SAN JOSE—In a wide-ranging and occasionally rambling unscripted talk at the Oculus Connect conference today, CTO John Carmack suggested the Oculus Quest headset was "in the neighborhood of power of an Xbox 360 or PS3."
That doesn't mean the Quest, which is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, can generate VR scenes comparable to those seen in Xbox 360 or PS3 games, though. As Carmack pointed out, most games of that generation targeted a 1280×720 resolution at 30 frames per second. On Quest, the display target involves two 1280×1280 images per frame at 72fps. That's 8.5 times as many pixels per second, with additional high-end anti-aliasing effects needed for VR as well.
"It is not possible to take a game that was done at a high-quality level [on the Xbox 360 or PS3] and expect it to look good in VR," Carmack said.
Expecting Rift-level performance from a self-contained mobile headset like the quest isn't realistic, Carmack said, partly for simple electrical reasons. While a high-end gaming PC often draws up to 500 watts of power, Carmack said the Quest only uses about 5W, a tidbit that should be of benefit to the Quest's still unconfirmed battery-life statistics.
That relative lack of hardware power is going to require some developers to adopt "a different programming style that's been necessary on the PC," Carmack warned. "With a modern PC, you have so much extra power, you don't need to be a hotshot programmer to make a game people love. You don't really have that convenience on any mobile platform, really, but especially not on our platform."
That's not an insurmountable problem, Carmack suggested, as long as developers focus on the dozen or so things that players really need to concentrate on in an average game, rather than "thousands" of pieces of graphical fluff. He suggested developers look back to the lessons of platforms like the original PlayStation and Nintendo DS to see how developers crafted memorable experiences on much less-powerful hardware.
Some other interesting tidbits from Carmack's meandering talk:
- While most serious gamers wouldn't choose Quest over a high-end console or gaming PC, Carmack said that "realistically, we're going to end up competing with the Nintendo Switch… they'll pick up Quest as mobile device, just like Switch."
- While the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR is by far the best-selling VR product out there (thanks in part to Samsung giveaways), Carmack says most users try it for a day or two then put it away except for rare occasions. Oculus Go and Rift are much "stickier," he says, with users that "come back… week to week and spend a lot of time in it."
- On Gear VR, "not one person in 50" would bother putting on headphones to get true stereo or positional audio. That's why integrated near-ear speakers were so important to Oculus for Go and Quest, Carmack said.
- With Oculus Go, about 80 percent of usage time has been for viewing "media" and only 20 percent for gaming. For Oculus Quest, Carmack expects those figures to be roughly reversed.
- Carmack expressed bemusement at Oculus advertising showing very active use of the headsets. "Athletic people jumping around is not going to be the way people use this most of the time… people tend toward a bit of laziness and inaction… If we want to sell millions and millions to people, it's going to be a lot of people who want to just sit down and move their thumbs in some way."
- Full, controller-free hand-tracking with the Quest's external cameras is "theoretically possible," Carmack said, but the process is "really slow" and will take no small amount of processing power. Still, Carmack said Quest could help the Oculus team research this feature ahead of more powerful hardware to come.
- To increase social use of VR, Carmack floated the idea of putting a cheap, lightweight, LCD screen on the outside of a VR headset so spectators could see something as well (if the user wants). "It's not a completely insane idea," he said.
- The dream of viewing a standard PC monitor in VR for work purposes has been "kind of a gimmick thing the way it's been seen," Carmack said. That's because, at a minimum legibility of 13 pixels per degree and current headset resolutions, a 1280×720 "virtual monitor" needs to be "the size of an IMAX screen… you spend all your time looking side to side."