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Wearable Tech

Alcatel puts a twist on future tech with wireless VR headset and budget 360 Camera

French company Alcatel dives deeper into VR with its phone-free Vision headset and the 360 Camera, which plugs directly into your smartphone for all-around photography.

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VR is spreading through the tech world like red wine through a plush new carpet -- but this immersive technology is still complex, and expensive. French phone-maker Alcatel has pulled something a little different out the bag here at IFA 2016 in Berlin, with a VR headset that doesn't connect to a phone, and a 360-degree camera that does.

Vision VR headset

Unlike, for instance, Samsung's Gear VR, the Alcatel Vision headset doesn't rely on a phone plugged into the front to provide virtual reality visuals. Instead the Vision is a standalone piece of kit, with two OLED displays inside.

The headset is wireless, running off a battery rather than mains power. That battery is housed in the rear of the headset to stop the front getting too weighty, and Alcatel reckons you can expect 3 hours of use before the Vision starts crying for its charger. Happily the actual mask area is very roomy, so should work fine if you wear glasses. The headset felt comfortable during my brief hands-on, though we'll need more time before we can make any solid claims on image quality or comfort over long stretches of time.

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That's a roomy headset.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As for what to actually watch, that's where things get a bit less clear. The lack of VR and 360-degree video is an industry-wide problem, but Alcatel doesn't have the clout of tech giants like Apple or Samsung, so it's unlikely you'll be getting any cutting-edge games or movies coming first to this headset. Alcatel's partnered with a number of third-party companies to cook up the VR experience, and promises 100 VR-optimised videos and over 50 games to play when the headset goes on sale at the end of the year.

There's no precise international pricing yet, but Alcatel says to expect the Vision headset to cost roughly 499-599 euros. That converts to about £425-510, $560-670 or AU$740-890. That's leagues away from cheap, and it only just edges out the much higher-profile Oculus Rift. Fingers crossed the price gets slashed a bit before the Vision hits the shelves.

360-degree cameras

Alcatel isn't stopping at a headset -- it's also lifted the lid on two 360-degree cameras. While consumer-grade cameras such as the Ricoh Theta S connect to phones wirelessly, Alcatel's 360 Camera goes a bit more basic by plugging into your mobile directly.

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Apart from the design, Alcatel says these two cameras are basically identical.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Once attached, you'll take 360-degree photos and video using an Alcatel app. The image feeds from the two opposing cameras will be automatically stitched together.

Alcatel's selling this camera in two versions, with the only real difference being the design. One looks like an eyeball, while the other is slimmer, with one lens offset from the other. Alcatel promises that thanks to some clever algorithms this won't result in weird, badly stitched 360 photography.

Both versions will go on sale around the end of the year, costing roughly 99 euros, which translates to approximately £85, $110 or AU$150. That's more than half the price of the Theta S, so we'll be interested to see how picture quality and ease-of-use stack up when the product is final.

Where to Buy

Alcatel Vision

Visit manufacturer site for details.

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