Oculus Go Takes Its Shot at Lower-Cost Virtual Reality

Although virtual reality (VR) has been somewhat overshadowed by augmented reality (AR), it’s still very much a focus of tech firms and developers. Perhaps no company is more devoted to the VR space than Facebook, which acquired virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR for $2 billion back in 2014.

The initial product from Oculus VR, the Oculus Rift VR headset, is a very high-end example of virtual-reality technology; in addition to purchasing the hardware itself, users must have a state-of-the-art PC. That expense instantly created a formidable barrier to entry for many potential customers—and dissuaded a few game and app designers who feared that the platform would only attract a small cadre of well-monetized users.

Facebook had apparently internalized those fears, which is why it’s releasing the Oculus Go, a standalone VR headset (i.e., it doesn’t need a PC) priced at a comparatively cheap $199. The built-in screen is 5.5 inches with a 2560 x 1440 resolution, and the Snapdragon 821 processor is capable of delivering an experience similar to what users might find in VR headsets such as Google Daydream View that utilize a smartphone as a screen.

Developers interested in building for the platform can rely, as with other platforms, on Unity or Unreal; there’s also the Oculus Mobile SDK, which is currently up to version 1.14.1 and includes a variety of API changes. “It supports 3DOF head tracking, has best-in-class optics, a wide field of view, and fantastic ergonomics,” reads the official blog posting on the device. “Oculus Go has a high-resolution fast-switch LCD screen has a dramatic effect on visual clarity and reduces screen door effect.”

Those pumped-up adjectives aside, the Oculus Go is binary compatible with Gear VR, the VR headset from Samsung, meaning that games and apps can port relatively seamlessly between the two platforms; but whether that persuades resource-strapped developers to build products for the Oculus Go remains to be seen.

Oculus Go will face significant competition from smartphone-powered VR headsets, which are cheap and leverage something that most people own already, as well as augmented reality, which is attracting a lot of attention and investment from tech’s biggest companies.