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The stand-alone VR headset market just got bigger with Facebook’s new Oculus Go

During the Oculus Connect 4 keynote on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the company is currently working on a stand-alone VR headset called Oculus Go. Similar to the upcoming stand-alone “Daydream” headset initiative from Google and Qualcomm, you won’t need a smartphone to experience virtual reality. You also won’t need to tether the headset to a parent PC like Facebook’s premium VR headset, the Oculus Rift.

According to Zuckerberg, Oculus Go will ship in early 2018 for $199. He didn’t reveal anything else outside the brief tease, but Facebook’s head of VR Hugo Barro came out on stage to provide a few more details about the upcoming stand-alone VR product. He said it targets that sweet spot between high-end and mobile so you can get a tether-free, device-free full-motion VR experience without breaking the bank.

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Oculus Go

For starters, Oculus VR designed the headset to be super lightweight, and provide soft elastic straps with high adjustability, so you can forget about them once you dive into a virtual experience. The faceplate also consists of a new mesh fabric that’s breathable for an extremely comfortable fit. The remaining shell and front appear built from hard plastic to protect the components within.

Oculus Go

On the hardware front, Barro wasn’t exactly forthcoming. But he did spend some time talking about the viewing experience, which relies on next-generation versions of the custom lenses used in the Oculus Rift. He said these lenses provide the same field-of-view and significantly-reduced glare as the Rift versions. They’re also backed by a “fast-switch LCD screen” packing a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, and a higher pixel fill rate than an OLED screen can allegedly accomplish. This resolution promises a reduced screen-door effect for sharper text and cleaner images.

But that’s not all: Oculus Go will sport integrated spatial audio. That means if you see a virtual dog barking in the corner of your left eye, the sound will stem from the dog’s direction. Turn to look directly at the animal, and the barking source will move with the dog as it centers in your view. Barro said your friends and family will be able to hear the audio too, without wearing a headset.

Oculus Go

Finally, Barro said that Oculus Go is binary compatible with Samsung’s Gear VR. That means the Android-based apps you purchased for Samsung’s smartphone-based VR headset will work with Oculus Go right out of the box. That also gives us a clue as to what’s inside Oculus Go, considering Samsung’s Galaxy-class smartphones rely on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, or its own in-house Exynos chips.

Qualcomm actually provides a developer kit for stand-alone VR headsets based on its Snapdragon 835 processor. It includes dual front-facing cameras for tacking your position in the real world, which rely on a separate processor that handles the motion-tracking. This frees up the Qualcomm chip to deal with the processing and graphics rendering of the virtual experience.

Barro said that developer kits for Oculus Go will be made available in November. Given that it will be compatible with Gear VR apps, it will already have a large library of experiences right out of the box. A retail version of the Oculus Go will arrive in early 2018.

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Since the debut of its very first Oculus Rift prototype, Oculus VR has been making virtual reality more accessible. Following on from the Gear VR, it released the Oculus Go in mid-2018 and will follow it up with another standalone headset in 2019, called the Oculus Quest. Both require no additional hardware to operate and have much lower price tags than some of the VR competition, but which is better? We pitted the Oculus Quest vs. Oculus Go, to find out.
VR headset development has improved in recent years and both the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest reflect that. They have different color schemes, but both offer a smooth exterior with no obvious sensor bumps or dips like the HTC Vive. We found both to be comfortable to wear over extended periods, with enough space for various face shapes and sizes. However, we did note some light bleed at the base of the Go's padding, which meant that it was often more immersive to use in a darkened room.

Although the head mounting mechanisms and cushioning of both headsets are pretty comparable, there is a noticeable difference in weight. Where the Oculus Go weighs the same as the Oculus Rift -- around 470 grams -- the Oculus Quest with its additional sensors and internal hardware, weighs in at 100 grams heavier. Oculus is reportedly still fine-tuning it, and it didn't cause any difficulties for us in terms of comfort, but it may become more of a factor for longer play sessions.

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