Like most kinds of consumer electronics, VR is going through a phase of cord-cutting, and in the not-too-distant future we might be able to do away with the tripping hazard of the cable that tends to wrap itself around your legs while using a Rift or Vive. At the Oculus Connect conference this week, the company announced the Oculus Go, a self-contained VR headset that doesn't need to be tethered to a computer or require a phone.
At the low end of the VR scale sit smartphone-powered headsets like the Gear VR and Google Daydream, which can be plenty immersive but are somewhat lacking in tracking movement and visual quality. On the other side of the seesaw are the PC-powered premium VR systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, while Microsoft is aiming for the middle, with its Windows Mixed Reality platform bolstered by hardware from Samsung, Dell, Lenovo and others.
On that scale, the Oculus Go looks like it will sit just above mobile VR, providing the same kind of experiences without the purchase of the latest Galaxy phone. Oculus has said that the new headset is compatible with all apps and games already available for the Gear VR, giving it quite a large library from day one. To keep that cross-pollination working, the Go's controllers also look and work much the same as the Gear's.
The Oculus Go does away with the need for any external hardware, packing all the brains into the headset itself. Although there's no word yet on just what kind of specs will be in there, the low price and compatibility with Gear VR titles suggests hardware on the scale of phones rather than PCs.
What we do know is that the Go contains a fast-switching LCD "screen" (read: eyepieces) with a combined resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels, which should help reduce the grainy "screen door effect" common to mobile VR. The headset also has a pair of spatial audio speakers built into the sides, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack if you'd rather immerse yourself and not the neighbors.
If the Go is the self-contained version of the Gear VR, then another project in development, codenamed Santa Cruz, is the Rift's standalone equivalent. First teased last year, Oculus finished off the keynote with a quick update on that project, giving a glimpse at the Touch-inspired controllers in the works.
The team says it has managed to get the infrared LEDs on the Santa Cruz controllers working with the headset's inside-out tracking system, which is no easy feat: to be standalone, the Santa Cruz system can't rely on external sensors placed around the room to track the position of the headset and controllers, like the Rift uses. Instead, the headset itself needs to know where the controllers are at all times, and the Oculus team has said the system can now track both over a fairly wide area, thanks to four ultra-wide sensors embedded in the visor.
Oculus isn't the first to attempt a standalone VR headset: Google has some in the works for its Daydream line, and New Atlas tried out the Alcatel Vision at IFA last year (although it seems to have vanished into thin air since then). But the Oculus Go is likely to be the first one to market when it hits in early 2018, with a reasonable price tag of US$199.