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Oculus' standalone headsets point to a changing VR landscape

Oculus' standalone headsets point to a changing VR landscape
From Engadget - October 13, 2017

The idea of standalone VR headsets is not a new one. Intel explored the field with Project Alloy for a while before killing it earlier this year, Alcatel made one that did not quite take off and Google announced it's working with standalone Daydream headsets from HTC and Lenovo too. But it's Oculus -- the pioneer of modern VR -- that is the first to come out swinging with two different kinds of standalone VR headsets, one of which will be available to consumers early next year.

The latter is the Oculus Go, and it was the highlight of this year's keynote at Oculus Connect 4. It's attractively priced at $199 and shares the same DNA as the Gear VR -- apps for the Gear VR should be compatible with the Go. The Go features a "fast-switch LCD" with WQHD 2560x1440 resolution that's apparently better than OLEDs. It also has built-in audio so you do not need headphones.

Will Smith, the CEO and founder of FOO VR -- a company that builds talk shows in VR -- was enthusiastic about the Go's price. "$200 is fantastic. It makes VR so much more accessible and so much more compelling." Also, as an iPhone user, he says the idea of a standalone headset is much more attractive than having to buy a Samsung phone on top of the Gear VR.

Sam Watts, a director of immersive technologies for MakeReal, a VR company based in the UK, was equally positive. "The price is just about an impulse buy," he said. "You do not need to buy a phone to use it, and as a developer, it's nice to not have to worry about the 'phone parts' of the phone interfering with the experience."

"An all-in-one, untethered, headset like this is the future," Watts continued. "It's a good step to wider adoption." He also likes that the Gear VR and the Go will be software-compatible -- Oculus has said the Go is also powered by Android -- so it's much easier for the same apps to work on both headsets.

Yet, the Go is not the only standalone headset that Oculus is working on. It's also developing Project Santa Cruz, which is much more powerful than the Go. We had a chance to try it out at Oculus Connect 4, and the experience is much more akin to the Rift -- with 6DOF (degrees of freedom) controllers and full positional tracking. The Go, by contrast, only has a 3DOF controller and orientation tracking like the Gear VR.

It seems that standalone headsets like Santa Cruz are the future of VR; untethered yet powerful. And while Go is less capable, having a cheap VR option is good too. Phone-based and PC-tethered VR already seem like they could get outdated in the next few years. Suddenly, though, it seems that Oculus has a divisive product portfolio on its hands.

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