Facebook is working on a $200 wireless Oculus VR headset

14 Jul 2017

Image: MADvertise/Shutterstock

A stand-alone headset from Facebook could be a game-changer for the entire VR market.

Facebook could be on the cusp of an ‘iPhone’ moment for virtual reality (VR) with plans to release an Oculus wireless headset that will retail for around $200.

Codenamed ‘Pacific’, the new headset will be a more compact version of the pricier Oculus Rift and will be lighter than Samsung’s Gear VR headset.

‘We’re making several significant technology investments in the stand-alone VR category’

The stand-alone device won’t be tethered to a PC or smartphone and will enable people to to watch movies, take part in immersive VR experiences or engage in social networking, simply by wearing the device.

According to Bloomberg, the user-friendly VR headset will open Oculus up to a wider audience, doing for VR what the iPhone did for the smartphone.

In possibly related news, Tyndall spin-out InfiniLED in Cork was acquired by Facebook-owned Oculus, which plans to use the Irish company’s technology to enhance the performance of VR devices.

The key to InfiniLED’s technology is its ability to create low-power LEDs. Oculus is understood to be keen to apply InfiniLED’s technology because it uses 20 to 40 times less power than existing LED or OLED displays.

Facebook acquired Oculus Rift in 2014 for $2bn.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey left Facebook this year following a high-profile battle involving ZeniMax IP and the breach of an NDA by Luckey. As a result, Facebook had to stump up $500m in damages to ZeniMax.

VR market about to get very real?

Despite this, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a big believer in VR and its potential for the future of communications as well as gaming.

The first Oculus Rift was released in March 2016 but its high price point of $400, as well as the fact that it needs to hook up to a high-spec PC, diminished its chances of making an impact.

The VR market itself is still tiny, with only 2.3m devices shipped in the first quarter of this year compared with 347m smartphones, according to IDC.

This could all be about to change as players such as Apple prepare to enter the virtual, augmented and mixed reality space, with VR functionality anticipated on the next iPhone. As well as this, Sony last year introduced a $500 headset for its PlayStation platform that has already sold close to 1m units.

Facebook is expected to be in a position to open up the Pacific prototype to developers later this year with a view to the device hitting the market in 2018.

“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 stand-alone VR category,” Facebook said in a statement.

“This is in addition to our commitment to high-end VR products like Oculus Rift and mobile phone products like Gear VR.”

If Facebook succeeds in pulling off the coup of creating an affordable, stand-alone headset, the VR market could be about to get very real.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years