Ocu­lus seeks ‘sweet spot’ with new VR head­set

Com­pany says it will un­veil de­vice that doesn’t have to be teth­ered to com­puter

The Mercury News - - Sports - By Quee­nie Wong qwong@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Face­book’s Ocu­lus wants to get 1 bil­lion peo­ple into vir­tual re­al­ity, but con­sumers might think twice about em­brac­ing the tech­nol­ogy if they see a high price tag.

Now, Ocu­lus is try­ing to make vir­tual re­al­ity more af­ford­able for the masses.

On Wed­nes­day, Face­book CEO and co-founder Mark Zucker­berg said Ocu­lus will be re­leas­ing a new vir­tual re­al­ity head­set for $199 next year that doesn’t need to be teth­ered to a com­puter. The head­set — called Ocu­lus Go — will be higher qual­ity than the cheaper Sam­sung Gear VR, which is de­signed to work with a smart­phone.

Ocu­lus has been try­ing to find a “sweet spot” when it comes to the price and qual­ity of a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set. The com­pany also slashed the price of the Ocu­lus Rift and touch con­trollers, which re­quire a high-end per­sonal com­puter, from $499 to $399 on Wed­nes­day.

“We be­lieve that one day, al­most ev­ery­body is go­ing to use vir­tual re­al­ity to im­prove how we work, how we play and how we con­nect to each other,” Zucker­berg said at Ocu­lus’ an­nual de­vel­oper con­fer­ence at the San Jose McEn­ery Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

From ex­plor­ing new places to con­duct­ing meet­ings in vir­tual re­al­ity, the tech­nol­ogy isn’t just about recre­at­ing real life, but “imag­in­ing the world as it could be,” the tech mogul said.

But ac­cess and price are just some of the hur­dles Ocu­lus faces as it tries to make vir­tual re­al­ity main­stream. De­vel­op­ers will also need to cre­ate

more com­pelling con­tent out­side of gam­ing.

Low­er­ing the price helps in­crease ac­cess to the tech­nol­ogy, but it’s still un­clear if con­sumers will start us­ing vir­tual re­al­ity in their daily lives like they do with their smart­phones, ex­perts say.

“The shift from the com­put­ing en­vi­ron­ments that we have to­day, which are by and large a flat screen, to ones that are im­mer­sive screens is go­ing to be the most chal­leng­ing tech­nol­ogy shift that we will likely ever face,” said Brian Blau, an an­a­lyst at Gart­ner.

Face­book has high hopes that vir­tual re­al­ity will be­come the next com­put­ing plat­form.

The so­cial me­dia giant bought Ocu­lus in 2014 for $2 bil­lion and paid an­other $1 bil­lion for em­ployee re­ten­tion bonuses and other deals.

Through the use of vir­tual re­al­ity, Face­book en­vi­sions a fu­ture where its users will be able to ex­pe­ri­ence mo­ments shared by their friends and fam­i­lies, such as birth­days or a baby’s first steps, like they’re there in real life.

But the tech firm still has to con­vince con­sumers that buy­ing a vir­tual re­al­ity head­set is worth the price. The new Ocu­lus Go head­set has bet­ter vis­ual clar­ity than a mo­bile head­set like the Sam­sung Gear VR, but is also com­fort­able be­cause it’s light­weight, said Hugo Barra, who leads vir­tual re­al­ity ef­forts at Face­book.

“Build­ing VR head­sets re­quires a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach com­pared to any other con­sumer elec­tron­ics. You re­ally have to un­der­stand how the hu­man per­cep­tual sys­tem works and you need to learn how to con­vince the brain,” Barra said.

Ocu­lus, though, has faced other chal­lenges, in­clud­ing ship­ment de­lays, a lead­er­ship shuffle, the de­par­ture of a co-founder and an in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty theft trial.

This week, Zucker­berg apol­o­gized for of­fend­ing some users af­ter he vis­ited a flooded Puerto Rico in vir­tual re­al­ity through the use of a car­toon avatar.

Spend­ing on aug­mented re­al­ity and vir­tual re­al­ity prod­ucts and ser­vices is ex­pected to grow world­wide from $11.4 bil­lion this year to $215 bil­lion in 2021, the In­ter­na­tional Data Cor­po­ra­tion said in Au­gust.

Ocu­lus ex­ec­u­tives ex­pressed con­fi­dence that their bets on vir­tual re­al­ity will even­tu­ally pay off.

“This is go­ing to hap­pen,” said Ocu­lus’ Chief Sci­en­tist Michael Abrash. “It’s re­ally a ques­tion of how quickly it hap­pens be­cause it’s not tech­no­log­i­cally im­pos­si­ble, and it is so pow­er­ful that it will hap­pen.”


Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg an­nounces Ocu­lus Go dur­ing his key­note ad­dress at the Ocu­lus Con­nect 4event held Wed­nes­day at the San Jose McEn­ery Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. The head­set is ex­pected to be avail­able next year.

Kristin Crist of San Jose takes Face­book Spa­ces out for a test run at Ocu­lus Con­nect 4 at the San Jose McEn­ery Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Wed­nes­day.

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