Oculus Santa Cruz: Everything you need to know

Oculus is one of the first companies most people think of when they think of VR. The Oculus Rift Consumer Version 1 (CV1), considered a high-end, PC-based VR experience, was released 2016 and has since built around it an impressive library of games and experiences. It competes directly with HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality (WMR), offering a room-scale VR experience with six degrees of freedom (6DoF) in headset and motion controllers.

See Oculus Rift at Amazon

While the Oculus Rift CV2 is still in its prototype stage, in May 2018 Oculus released the Go, a wireless, all-in-one headset akin to Gear VR but not requiring a phone inserted into the head-mounted display. The Oculus Go uses 3DoF for headset and single motion controller — you can look around and point with the controller, but you can’t move around a physical space — so while it is a limited experience, it’s relatively affordable and certainly a lot of fun.

See Oculus Go at Amazon

Oculus has been working on another head-mounted display (HMD) this whole time, known as “Santa Cruz.” It promises to bridge the gap between Rift and Go, and we’ve collected everything you need to know about it right here.

What’s new with Oculus Santa Cruz?

At Facebook’s F8 May 2018 conference, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer revealed that Oculus Santa Cruz is “now in the hands of early third-party developers” and that there would be some exciting updates to share “later this year.”

Later this year likely means in October at the annual Oculus Connect conference, where we’ve seen glimpses of Santa Cruz in the past. For those curious, Schroepfer talks about Santa Cruz at about the 27-minute mark in the above video.

What is Oculus Santa Cruz?

Bridging the gap between Oculus Rift and Oculus Go is something called Oculus Santa Cruz. Like other Oculus prototypes, this is a code name that will likely change for a consumer version.

First hinted at Oculus Connect 3 and further revealed at Oculus Connect 4, this is a VR headset with inside-out tracking requiring no external sensors, much like the Oculus Go. However, Santa Cruz will have 6DoF for an experience closer to what the Rift currently offers.

Spatial tracking from within the headset means you can move around a room-scale setup, just like you can now in Rift, Vive, or WMR, but there are no wires running back to a PC. A camera in each corner of the headset (total of four) track space and motion controllers from the inside out.

All the necessary hardware — including the processor (likely something from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line), RAM, storage, and rechargeable battery — is worn on your head. Whereas early prototypes showed an extra bundle of hardware on the rear headstrap, everything is now contained within the HMD portion. As for an operating system, Santa Cruz is expected to run on the Oculus OS, a variation of Android.

What does Oculus Santa Cruz look like?

Oculus Santa Cruz

Prototypes are subject to change, but the latest model shown off to the public closely resembles the Oculus Rift CV1. The Santa Cruz HMD portion is slightly rounded along the edges, and it does have the added cameras. Mobile Nations Managing Editor Russell Holly went hands-on with the Santa Cruz in October 2017, reporting that the headset “doesn’t weigh much more than a Google Daydream headset with a phone in it, and the design is almost as soft and flexible.”

Related: Ten minutes with Oculus ‘Santa Cruz’ was not enough

A rubbery headband keeps the HMD in place, and the triangle on the back is soft, whereas the Rift’s is made of hard plastic. There are no longer the bulky built-in headphones; an integrated audio solution provides spatial sound in a similar vein to Oculus Go. You can’t see where the sound is coming from, but it’s there and it works.

How does Oculus Santa Cruz tracking work?

Santa Cruz tracking

Much like WMR headsets with their two front-facing cameras, Santa Cruz uses four cameras mounted on the front of the HMD to keep track of the space around it, as well as keep track of its motion controllers. This is known as inside-out tracking, and it removes the need for external sensors.

You can move around while wearing the headset just as you would with a room-scale Rift setup, opening up a larger number of immersive experiences than what is offered with 3DoF headsets. Like the Rift, there is a Guardian system that keeps you from crashing into walls and furniture.

How do Oculus Santa Cruz controllers work?

Santa Cruz controllers

Along with a new headset, the Santa Cruz project is bringing about new motion controllers with 6DoF. Much like current Touch controllers, Santa Cruz controllers have a ring covered in IR lights that are tracked. Here, instead of facing down like on Oculus Touch, the rings face up, making them more visible to the cameras in the headset.

There’s less curve to these controllers, making them a bit easier to hold onto, and there’s not the same Touch sensitivity that can tell where your individual fingers are at all times. There are still trigger, grip, and menu buttons, but gone are the A-B and X-Y buttons and joysticks. Instead, there’s a single touchpad in the middle of the controller. A rocker beneath the touchpad should allow for a sort of D-pad function if required.

Like WMR motion controllers, there is some concern about tracking quality from the built-in cameras. In Russell Holly’s experience, tracking was lost a few times when controllers were held close to the chest. Otherwise, tracking was spot on.

What type of experience does Oculus Santa Cruz offer?

Santa Cruz experience

Since the hardware is self-contained, Santa Cruz isn’t expected to be able to keep up with what a beefy gaming PC can offer. For example, the most up-to-date prototype we’ve seen can’t run something like Robo Recall, though a final version could surprise us all with what it can run. Expect performance somewhere between Oculus Go and Oculus Rift and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

As for the display and actual hardware specs, we’re still waiting for exact numbers.

When will Oculus Santa Cruz release?

There is still no set release date for Oculus Santa Cruz. Based on Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer’s words at the Facebook F8 conference, we can expect to hear more about the prototype at Oculus Connect 5, which takes place September 2018.

How much will Oculus Santa Cruz cost?

Like the release date, there’s still no price for Oculus Santa Cruz.

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