Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg at the Oculus developer conference in San Jose.
San Francisco - Facebook has unveiled a cheaper virtual-reality headset that works without being tethered to a computer, rounding out its plan for pushing the emerging technology to the masses.
The new $199 wireless headset, called Oculus Go - meant to be the company’s most accessible VR device - will be available in early 2018. Facebook also trimmed the price of its high-end Oculus Rift headset and controllers by $100, to $399. That compares with $599 for a top competitor’s product, HTC’s Vive.
Both moves will help Facebook reach a goal of putting 1 billion people in virtual reality, a technology that enables immersive gaming, video viewing and social networking, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday at Oculus Connect, the annual conference of Facebook’s virtual-reality division.
The company has focused on selling virtual reality as a way to remotely connect with other people and experience new things, as opposed to just as a gaming device - the way most people use VR today.
Zuckerberg touted an 80-year-old British grandmother who uses virtual reality because she’s too old now to go "on holiday," and talked about how the technology would let his daughters experience being on the International Space Station.
Facebook also announced a product called Venues, which will let people wearing Oculus headsets experience sports and concerts in virtual reality
“Some people think that VR is isolating and antisocial,” Zuckerberg said at the event in San Jose, California. “I honestly think it’s the opposite. If you can’t think of any way that your reality can be better then you’re not thinking hard enough.”
The Go device fits into Oculus’s lineup between the $130 Gear, which needs to be paired with a Samsung phone to run, and the Rift, which requires a personal computer.
Go is designed to be light and comfortable, said Hugo Barra, the executive in charge of virtual reality at Facebook.
“It feels natural to wear it and it practically disappears when you’re in VR,” Barra said on stage.
Zuckerberg has said virtual reality will be the next major computing platform, after mobile phones. He has been investing heavily in the medium since purchasing Oculus VR for $2bn in 2014.
In order for the technology to go mainstream, Facebook has been focusing on building more relatable avatars - the cartoon depictions of humans within VR worlds - that move their lips when people talk and point their eyes in the right direction when focusing on something within a game.
The company today announced a wider range of skin colors and clothing options for these avatars.
Zuckerberg said the more real everything feels, the more likely people are to use VR for normal social interaction, lifting geographic barriers.
“Enabling us to be present anywhere creates opportunities for people everywhere,” Zuckerberg said, noting that not everyone has the same economic opportunities as his audience in Silicon Valley.
Note: South Africa is not currently one of the countries that Oculus ships to.
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