Facebook has unveiled a stand-alone virtual reality headset designed to extend the appeal of the company’s Oculus technology to the masses.
The headset, called Oculus Go, won’t require plugging in a smartphone or a cord tethering it to a personal computer like Oculus Rift or its competitor HTC’s Vive do.
“This all-in-one device makes VR more accessible than ever and represents a huge leap forward in comfort, visual clarity, and ease-of-use,” added Oculus in a blogpost.
The headset is lightweight and features a high-resolution LCD screen and speakers built in to deliver “spatial audio”.
When it hits the market next year it will cost $199, which is a big drop from the Rift, which originally sold for $599 and required a powerful computer costing at least $500 to power the virtual reality experiences and games. Recent discounts lowered the Rift’s price to $399 at various times during the summer, a markdown Oculus now says will be permanent.
The Gear competes against other headsets, such as Google’s $99 Daydream View, that require a smartphone. Google is also working on a stand-alone headset that won’t require a phone, but the company hasn’t specified when that device will be released or how much it will cost.
Zuckerberg promised the Oculus Go would be “the most accessible VR experience ever” and help realize his new goal of having 1 billion people dwelling in virtual reality at some point in the future.
“One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world,” he said, adding that he intended to publicize a partnership with the Red Cross where Facebook helps create population maps that can be used by rescue workers.
Facebook and other major technology companies such as Google and Microsoft that are betting on VR have a long way to go.
About 16 million head-mounted display devices were shipped in 2016, a number expected to rise to 22 million this year, according to Gartner. Those figures include headsets for what is known as augmented reality.
Zuckerberg, though, remains convinced that VR will evolve into a technology that reshapes the way people interact and experience life, much as Facebook’s social networks and smartphones already have. His visions carry weight, largely because Facebook now has more than 2 billion users and plays an influential role in how people communicate.
But VR so far has been embraced mostly by video game lovers, despite Facebook’s efforts to bring the technology into the mainstream since buying Oculus for $2bn three years ago.
Facebook has shaken up the Oculus management team since then in a series of moves that included the departure of its founder, Palmer Luckey, earlier this year.
The former Google executive Hugo Barra now oversees Facebook’s VR operations.The Guardian