Facebook Unveils Standalone VR Headset, Can It Make The Difference?

Facebook Unveils Standalone VR Headset, Can It Make The Difference?
Image Source: Oculus.com (screenshot)

Facebook on Wednesday showed a new virtual reality headset, dubbed as Oculus Go. The new headset does not need a separate computer to operate, thus offering more mobile uses than the existing Oculus Rift product.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new headset at the Oculus Connect 4 in San Jose. Zuckerberg described the new headset as the “most accessible VR headset yet.” The Oculus Go would give users a similar experience to the Gear VR i.e., allowing users to spin around, but moving around is restricted, notes TechCrunch. The Oculus Go will have a smaller controller similar to that of Gear VR, while the lenses will offer the same wide field-of-view as Rift. The headset makes use of the “fast-switch” WQHD LCD screen and spatial audio, and will support all the Gear VR titles.

Further, Hugo Barra, Facebook’s VP of VR, referred to the new headset as “hands-down the easiest way for developers to get involved with VR,” adding that it is lightweight and “feels incredibly soft to wear.” The Oculus Go will cost $199 and ship early next year, i.e. it will miss the holiday season giving rivals a head start. Developer kits will ship in November.

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Facebook views virtual reality as the next big thing, and thus, has invested billions in the technology, which the company believes has massive potential in the gaming, communication and business space. In 2014, the social networking giant acquired Oculus for $2 billion. However, unlike other big acquisitions by Facebook like WhatsApp and Instagram, Oculus so far has not gone well for Zuckerberg.

The Oculus Gear VR has seen some popularity, thanks to Samsung smartphones, but the high-end Oculus Rift platform has not seen many takers.  Last year, the social networking giant reportedly sold less than 400,000 units of the Oculus Rift, which is less than other popular VR headsets in the market like the HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR, according to market research firm Canalys.

Even with Oculus Go, there are few chances that the company can hit the jackpot owing to the limitations of the new headset. The Oculus Go does not come with any external sensors to track the movements of a user in the room, thus limiting the functionality. Further, it has relatively limited processing power, thanks to the Snapdragon 821 system-on-a-chip (SoC) inside.

Facebook’s VR headset uses an LCD panel instead of the OLED displays, which helps in lowering the motion blur. Though the company claims its LCD technology would enrich user experience, it is clear that the company opted for an inexpensive technology. Further, the Go ships with one relatively simple controller, compared to two advanced motion controllers for the Rift, notes The Street.

Nevertheless, the VR industry is still in its early stages. According to Canalys, there would be 20 million headsets in the market by 2020, suggesting Facebook still has time to prove to the world that Oculus’ acquisition was not wrong. The company needs just one hit product to prove that, and that product could very well be its standalone VR headset code-named Santa Cruz.  Facebook’s Santa Cruz would be bundled with advanced controllers, have built-in sensors to track user movements, and would possibly be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, the SoC optimized for VR headsets.

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