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Mark Zuckerberg goes for 1 billion VR users with price cut

The social network's CEO introduces a new $199 headset, Oculus Go, and permanently cuts the price for the flagship Rift to $399 as he talks up VR's potential.

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Mark Zuckerberg, at Facebook's F8 developer conference earlier this year.

James Martin/CNET

"At every step along the way, the future is built by people who believe it can be better."

That's the message that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, brought to the company's fourth annual Oculus Connect virtual reality developer conference Wednesday. As in previous years, Zuckerberg took the stage to discuss the promise of what virtual reality can be and to show off some goodies.

The company has tallied 100 million downloads of apps that work with Oculus, and it continues to work on a less-bulky version of its headsets, he said.

Zuckerberg also set a goal: Get 1 billion people into VR. 

He didn't say by when, but showed off a new lower-cost device, called Oculus Go, to help make it happen. 

Unlike the flagship Oculus Rift device, the Oculus Go doesn't need to be tethered to a bulky PC or have a phone snapped into it. Instead, it's self-contained, and will cost $199 (less than half the $499 price tag of the Rift) and be available by "early next year," Zuckerberg said.

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Hugo Barra, Facebook's head of Oculus, said he believes more people will use VR when they have a standalone device like Oculus Go. It was designed to be more comfortable, with stretchy straps to hold the device on your head and with a more breathable fabric. It also has speakers built in, so you don't have to wear headphones.

"We believe Oculus Go will be the most accessible VR experience," Barra said.

The company also said it's working on a new version of its Rift headset. A prototype first shown last year, called "Santa Cruz," will be made available to developers next year, Barra said. In the meantime, Oculus said it'll cut the Rift's price to $399, marking a third price cut in the year and a half since the device launched.

While these new features and products are key to Facebook's efforts, Zuckerberg also delved into the promise of what virtual reality can do. Most people won't have a chance to go into space, he said, but they can in VR. He also talked about doctors using VR ahead of heart surgery and teams holding meetings in virtual rooms. 

"We're legitimately excited about the future and we're committed to making it a reality," he said.

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