Facebook is ready to try and push virtual reality more mainstream.
At its annual F8 developer conference today in California, the company announced its Oculus Go VR headset is finally for sale. The hardware, which will begin shipping today, will be a standalone headset that doesn’t require a smart phone or powerful PC for use.
Oculus Go will also be much cheaper than the flagship Oculus Rift, which is priced at $399 but also requires a PC that can cost $1,000 or more. The Go, which will cost $199 for a 32-gigabit headset or $249 for a 64-gigabit version, could help give people interested in VR a way to try it without breaking the bank. (The Oculus Go will be about the same price as Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s View, which both require a smartphone for use.)
“It has the highest quality lenses and optics that we’ve ever built into a VR device,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said while announcing the news on stage at F8. “Oculus Go is the easiest way to get into VR, and we think that this is going to become how a lot of people experience virtual reality and virtual presence for the first time.”
For the debut, Facebook is rolling out more than 1,000 games and experiences including a short VR version of Jurassic World and a space exploration video created with NASA.
Facebook’s vision of virtual reality is about more than games and entertainment—it’s also about VR social media. Last year at F8, Facebook debuted Facebook Spaces, a VR social network that lets users become Bitmoji-like avatars to hang out in 360-degree videos. Today, Facebook is also rolling out an update to Oculus Rooms, where friends will be able to play games, watch TV and share photos. It also announced plans to roll out Oculus Venues on May 30, where uses can watch concerts, sports, comedy shows and other events in VR.
Along with Rooms and Venues, Facebook unveiled Oculus TV—which will allow people to build 3D rooms for watching shows in VR including content on Netlflix and Hulu—and Oculus Gallery to view photos and personal videos in VR.
Facebook’s release of Oculus Go and its related software could potentially help the VR industry get over its struggles to scale both hardware and software. While some research has suggested people are interested in the medium, the high price point has been difficult for the average user to justify—which in turn has made media companies and brands more averse to investing heavily in a medium that has a far smaller audience than traditional social media or TV.
In an interview with Adweek in December, Jason Rubin, vp of content for Oculus said Facebook’s goal is to shrink the adoption time of VR to five years instead of the 40 years it took for PCs to catch on or the 10 years that it took for mobile.
“VR impresses people out of the gate,” he said. “But the question is always ‘What am I going to do with it?’ And because it’s so and different—unlike 3D TV where you just went back and made 3D versions of things that already existed, it’s going to take a while for us to unlock it. VR is going to continue to evolve.”
At Facebook’s New York office on Tuesday afternoon, Adweek demoed the Oculus Go. It feels about as comfortable as the Google View, but lets in less light than the cotton-like fabric of Google’s first headset. However, it feels lighter than the Gear VR, which can sometimes feel like its pressing on a person’s forehead after being worn for too long.
The screen indeed is sharp, with 538ppi 2560 x 1440 WQHD, ‘fast-switch’ LCD display. The controller feels more responsive and accurate than those that come with other mobile VR headsets in a similar price range.