Zuckerberg targets 1bn VR users as he unveils $199 Oculus Go

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The new Oculus Go in action. Image: Oculus/Facebook

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It’s a definitive march of the machines as Facebook CEO means business with low-cost Oculus line-up.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has revealed what he claims is “the most accessible VR experience ever” in the form of a $199 standalone virtuality (VR) headset called the Oculus Go, which will be released in 2018.

Whether this will be an outstanding footnote in tech industry history or another damp squib among the many ‘awesome’ saccharine-filled features, experiences and apps to emerge from Silicon Valley conference halls lately remains to be seen.

‘Some people say that VR is isolating and antisocial. I actually think it’s the opposite’
– MARK ZUCKERBERG

“I am more committed than ever to the future of virtual reality,” Zuckerberg said at the annual Oculus Connect 4 conference in San Jose.

Zuckerberg said that the accessibility of the Oculus Go will help to realise his new goal of having 1bn people using VR in the next few years.

The new device will start shipping to developers in November to enable them to start building apps.

The bumpy road to VR

Zuckerberg targets 1bn VR users as new $199 Oculus platform is unveiled

The road to get where we are now after Facebook acquired Oculus two years ago for $2bn has been a bumpy ride, rocked by IP lawsuits and founder departures.

Indeed, you have to hand it to Zuckerberg after an ignominious start to the week where a crass, cringeworthy VR tour of hurricane-battered Puerto Rico drew a lot of criticism over poor taste.

Just days later, he dusted himself down and, as if nothing had happened, delivered what could be the most pivotal moment in the evolution of VR. With characteristic aplomb, he has revealed a new paradigm for VR with the Oculus Go.

The closest a user could get to a quality VR headset until now in that price range was the Samsung Gear for $129, for which you required a compatible Samsung smartphone.

The $199 tag is a considerable price differential from the flagship Oculus Rift, which sold for $599. The Rift is also getting a price cut to $399.

Facebook is targeting the device to be more than just a gaming experience with the ability to watch movies, concerts and meet friends in the realm of VR. Indeed, the design and comfort of the device is impressive, complete with soft leather and fabric features.

It comes with a high-resolution, fast-switch LCD screen and next-generation lens technology that could have input from Cork’s own InfiniLED, which was acquired by Oculus last year to boost VR screen technology.

The new headset will ship with integrated spatial audio, and speakers are built right into the headset. It also comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack for private listening.

Another plus is that Gear VR and Oculus Go apps are binary compatible so developers building games for Gear VR are already building for Oculus Go.

Oculus also gave a sneak peak of the next phase of its Santa Cruz motion-tracked controllers that enhance the standalone experience of Oculus Go. They sport infrared LEDs that work with tracking sensors on the headset and allow natural and unrestricted movement. There is, however, no release date for these motion controllers.

As well as the $199 consumer device, Zuckerberg is holding true to his vision of making VR a communications standard in the business world and revealed the $900 Oculus for Business platform that comes with Rift, Touch controllers, three room sensors, Oculus remote, three Rift Fits and a commercial licence.

He also revealed plans for a Venues app experience that will allow people to attend live events in VR.

According to Gartner, about 16m VR headsets were shipped worldwide in 2016, a number that is tipped to reach 22m in 2017.

“Some people say that VR is isolating and antisocial. I actually think it’s the opposite,” Zuckerberg said.

“We all have limits to our reality. Opening up more of those experiences to more of us – that’s not isolating, that’s freeing.”

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com