360-degree video is a great way to tell immersive stories. Until recently though, the experience hasn’t been all that accessible. Just to view 360-degree content the way it was meant to look, you’d need an expensive headset like an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and a fairly beefy computer to run it on like a high-end Alienware or something with a powerful graphics card. This meant that while VR content was being produced in droves, few people were experiencing it the way it was meant to be. That’s about to change. Oculus just announced a standalone VR headset called the Oculus Go.
Right now, using one of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift headsets is an exercise in frustration. Setup involves a lot of steps and wires. Those wires limit your movement and are the first things to take you out of a VR experience as you trip over them. Audio doesn’t sound great and sliding your own headphones on top of the headset adds to the wires and discomfort. You’re also flipping the headset up and poking at the computer to make it go. Once all of that’s done though, it’s a wild ride to experience 360-degree video (or a VR world) the way it was meant to be. You can of course circumvent the computer and the wires by shoving your phone into a headset, such as the Gear VR, but then you’re losing your phone. And the cracked screen won’t do much to help the immersive experience.
The Oculus Go does away with all of that. It’s a standalone VR system that comes in at $199, something that will get VR and 360-degree video experiences in the hands of more users. It comes in at quite a bit less than the $399 Rift, and without the added expense of a computer. At the unveiling of the Oculus Go at the Oculus Connect event on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it falls in the “sweet spot” of phone-based mobile VR and computer-tethered PC VR, calling it “the most accessible VR experience ever.” There was a higher-end “Santa Cruz” model headset announced at the same event, but what’s really going to drive content creation in 360-degree video will be the headset that the masses can afford (and can justify buying).
There weren’t too many details on the Oculus website about the GO — the release date is a nebulous “next year” and it still needs FCC certification — but Facebook's Head of Virtual Reality Hugo Barra revealed some of the details in the keynote address. The fast-switch LCD technology allows for 2560x1440 resolution, and the headset has built-in spatial audio capabilities eliminating the need for headphones.
Nokia is probably wishing it didn’t choose this week to pull out of the 360-degree video camera market right about now. For everyone else creating 360-degree video and VR content, it’s about to get a whole lot easier to get people to experience your work the way it was meant to be.