absurdly limited. Cost and accessibility are major selling points for any piece of technology. Case and point, the best-selling VR headsets are PlayStation VR, which eliminates the need for a powerful PC, and Oculus Quest, which does the same.

This brings us full circle. What is so appealing about Quest and why is Oculus and Facebook putting all their eggs into the Quest’s basket?

Simply put, Quest is VR. It, alone, is VR. You don’t need a room for it. You don’t need special cables or a fancy graphics card or a PC specifically built for it. You don’t have to buy extra peripherals for it. All you need is… it. Charge it, put it on your head, and you are in VR. That’s all there is to it.

Yes, it doesn’t quite look as good as other headsets, and, yes, it doesn’t have quite as good tracking as other headsets, but it lets you dive right into the game with minimal technical knowledge. Add to this the surprising freedom of having no wires attaching you to a device, and you can tell why it’s a crowd-pleaser.

Hmmm…. Wasn’t there another piece of tech that took a traditionally high-powered gaming experience, toned down the tech but made it accessible and portable and it sold like crazy? Oh yeah. Nintendo Switch.

Which is exactly where Oculus, and VR in general, is going. VR of the future is not going to be a luxury core gamer product. VR of the future is going to be like Nintendo Switch, an accessible, mass market, portable product that focuses on ease of use and unique gaming experiences before anything else.

Again, there will always be a market for luxury VR, but it’s clear where the money is right now. The more accessible you make your VR headset the better. Heck, PlayStation VR actually has some of the worst tracking out there, but it’s good enough for its price point and baked-in audience.

When the Rift S was still on the market, Oculus was still paying lip service to the old generation of tethered VR, but as we predicted way back when Quest and Rift S came out, they used sales as something of an experiment. They didn’t need to speculate on whether high powered tethered VR or low powered and accessible portable VR was more desirable. All they had to do was watch their sales.

Right now we are in a bit of a standstill. We are between console generations and, frankly, VR development has slowed down during the pandemic. But when PlayStation 5 hits store shelves, Sony will absolutely give us a next-gen VR accompaniment. When that happens, the major VR race is going to be Sony vs. Oculus once again.

Unless other VR companies capitalize on this opportunity that is.

While Oculus Quest 2 has been getting mixed reviews, it seems to be a fine starting place if you’ve never owned a VR headset. However, it’s not particularly worth trading up if you already have a VR headset on you. There is actually a fairly large portion of the market that still doesn’t have a VR headset. It’s still not “mainstream” so to speak.

Oculus will win this segment of the market by default if no one else does anything. This leads us to the major question: will HTC or Valve produce a budget, portable, wireless VR headset?

We’re not sure, but there is immense pressure on them to do so. The Quest is the only option in wireless all-in-one VR right now, and it wouldn’t take much to slightly out-do them on specs or battery life, slap your own label on it, and really become a major competitor. Valve should absolutely look into this since the Steam VR library would be an incredible value for someone who hasn’t purchased a VR headset yet.

In short, VR is going to shift, and rapidly, into the wireless market. We already have so many options for wired high power VR headsets, but that’s the thing, that market has already been served. Wireless options are less available, especially options that don’t require a cell phone. Just you wait, the first time an alternative to the Quest 2 comes out in the wireless VR market it’s going to spark an entirely new VR war.

For more VR content, check out Newegg's VR Central.