Oculus Go is a Fantastic Surprise

Oculus Go. Image Copyright: Oculus. Image used under fair use rationale
Oculus Go. Image Copyright: Oculus. Image used under fair use rationale

Of all the things I expected to read this morning, a press release about a new Oculus HMD was not very high on the list. Yet here we are, Oculus has revealed a standalone VR headset in the form of the Oculus Go. While we’re still waiting for standalone HMDs from Google and HTC, the original modern VR pioneers has just edged them all out with a product just about ready to hit shelves.

Priced to Sell

Let’s get right to the most important detail. Oculus is selling their standalone VR headset for a frugal $199. Presumably the inclusion of the phrase “starting at” indicates that this is the cost of the base model.

However, considering that a higher-end HMD case without any phone hardware costs pretty close to the two hundred mark, I’m pretty shocked at the asking price. It’s clear that Oculus is going for the jugular with the Go’s pricing and the folks at Google and HTC must be feeling a little hot under the collar right now.

What We Know About the Oculus Go

Oculus Go. Image Copyright: Oculus. Image used under fair use rationale
Oculus Go. Image Copyright: Oculus. Image used under fair use rationale

There’s not a lot of information about the internals of the Go yet, so it’s difficult to say whether the hardware Oculus is selling is a good deal at the asking price. However, I seriously doubt that the Go is to be sold at a profit. As with video game consoles which are sold at a loss, it is in Facebook’s interest to get their VR platform into as many hands as possible. A loss leader (or cost-neutral product) is a great way to do this. Remember that the PS4 was only $100 cheaper than the Xbox One at launch, but that small price difference played a large part in who won the war this generation.

We do know what screen will be in this unit, with Engadget reporting a 2560X1440 “fast switching” LCD. It seems one of the major goals Oculus has with the Go is to do away with the nasty chicken wire effect even high-end smartphone screens produce. They claim this display unit is amazing for visual clarity.

Loud and Proud

One weird move is the decision to build loudspeakers into the HMD itself. So you don’t need headphones to hear the spatial audio. That makes it very compact and convenient, but you might want to use the included headphone jack if you’re on a plane or something.

Gear Buddies

Oculus says that Go apps are binary compatible with Gear VR, which suggests the Go runs some form of Android.It also means developers only develop once for both platforms. The Gear controller is also already compatible. One way of looking at the Go then is as an uprated Gear VR that does not lock you into buying a specific brand and model of phone.

Track and Trace

Although the Oculus presser doesn’t seem to mention it, Engadget also reported that the Go uses onboard cameras to do a sort of inside-out tracking that we saw with the Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

If this is true then I feel even more confident in saying that external camera tracking is done. It now looks like a primitive interim-step to integrated 6DoF tracking and I don’t feel like I want to own an HMD that needs a clunky camera to sit around on my desk.

Warm and Fuzzy

It’s also interesting that the Go is a fabric-covered device in the same vein as the Google Daydream View. This may be a sign that VR for the masses will dump the shiny tech-nerd so that it appeals to tweens and the grandparents. Who, by the way, are now the main denizens of Facebook.

Not Santa Cruz

The Oculus Go is a separate product to the Santa Cruz headset. Which means that if you were hoping it could be used as a wireless HMD along with a powerful PC, you’re in for a disappointment. Getting wireless transmission of motion data and HD video to work with little enough latency for VR seems like a nightmare, but according to Oculus in the same presser they are still on track. So that’s something to look forward to in the future.

Ready for the Big Time

It seems like this may be it. It probably won’t be long until Google and HTC spring their standalones on us and then the mainstream VR revolution might actually happen. It will be interesting to see how the competition respond to the go in terms of pricing, although at this point the core hardware might already be set. Oculus might be holding off on GPU and processor specification announcements to stop Google and HTC from uprating their units at the last minute.

It’s also going to be important to see how this new form factor will be used best. Smartphones were not designed for VR, which is why their screens suck, they overheat and generally aren’t great for this application.

Having a dedicated device like this means you can do more in terms of  battery life, heat management and component specifications. There’s more room to work and the hardware doesn’t have to multitask.It’s truly exciting to anticipate what a purpose-built VR HMD will be like.

It seems that we’ll get to buy the Oculus Go early next year.

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