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Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe Says Coming Decades Will Define Virtual Reality (Video)

With two consumer launches on the horizon for Oculus, how will Facebook's VR play compete?

Asa Mathat for Re/code

What if you could put on a pair of goggles, right now, and feel as though you’re at the Code Conference rather than at your desk?

Well, you can’t — not yet, anyway. But Facebook’s Oculus VR is one of the companies at the forefront of virtual reality, technology that (in theory) can instantly take you somewhere else. And leading Oculus is CEO Brendan Iribe, who preached patience today at Code.

“To have the Code Conference [in VR] be a replacement for the real thing, it has to feel like a real thing,” he said. “And I think we’ll get there.”

The challenges en route are many. Oculus plans to launch two virtual reality headsets in the next three quarters: Later this year, the Gear VR, co-developed with Samsung; and early next year, the Oculus Rift, a higher-end device that was originally funded on Kickstarter. With both launches, the company will have to convince consumers to pick up and wear a strange technology previously written off as geeky and/or nausea-inducing.

“This is definitely going to be born in the gaming space because it is a 3-D environment,” Iribe said, saying Oculus’ initial customers will probably be “tech enthusiasts.” The base price for the Rift and a PC that can support it will be something like $1500, he noted. The Gear VR, meanwhile, costs $200 and connects to either the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or Galaxy S6, which for non-owners of those phones brings the base price to north of $700.

Over time, though, he expects the “form factor to get down to sunglasses,” and the supporting technology to get cheaper.

The Oculus Kickstarter campaign is often credited with renewing widespread interest in virtual reality, which companies such as Nintendo tried and failed to popularize in the 1990s. But until this year, the company had only released prototypes intended for developers, while rivals like Sony, HTC and Google came out of the woodwork — was sitting on its hands a mistake?

“It’s such an early day that we view everybody as pioneers,” Iribe said. “VR is going to be defined over the next several decades. Think of the first Apple II being shipped in 1977. It took almost a decade for it to land in my school where I could see it.”

Also at stake are the safety implications of virtual reality. In its official guidelines for software developers, Oculus warns that children under age 13 should not use the headset, even though games and education apps — two of the first categories in which much early VR software is expected — often include that younger age group. Iribe said the first versions of Oculus will focus on adults.

“It’s early days, and we’re trying to be conscious of health and safety,” Iribe said. “We need to start doing those studies and start learning what things need to be fixed.”

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