Facebook and Oculus join for science fiction future

The companies believe that by joining forces, they can invent the future and turn science fiction into fact.

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The Oculus Rift headset James Martin/CNET

Facebook is paying up to $2.3 billion to buy Oculus VR and create an otherworldly realm where online social interactions feel as genuine as the real thing.

The social network announced its plans to purchase the virtual reality technology company and Kickstarter sensation on Tuesday.

Once the deal closes, Facebook will shell out $400 million in cash, 23.1 million in company shares, and possibly $300 million more in earn-out incentives for Oculus, the 18-month-old maker of the Oculus Rift. The Rift is a still in-development virtual reality headset already beloved by game developers, who have ordered 75,000 software developer kits.

The surprise deal cements Facebook's interest in virtual reality, an emerging technology trend that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicts will be the successor to mobile, at least in terms of significance for consumers who social network.

Together, the two companies have the ambitious plan to invent the future, Oculus CEO and co-founder Brendan Iribe said during a conference call on the deal.

"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," Zuckerberg said on the call. "Imagine enjoying a court-side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, consulting with a doctor face-to-face, or going shopping in a virtual store where you can touch and explore the products you're interested in just by putting on goggles in your own home."

Oculus, Zuckerberg said, has the potential to be the most social platform ever, because the technology provides for "unbounded" adventures, and will alter the way we communicate with loved ones.

"Little details like being able to make eye contact with someone with zero latency make you feel like you're really present together," Facebook's chief said.

Essentially, Oculus provides Facebook with a tomorrow vision for what social networking and computing in general could look like in 10 years. The reality of that vision remains to be seen, however, and the immediate, more tangible future of the partnership will have Oculus operating independently to deliver the Oculus Rift for mostly virtual gaming purposes. Neither company was ready to reveal specifics around the timing of the device's release.

Still, if Zuckerberg and Iribe get their way, your online interactions -- everything from digital shopping to virtual hugs -- will feel just as good as the real deal. As Iribe said, virtual reality sounds like science fiction, but science fiction has a habit of becoming fact.

 

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