Oculus lets its first standalone headset Go out to users

VR vendor and Facebook subsidiary Oculus has been teasing its Go standalone VR headset since October of last year. In the meantime, HTC, the company's biggest competitor in the high-end VR market, has launched a premium headset worldwide and its own Vive Focus standalone VR platform in China. Oculus' Go has now been officially released and will beat the Vive Focus to the US market.

The Go uses a Snapdragon 821 SoC with Adreno 530 graphics found in two-generations-ago flagship phones like Samsung's Galaxy S7 and Google's first round of Pixel phones. Oculus, like HTC with its Vive Focus, was a bit shy about mentioning how much memory was packed into the Go, but The Verge says the headset sports 3 GB of RAM. The headset offers three-degrees-of-freedom tracking (3DoF). As one might suspect of a smartphone chip-based standalone headset, the Go runs Android 7.1.2 Nougat. The HMD has 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, and GPS capability, but as far as we can tell, no cellular connectivity.

The Oculus Go headset uses a single 5.5" "fast-switching" display with a resolution of 2560x1440, good for a pixel density of 538 PPI. Oculus says the combination of "crystal-clear optics and [its] best lenses yet" will help deliver increased resolution and decreased screen door effect when compared to its $399 flagship Rift PC VR headset. The manufacturer says the Go's display has been "tuned to be comfortable at 60 Hz," but developers can unlock a special 72-Hz mode for increased fluidity if the hardware allows. Display tearing during feature film playback can also benefit from the 72-Hz mode because the cinema 24-Hz is an even divisor. Oculus' engineers claim that the 3DoF tracking means that 60- and 72-Hz refresh rates should be enough to make for an enjoyable experience for most users.

Oculus says the base package includes built-in spatial audio and an integrated microphone. The company also notes that the straps, the unit's distribution of the 14.3-oz weight (407 g), and foam facial interface have been designed with comfort in mind. Slashgear says Chinese electronics manufacturer Xiaomi will build the headset on Facebook's behalf, and Chinese-bound examples will bear the manufacturer's Mi VR branding. Regardless of the badge on the front, Oculus says the Go headsets' built-in lithium-ion battery pack should deliver about two hours of gaming and about 2.5 hours of streaming video playback.

The Go and the Focus headsets look like they will play in different parts of the market. HTC's Vive Focus has a flagship-phone-sourced 10-nm-fabbed Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, an AMOLED display, and six-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) tracking for around $600, while Oculus' take sits at a much lower price. Sam Machkovech at Ars Technica says the tracking limitations mean the Go is best suited for seated VR applications. He goes on to say that the head tracking works well for picking up on head rotation or nodding, but that the headset doesn't respond to leaning.

Oculus says it has more than 1000 games, experiences, and apps to choose from. Content partners include outfits known for passive entertainment like Discovery, Hulu, and Netflix, as well as the games and edutainment apps one would expect on a VR platform. Part of the initial content library is made of enhanced ports from Samsung's Gear VR mobile platform, including Elevator... to the Moon! and Ocean Rift. Oculus says the Go is binary-compatible with most Gear VR software, but titles that use Google Play Services or some other phone-related APIs or hardware will not run properly.

Oculus has information for VR developers here. The company says devs can use Unity 5.6.5p2 or Unreal 4.18 or later to build their content, though coders will need some Oculus-provided add-ons for either engine. The performance optimization page on the company's site details some of the technologies the company used to wring every last bit of performance out of the Snapdragon 821. The highlights include a static foveated-rendering technique that saves GPU shader capability for the parts of the screen likely to be under the most scrutiny, as well as a special dynamic clock throttling technique. The clock rate tricks include a fifth throttling level for the SoC's CPU and GPU that allows higher performance than when the same Snapdragon 821 chip is used in Samsung's flagship-of-yore Galaxy S7. The optimization page is very interesting reading. Yours truly suggests anyone with a passing interest in VR at least bookmark it for later perusal.

The entry-level model with 32 GB of onboard storage space and a single wireless controller sells for $199. An extra $50 nets buyers double the storage capacity. For comparison's sake, HTC's more powerful Vive Focus headset with 6DoF inside-out tracking sells for ¥3999 (about $600) in China. Those of us dependent on corrective lenses can rejoice knowing that the Go will work with prescription lens inserts from FramesDirect.

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