Seattle-based Pluto VR is launching a new streaming platform for virtual reality.
The service, PlutoSphere, is meant to stream games live over the internet to compatible VR headsets without the need for a local PC as a go-between. That, in turn, dramatically lowers the cost of entry for VR, opening it up to a wider audience.
“PlutoSphere represents a major milestone in the spatial computing industry,” Pluto VR co-founder Forest Gibson said in a statement. “Now you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on gaming rigs, graphics cards, and premium VR headsets to play popular PC VR titles.”
PlutoSphere is compatible with the Oculus Quest and Quest 2 VR headsets, with plans to support Windows PCs, iOS and Android mobile devices, the Microsoft HoloLens, and Nreal glasses in the future. It also requires 50 Mbps of bandwidth and a 5 Ghz WiFi 6 internet connection. According to Gibson, the PlutoSphere PC client, upon release, will enable compatibility with other headsets such as the HTC Vive or Valve Index.
In a move that Gibson calls “[breaking] down the walled garden,” PlutoSphere also allows users to access their game libraries on the Steam and Epic digital storefronts, alongside the ability to install and run any OpenVR or OpenXR application.
Combined with the PlutoSphere’s support for Oculus, it sounds like Pluto is working to create an all-in-one solution for PC VR players, many of whom might have multiple games scattered across several different storefronts. The company plans to add more features to PlutoSphere post-launch, such as a persistent social layer and support for augmented reality apps.
Pluto VR was started in 2015 by Gibson, Jared Cheshier, former Disney animation executive Jonathan Geibel, and PopCap co-founder John Vechey. Its other projects include an eponymous communication service for VR environments, and the recently-debuted Metachromium, a spatial browser that lets you open web browser apps as an overlay running on top of any other VR game.
Since its founding, Pluto VR’s staff has grown to 22 people. Following a Series A funding round in 2017, Pluto has been working on R&D, infrastructure development, and contributing to projects such as OpenXR and WebXR. It plans to pursue a Series B round later this year.
“PlutoSphere is the result of us working in spatial computing, participating in open standards, and working to develop a more open ecosystem,” Gibson said to GeekWire. “Our aim with PlutoSphere is to open the doors of closed platforms and offload computing and rendering to the cloud or edge, to be able to run a wider range of games and applications alongside each other.”
Gibson noted that VR and AR are still mostly locked in a “single app” world.
“You run a single app and that provides your entire experience,” he said. “There is a growing need to be able to have multiple apps running at the same time, just like you have on your computer.”
In a piece he published on Medium last month, Gibson describes multi-app as the future of spatial computing.
While sales of virtual reality headsets and other gear have steadily climbed over the course of the last year, it still only makes up a tiny bit of the overall games industry, kept visible by a relative handful of extremely enthusiastic developers and players.
More than 3 million players picked up VR headsets in 2020, spending $1.1 billion on games and hardware. It sounds like a lot, but the overall games industry ballooned to $180 billion in spending in 2020. VR in 2021 is and remains an exciting, well-publicized, growing, but ultimately narrow niche, despite the efforts of major players such as Valve.
If the PlutoSphere works as advertised, that would lower the cost of getting into VR to the point where it’s roughly competitive with picking up a new Nintendo Switch. In theory, this would do a lot to remove two of the major barriers— cost and space — that naturally limit VR’s appeal to the wider consumer market.
In conjunction with inexpensive newer standalone headsets like the Oculus Go, it’s a potential big step forward toward getting VR into the homes of more interested consumers. However, it’s also a game streaming service, which means residential internet and other infrastructure roadblocks could be a serious issue in the U.S. market.
Pluto is scheduled to open reservations for the PlutoSphere service for interested buyers on Tuesday morning.