GDC 2019: Oculus Rift S Announced with Price, Specs, & Release Date

Oculus today announced the new Rift S headset which ditches external tracking sensors in favor of a five-camera inside-out tracking system. The headset also gets a slight bump in resolution over the original Rift while moving from OLED to LCD displays. A brand new head mount design revamps the headsets ergonomics with a ‘halo’ style strap and top strap. Rift S will be priced at $400 at launch this Spring.

Rift S is Oculus’ first new PC VR headset since the launch of the original Rift back in 2016, but the company has made quite clear that this isn’t a ‘Rift 2’, hence the use of the ‘S’ moniker, which Oculus chose to signify that Rift S is a replacement for Rift, not a sequel.

Oculus Rift S Specs at a Glance

Here’s a quick look at the Rift S specs and further down is a deeper look at the most important changes and how they compare to the original Rift.

  • Pricing: $399
  • Availability: Spring 2019
  • Weight: A little more than Rift
  • Display:
    • Resolution: 1,280 × 1,440 per eye (2,560 × 1,440 total)
    • Type: Single fast-switch LCD
    • Refresh Rate: 80Hz
    • Field of View: ‘Slightly larger than Rift’
    • IPD Adjustment: Software only
  • Tracking:
    • Type: ‘Insight’ inside out – five cameras
    • Capabilities: Supports 6 degrees of freedom head and controller tracking
    • Recommended Environments: It should work in almost any lit indoor environment.
    • Recommended Playspace: Oculus Rift S works with your environment, so you can play standing or sitting, in spaces big or small.
    • Tether:
      • Length: 5 meter
      • Connections: DisplayPort 1.2 & USB
      • Passthrough:
        • Passthrough+: Low latency stereo-correct passthrough video
        • Guardian: Boundaries traced from inside headset using passthrough
        • Recommended PC Specs: Same as Rift except need DisplayPort 1.2 or later and just one USB 3.0 port instead of three
        • For a taste of what it’s like to use the Rift S, check out our in-depth hands-on article.

          New LCD Display

          Even so, Rift S is more than just the original Rift with some new components inside. It’s an entirely new headset, and in fact Oculus says they tapped Lenovo to help in design and manufacturing.

          Rift S brings a bump in resolution over the original, now using a single display which amounts to 1,280 × 1,440 per eye, up from the 1,080 × 1,200 displays in the original Rift, which gives Rift S 1.4 times the total number of pixels of the original Rift. This is also the same resolution found in Oculus Go, and a lower resolution than Oculus Quest (1,440 × 1,600). Rift S lacks the hardware IPD adjustment found on Quest, but supports software adjustments.

          Not just a change in resolution, but Rift S now uses LCD displays rather than the OLED displays in the original. OLED displays typically have richer colors and better contrast than LCD displays which makes them great for dark content, but LCD displays for VR have gotten better in the years since the Rift first launched, and bring some benefits of their own.

          Among the biggest benefits of moving to LCD over OLED is improved ‘fill-factor’ which means less screen door effect (the unlit space between pixels). So while the resolution improvement from Rift to Rift S doesn’t bring a significant increase in fidelity, it does bring a notable reduction in screen door effect which helps boost immersion. LCD is also typically devoid of mura.

          The Rift S displays run at 80Hz, a change from the original Rift’s OLED displays which run at 90Hz. Oculus says that one reason for moving to a slower refresh rate was to avoid needing to increase their recommended VR specifications (to ensure that developers can continue to target one specification as the install base grows).

          The lenses in Rift S are new and improved over the original Rift, and Oculus says they’re similar to what’s in Oculus Go and Quest (which have been touted as having better clarity and less pronounced god rays). The company tells Road to VR that Rift S has a slightly larger field of view than the original Rift, but declined to provide a specific figure.

          Inside-out Tracking with ‘Passthrough+’

          On the tracking front, Oculus is ditching its outside-in ‘Constellation’ tracking system for ‘Insight’ inside-out tracking. That means getting rid of the external sensors needed for the Rift and instead using cameras on the Rift S itself so that the headset can understand its position in the world. As before, an on-board IMU does high frequency tracking while the inside-out system is largely used for less frequent drift correction.

          The Insight system on Rift S is similar to Quest but has five cameras instead of four, and uses a different configuration. Instead of cameras mounted at the corners of the headset’s front panel, there’s two cameras toward the bottom of the front panel which face forward, one camera on the left and right of the headset which aim slightly downward, and one camera on top of the headset which faces the ceiling.

          Not only does Insight mean that the headset is easier to use and set up, but it will also support larger (potentially unlimited) playspaces, and also means ‘room-scale’ tracking out of the box, which is a big shift from the default ‘front-facing’ setup used by the original Rift (which did support room-scale with an extra sensor and a more complicated setup). This aligns the headset’s tracking capabilities nicely with both Quest and other room-scale headsets like Vive, and may give developers a more consistent design space which would make it easier to design games that work across multiple headsets with fewer tweaks. Good timing considering the recent OpenXR news.

          With cameras on-board, Oculus is also bringing pass-through video to the headset for the first time, a feature which allows users to see outside of the headset through the cameras. Oculus says they took extra care to make the camera input stereo-correct and low latency; they claim that passthrough on Rift S is better than anything else out there, including Quest’s passthrough function, which is why they’re calling it ‘Passthrough+’.

          With passthrough on Rift S, Oculus has also developed a novel and likely easier way to facilitate Guardian setup (the headset’s boundary system). Instead of looking at the computer screen while using a controller to trace the edges of the playspace, users will simply wear the headset and use passthrough to look at the environment through the headset, then use the controller to trace a line on the ground to define the boundary.

          New Design & Ergonomics

          Though the original Rift design has aged quite well, Oculus has scrapped it in favor of something brand new. The company says they partnered with Lenovo on the design and manufacturing of the headset, and some elements of Lenovo’s other VR headsets appear to shine through.

          Most notably, Oculus has moved to a ‘halo’ style head strap with a crank on the back which tightens the band. The head mount mostly rests on the forehead while the rear of the strap offers some counter-weight for balance. Unlike most halo head mounts, Rift S adds a strap over the top of the head as well, which helps distribute some weight across the top of the head.

          With the visor ‘hanging’ in front of the user’s eyes (instead of being squeezed against their face), Oculus has added a lens-to-eye distance adjustment; press a small button underneath and you can move the visor closer or further from your face. This is a welcome feature for both maximizing field of view across different face shapes, and making to fit glasses inside the headset.

          The headphones on the original Rift have been removed in favor of a hidden ‘channeled audio’ approach for Rift S that’s similar to Quest and Go. Instead of over-ear headphones, there’s small openings along the headband near the user’s each which pipes in left and right audio. Rift S also now has a 3.5mm jack on the side of the headset for users who want to use their own headphones, though the halo-style headband may get in the way of certain headphones.

          Oculus says the Rift S weighs “a little more” than the Rift’s 470 grams, but has declined to provide a specific figure.

          Release Date and Price

          Oculus says that Rift S is due out in Spring and will cost $400. The headset will replace the original Rift which the company says is being phased out.

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