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Wearable Tech

Facebook announces Oculus Go, $199 VR that doesn't need PC or phone

It's a standalone headset that will be arriving in early 2018.

Sean Hollister/CNET
oculusgo

GIF by Sean Buckley/CNET

What would truly get you to buy a VR headset? How about a $199 price?  

Facebook just announced Oculus Go, a standalone headset that doesn't require a PC or a phone to get you into VR, at the company's Oculus Connect developer conference. 

It's coming in early 2018 for $199, or roughly £150 or AU$255 converted.

According to Oculus VP of VR Hugo Barra and a new blog post, details include:

  • "Super lightweight" fabric design 
  • Mesh fabric straps
  • Foam inner construction layers that conform to face
  • 2,560x1,440-pixel "fast-switching LCD display"
  • "Next-gen" lenses compared to Oculus Rift -- "We haven't seen this clarity in VR before," says Barra
  • Spacial audio with built-in speakers
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Single motion controller with 3 degrees of freedom (like Gear VR -- you can swing a sword, but not reach out and grab)
  • Will play titles from the Samsung Gear VR library (they're binary compatible)
  • Available "early next year", with developer kits shipping in November.

"We want to get a billion people in virtual reality," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, shortly before the reveal. "We believe this will be the most accessible VR ever," said Barra.

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What Facebook didn't describe: the graphical fidelity or battery life to expect from a $199 standalone headset. High-end VR headsets traditionally require tethering to powerful PCs or game consoles precisely to avoid those issues -- they're the excuse Intel gave when it canceled its Project Alloy headset this year.

But at $199, those things may matter less: Oculus Go could be the least expensive way to get into VR, considering even seemingly inexpensive devices like a $99 Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream View headset generally require a premium $500+ smartphone to be inserted inside. And it's possible that, with fewer phone functions to power, a standalone could have longer battery life and better graphics. We're keen to find out.

Update, 6:52 p.m. PT: Oculus exec Nate Mitchell suggests we're on the right track there: "We can make the experience even better than anything you've seen on Gear VR today because it's fully integrated, so we'll be able to do a lot more [with Oculus Go]," he tells CNET. 

It also sounds like Oculus Go won't be Facebook's only standalone VR headset. Last year, Facebook announced it was exploring the space with its Santa Cruz standalone VR headset, and it turns out that device is still on track: the totally wireless, base-station-free headset, which now has revamped controllers, was shown again on stage today:

As my colleague Ian Sherr illustrated earlier this week, Facebook really needs a win. Once the de facto leader and poster child for the technology, the company's having a tough time getting people to buy its Oculus Rift headgear -- according to multiple sources, the company sold as few as 250,000 headsets in its first year on the market.

Though back-to-back price cuts have reportedly increased demand -- estimates place Oculus at over 1 million sales -- competitors like Sony and HTC wasted little time cutting their own prices as well. (Oculus announced today that it's dropping the price of a complete Rift bundle to $400, making its summer sale price permanent.)

oculus-lineup

The new Oculus VR lineup.

Sean Hollister/CNET

And repeated public gaffes, like Mark Zuckerberg's insensitive virtual tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the events that led to the awkward departure of outspoken Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, have taken some of the sheen away from Oculus and from VR as a whole.

We'll be updating this story with any additional details we obtain as Oculus Connect continues.

Full disclosure: My wife works for Facebook, owner of Oculus, as a business-to-business video producer.