The next generation of VR headsets is simple, affordable, and wireless

It’s a strange time to be a virtual reality agency.

With the halcyon days of 2016 – the year of VR – well behind us, virtual reality has settled into a comfort zone that some might call a rut. Not enough of the buying public has flocked to VR to make it a household staple and the tech-savvy media has largely shifted its attention to augmented reality, but with mammoth companies like Google and Facebook continuing to invest, the technology is in no danger of disappearing.

To borrow a couple terms from Gartner’s hype cycle chart, VR’s ‘peak of inflated expectations’ is well behind it, but so too is its ‘trough of disillusionment.’ Today, VR is climbing the ‘slope of enlightenment’ en route to the merry ‘plateau of productivity.’

In other words users, developers, and the odd virtual reality agency are coming to terms with what VR is, what it isn’t, and where it fits in the media landscape. Virtual reality may not replace television or film as a go-to source of entertainment, but by making headsets less cumbersome, easier to use, and more affordable, the major players can establish VR as a popular and profitable niche in the wider marketing and entertainment industries.

HTC Vive Focus

HTC released its newest VR headset in China in late 2017. If the device performs well there, it will likely make its way to western markets in the next year or two.

“I don’t see any reason why we would not release it in the rest of the world,” said HTC Vive China President Alvin Wang Graylin, according to TechRadar. “It is definitely our intent that if we have a good product, that it should be available to as many users as possible.”

The Focus headset is wireless, meaning it doesn’t rely on the computing power of a PC or smartphone. It runs on a Snapdragon 835 processor and its resolution of 2880 x 1600 surpasses the original HTC Vive’s combined resolution of 2160 x 1200. It is also compatible with at least one 8K video player.

If and when the HTC Vive Focus comes to North America, it is expected to sell for somewhere between $600 and $700. That will be too much for most consumers who aren’t hardcore gamers, but still significantly less than the combined cost of an original Vive headset and the high-powered computer needed to run it.

Oculus Rift Go

Like HTC’s Focus, Oculus’s upcoming headset won’t be tethered to a phone or computer. The Go, which should be released in the first half of this year, allows users to watch 360° videos, run games, and socialize with friends in immersive environments.

Oculus intends the Go to sit somewhere between Samsung’s Gear VR and the Rift in terms of performance. The lightweight headset is reported to deliver excellent visual clarity and has built-in spatial audio capabilities.

Perhaps most importantly, the Oculus Rift Go will retail at around $199 US, making it an affordable access point to high-quality virtual reality.

Project Santa Cruz

The Oculus Go isn’t the only trick up Facebook’s sleeve. Under the code name Project Santa Cruz, Oculus is working on a prototype VR headset that combines the Rift’s performance with the Go’s stand-alone, wireless functionality.

The Santa Cruz prototype is “very representative” of where Oculus wants to take virtual reality, Facebook VR chief Hugo Barra told The Verge. In essence, the Santa Cruz project intends to deliver Rift-quality experiences in a self-contained, easy-to-use headset. TechRadar said the project “could be the virtual reality headset everyone has been waiting for,” assuming Oculus manages to price it appropriately.

Lenovo Mirage Solo

Finally, Lenovo introduced the Mirage Solo at CES 2018. This is the first standalone headset to work on Google’s Daydream platform. The Mirage features Google’s WorldSense technology, which lets you roam virtual environments with six degrees of freedom.

TechRadar describes the Mirage Solo as “almost like the lovechild of the PSVR [PlayStation VR] headset and the Google Daydream view,” meaning simple design combined with quality performance. Like the Vive Focus, Mirago Solo runs on the Snapdragon 835 processor. It also features a 2560 x 1440 LCD display. Finally, the dual cameras at the front of the headset hint at future AR or mixed reality applications, which is exciting.

The Mirage Solo is expected to sell for under $400 US, placing it firmly between the Oculus Go and Vive Focus in terms of pricing. If early reviews are any indication, the headset may combine performance and affordability in a way that appeals to a broad consumer base.

 

Headsets from a number of smaller companies will hit the market in 2018 and beyond, but those from industry leaders like Facebook, HTC, and Google will undoubtedly attract the most attention. What we know about the Vive Focus, the Oculus Go, Project Santa Cruz, and Lenovo Mirage suggest a concerted effort to make VR more affordable, less complicated, and generally more accessible than it is today. All of this is good news for our virtual reality agency and others in the VR space. Increased accessibility and affordability will translate into adoption; eventually, VR will live up to its hype.

 

Image credit: Maurizio Pesce/Wikimedia Commons