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13 July 2017

Facebook building $200 standalone Oculus VR headset for 2018: report

The next VR headset from Oculus may have more in common with the Samsung Gear VR than the company’s category-defining Oculus Rift.

The first Oculus Rift, released in March 2016, was highly anticipated but saw limited success after its launch. Now Oculus VR, which is wholly owned by Facebook, is looking to course-correct and release a virtual reality headset that’s more user-friendly and appealing to a larger audience, according to a Bloomberg report.

The project seems to be a direct response to the public’s so-so reception to the expensive headsets like the Rift and HTC Vive, both of which need to be connected — via a cable — to a powerful standalone PC. Cheaper, smartphone-powered setups like the Gear VR have  seen more success, mostly due to their much cheaper cost and lack of a cable “tether.”

The new Oculus device, however, won’t be smartphone-powered. Reportedly codenamed “Pacific,” it will be entirely standalone, requiring neither a separate phone or PC to work. It’s expected to cost $200 when it finally hits market next year. (The current Gear VR sells for about $120, but of course requires a Samsung phone to act as the display and processor.)

Bloomberg’s sources also claim the Pacific headset will be lighter than the Gear VR, with a design that looks like a more compact version of the Rift. Pacific will reportedly pack a Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile chip, and it aims to fill the space between the smartphone-powered VR rigs and the more powerful headsets, since it won’t include more advanced features like the positional tracking tech needed to orient the wearer within the VR environment. 

Positional tracking could be in the cards for a future version of the Pacific headset, too, according to the report, but it’s unclear if that refers to other wireless projects Oculus has in the works, like the Santa Cruz standalone rig that was demoed last year.

“We can confirm that we’re making several significant technology investments in the standalone VR category.”

Oculus could open up the Pacific prototype to game designers as early as this October, according to Bloomberg, in order to have an app store prepped for the 2018 launch. That marketplace is projected to be accessible directly through the Pacific’s interface, making it a totally standalone VR experience without requiring a computer like the first-generation Rift console.

When we reached out for comment, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed via email that something is coming in the VR hardware space in the future — just not exactly what. 

“We don’t have a product to unveil at this time, however we can confirm that we’re making several significant technology investments in the standalone VR category,” Facebook said in an emailed statement. “This is in addition to our commitment to high-end VR products like Oculus Rift and mobile phone products like Gear VR.”

Facebook’s VR focus goes well beyond hardware. The company’s Spaces feature, which was unveiled earlier this year at the F8 developers conference, allows Rift users to interact with each other in a social VR environment. A new update opened up the feature to users without Rift headsets earlier this week.

Oculus also recently slashed the price of the Rift and its wireless Touch controllers, making the system slightly more palatable to a general consumer base. 

Still, these updates and discounts don’t solve the barrier created by the Rift’s need to be connected to a computer to work, the big challenge that the Pacific device will look to eliminate.

We know that Mark Zuckerberg is sold on the potential of VR. When — and to be fair, if, since this is still just a rumor — Facebook and Oculus drop this affordable new headset next year, we’ll have another chance to see how easily the general public will be to convince. 

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