Monday 11 December 2017

Facebook to slash prices of Oculus units in bid to give virtual reality a takeup

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg presenting at Oculus 4, Facebook's annual virtual reality conference
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg presenting at Oculus 4, Facebook's annual virtual reality conference
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Facebook is bidding to give virtual reality takeup a boost by slashing the prices of its Oculus units and expanding content into its main social newsfeeds.

At the company’s annual virtual reality conference, Oculus 4, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced a new standalone VR headset, Oculus Go, to be released next year for $199 (with no eurozone price yet). The new gadget will be the first major mobile VR headset that doesn’t require a phone or a cabled connection to a PC. It will include orientation tracking and a controller and is aimed at punters who want to watch movies, play games or “hang out” with other VR users online using virtual avatars.

The company also announced a price cut to its flagship Oculus Rift set, reducing the cost from $499 to $399 in the US. This cut is also expected to hit Irish pricing, which currently stands at €649 for the Rift.

Meanwhile, Facebook has unveiled its big VR project for the future - a wireless, full powered headset that will have similar performance and tracking levels to the flagship Rift product. Calling it Project Santa Cruz, Mark Zuckerberg said that the unit would ship in 2019.

An Oculus 4 attendee tries out the Oculus Rift virtual reality system
An Oculus 4 attendee tries out the Oculus Rift virtual reality system

The announcements will be seen as an effort to keep virtual reality to the forefront of technology investment.

Flagged over the last two years as the next big thing, the hype around virtual reality has abated over the last 12 months with few big announcements coming from major players.

Gaming, once seen as an instant winner for virtual reality platforms, has seen a slow take up of the technology.

Facebook, which owns Oculus, is trying to promote the expansion of virtual reality into wider areas such as business, health and social interaction.

Its ‘Spaces’ feature lets people hang out virtually with each other using digital avatars. The platform was the focus of a minor controversy prior to the Oculus 4 conference, when Mark Zuckerberg had to apologise for insensitively using the Spaces feature in weather-devastated Puerto Rico.

However, the company wants to broaden awareness and interaction with VR interfaces by including 3D posts on ordinary Facebook newsfeeds.

The move will see 3D-drawn digital objects added to Facebook feeds where users on phones and computers will be able to move, open or otherwise fiddle around with objects in front of them.

The 3D artifacts can be created in Spaces or in Oculus Medium, Facebook’s virtual reality crafting zone.

Facebook is also switching on the ability to see comments when livestreaming from a Gear VR headset, while also adding live 360 video to Spaces.

Digital avatars within the medium are also to get a personalisation overhaul, with more hair, skin and clothing choices and lip-synched mouth movement, eye movement and facial expressions slated for introduction next year.

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