Our Options Prior to the Oculus Go
I’ve been exploring Virtual Reality and its applications for K-12 Learning for many years now. Inspired by a passion for games and learning alongside visions of exploring the moons of Jupiter or Tut’s tomb as imagined by Earnest Cline in Ready Player One, I’ve been playing in this space since the Oculus DK1 was available to developers. Today, I’m supporting three HTC Vives, two Oculus Rifts, and a PSVR in schools across my district. Each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses.
The major strength of high-end, computer-driven VR is the level immersion afforded by the experiences and six-degrees-of-freedom (6DOF) VR. Great experiences are driven by powerful computers and graphics cards and the ability of the system to detect the position of the headset and hands in the rendered three dimensional space. An obvious drawback for K-12 implementation is the expense associated with the hardware ($399 for the Oculus Rift and $499 for the HTC Vive) and the cost of a computer to support it (easily $1000+). On top of this, one… -ONE- student can be immersed in the experience at a time. That’s not to say they’re not worthwhile investments. A secondary display and a centers-based approach can make them work in the hands of a creative teacher.
Several schools in my district have explored phone-based VR using a variety of headsets and devices like the iPod Touch. Here, you’re still looking at a $200+ investment for the iPod Touch (which is a versatile device outside of VR applications) and whatever headsets you choose. VR isn’t the primary function of any these sorts of devices and experiences vary widely. Many districts are exploring Google Expeditions sets, too. Though sold with education in mind, prices can range from over $3000 (for ten students) to over $9000 (for 30 students).
Enter the Oculus Go…
Those were our major options until just a few days ago when Facebook launched the Oculus Go. Available at $199 for the 32GB option and $249 for the 64GB option, this is a standalone (no phone or computer required) option for virtual reality. Everything’s built into the headset. …and I just unboxed one yesterday. Here are some early pros/cons and thoughts for the future:
- The device is well-packaged and seems solidly designed.
- It’s at least as comfortable as any other VR headset I’ve used (Vive, Rift, PSVR, GearVR…), though the PSVR might be just a bit more comfortable for me, personally.
- The visuals are great. The view is actually just a but better than the Rift. No obvious screen door effect. Less “god rays” caused by the lenses.
- The controller works fine, feels great, and is very responsive.
- The user interface is beautiful and incredibly intuitive. Turn it on and you’re in… in seconds.
- Supports some Bluetooth game controllers.
- Headphone jack on the side!
- Eye glasses spacer is included.
- There are 1000’s of experiences already available. Many are categorized as educational.
- The price.
- The battery life is short. Reports are two, solid hours, so it’ll need to be put back on charge between uses.
- Three degrees of freedom – This limits some of the capabilities of the VR as only head motion (rotation, not position) is tracked.
- No Bluetooth headphone support (at this time).
- Reports are that lenses are prone to scratching and sunlight damage. This would be something to watch in classroom implementations.
- No native YouTube app… yet.
- No enterprise management solution that I’m aware of…. yet.
- From a district-level perspective, whenever I consider the deployment of any device at any sort of scale, I wonder about account and content management. Can I have multiple devices registered to a single account? How does content work with multiple devices, especially paid content?
- Where are the apps/experiences that allow students to CREATE? There are some out there for modeling and painting and I’ll be testing those out. Those are the things I’ll be exploring next. This device really shines as a content consumption device.
- The tight integration/association will probably give some schools/districts pause, but I believe there are workarounds.
- There’s a solid selection of VR content in the Oculus Store that would be great in classrooms. Aside from the obvious 360 degree video, there are several offerings that are clearly designed with education in mind – The Body VR, Titans of Space, etc.
With those points in mind, my early recommendation is to give this a definite thumbs up for small-scale deployments (a few devices at a school) and a “maybe” for anything larger. I think the Oculus Go is potentially going to bring many more people into VR and that will only drive advancements! It is certainly a device I’ll be recommending to my schools who want to add VR technology to support student learning.
(Edit – A few more observations. I’m actually setting up three of these devices. Though no phone is required, the Oculus App is used to initially set the devices up and get them initially connected to WiFi. Through the app, I can individually “manage” each device. After setup, each is paired with the same Facebook account. Setting up a Facebook account just for this purpose might be a good idea. I’ve not tested paid apps yet, but once attached to the FB/Oculus account, it seems that the library of “purchased” apps is available on each.)