Oculus Go, Facebook’s ambitious VR headset designed for the masses, is on sale now for $199. It’s the first VR headset that you’ll be able to just pick up off the table, turn on, place on your head, and play. And it comes with a tiny remote control that features a trackpad, motion sensitivity, and trigger for all the pew-pew games your heart desires.
If you’ve grown bored by the boom and bust hype cycle of VR over the last few years, it’s the perfect time to pay attention again, because Oculus Go will be the first VR headset positioned as a mature consumer product, rather than as a futurist’s fever dream. From the looks of it, Oculus Go is light years closer to an iPod than it is a VR market full of Rio MP3 player equivalents.
For the VR industry, the Oculus Go is a big deal, and it’s leading the charge of a slew of similar, stand-alone VR headsets to come.
Until now, VR headsets felt like experimental technology that could be sorted into two distinct camps: 1) You either set up a bunch of tracking equipment, and plug your headset into a powerful PC via a long, thick tether of cords, or 2) you take your phone and pop it into a VR case like the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream.
Having tried both extensively, I can tell you, they kind of stink! Option one costs thousands of dollars, and leaves you JACKING INTO VR like you’re in The Matrix every time you just want to look at your house on Google Earth. Option two is thwarted by too many tiny, dumb problems to count, like smudges on your phone screen, smartphone processors overheating, and the fact that you’re running a full smartphone OS that inevitably wants to go into phone mode while you’re just trying to set up VR.
Oculus Go is a headset that seems to address all of these fundamental problems that happen when bleeding-edge VR tech gets squeezed into whatever industrial design will fit it.
To make this magic trick work, packing VR into such a small, cheap package, Oculus made one pretty big compromise: The headset allows you to look up, down, and around, but it can’t sense when you move your head in Z space–which allows you to actually lean in to take a closer look at something. But in return, on the user end, you’ll be able to just pick up the device to watch Netflix on a simulated, 100-inch screen. On the consumer end, you’ll be able to buy (or gift) a single box to experience VR.
[Source Image: Oculus]
I know, I know, that shouldn’t sound impressive in a world dominated by good design. You might ask: “So VR is a product that kind of makes sense now? And we should be excited?” Yes and yes. Because it’s not just Facebook that’s admitting it understands VR’s product shortcomings. The entire industry is joining in.
Google is working with Lenovo to develop a stand-alone VR headset called the Mirage Solo (anticipated to run $400). Meanwhile, the HTC is developing the Vive Focus. Both of these headsets will feature the holy grail of VR tracking, which is known as 6DOF (or six degrees of freedom). This horribly nerdy term is quite important. A 6DOF headset senses, not just up, down, left, right like the Oculus Go can, but when you lean in and out, or even walk around a room. 6DOF makes VR feel like you really want it to. And without it, Oculus Go is obsolete on day one.
Indeed, maybe VR’s mass inflection point, sold to the world so convincingly in the recent hit book/movie Ready Player One, is still 5 or 10, or 20 years away. Or maybe a $199 way to peek inside VR will become a good enough, must-have gift of the next holiday season. That difference may simply come down to how well Facebook/Oculus really nailed the smallest of user experience touches, and not whether the Go is the highest resolution incarnation of VR, but the most approachable.