Virtual Reality 

$200 Wireless Headset For Oculus Rift Planned For 2018

Looking to expand your play on the Oculus Rift but do not like the cord? Facebook is gearing up to reveal a standalone Oculus virtual reality headset later this year, with a ship date of sometime in 2018. The headset will work without requiring a tethered PC or smartphone, according to the report, and will be branded with the Oculus name around the world, except in China, where it’ll carry the Xiaomi trade dress and run some Xiaomi software as part of a partnership that extends to manufacturing plans for the device.

Currently VR hardware comes in two varieties: cheap headsets that turn smartphones into virtual reality players (like Samsung’s $130 Gear VR) and high-end gaming rigs (like Facebook’s $400 Oculus Rift) that hook up to $1,000-plus desktop computers. When Facebook’s new headset does ship next year it will bridge the gap and represent an entirely new category.

Like current Oculus products, the new headset will be geared toward immersive gaming, watching video and social networking. This new wireless headset code-named “Pacific,” resembles a more compact version of the Rift and will be lighter than Samsung’s Gear VR headset. The device’s rumored design and features are that it will be powered by a Snapdragon mobile processor with better graphic capabilities than the Gear VR, but without positional tracking like the Rift via Oculus sensors. These specifics are not yet finalized and could still change, but the overall idea is that someone will be able to pull the headset out of their bag and watch movies on a flight just the way you can now with a phone or tablet but with the touch of Oculus behind it.

The key ingredient here will be the balance of price and performance. Facebook will reportedly sell the headset for around $200, which could help it attract a much broader audience versus the more expensive Rift (which is on sale for its lowest price ever at $399 currently, bundled with Touch controllers). Still, Oculus seems intent on continuing to support Rift and the PC, as well as its Gear VR partnership with Samsung, with the aim of reaching as many customers as possible with multiple approaches to VR.

The VR industry at large is still trying to find the right balance to make the technology more broadly attractive to consumers but that’s starting to change as the second generation of devices starts to roll out. Last year, Sony Corp. debuted the PlayStation VR, a $500 headset that has sold close to a million units and taps the company’s gaming and entertainment ecosystem. Meanwhile, HTC Corp. and Lenovo Group, which both use Google’s Daydream OS, are working on their own standalone headsets and expect to release them this year. Ditto for Samsung Electronics Co., which uses Oculus technology.

Right now Samsung leads the pack with about 22 percent of the global VR market, according to IDC. Facebook’s Oculus Rift is in fourth place, behind Sony and HTC, with about 5 percent of the market, or less than 100,000 units sold, IDC says. To goose sales, the company in July dropped the price of its headset for the second time this year.

If Facebook can get the new hardware right, it has some key advantages, including a vibrant ecosystem of downloadable VR games and apps, plus enthusiastic developers who gather in their thousands each year at the company’s Oculus Connect conference.

The new headset will have a similar interface to Samsung’s VR Gear and can be controlled by a wireless remote. Facebook has said it’s also working on a prototype device code-named Santa Cruz that’s basically a wireless Rift, with the full power of the original device sans PC.

The company plans to begin briefing content makers, such as video game designers, on the device by October so that the product’s application store could launch with compatible games, one of the people said. The downloads store will be re-written and accessible from the virtual reality interface itself, this person said.

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