The Standalone VR Headsets Are Coming

The Standalone VR Headsets Are Coming
July 20, 2017

It's becoming clearer and clearer that standalone VR headsets will be a big part of the second generation of this current virtual reality wave. We're talking about VR headsets that don't need a phone or a PC to power them, everything is built right into the device - display, processor, sensors, connectivity, battery, cameras.


Sure, we've seen a few of these pop up over the last few years from lesser known upstarts. But when Google and Facebook's Oculus signal their intentions, you know it's more than the beginnings of a trend. This could be the reality of wearing these devices in future, maybe even in the next 12 months.


Why standalone?


Well, why not? The promise of the standalone VR headset is the best of both worlds - the wireless freedom and ease of use of mobile VR with the power and pixels of high-end VR. That's the theory anyway - finding VR's sweet spot.


Then there's the price. Aside from the PlayStation VR and the upcomingWindows Mixed Reality headsets from Lenovo, Asus, Dell etc, there's not much competition in the area between $100 and $400 even though Oculus did just discount Rift + Touch down to the top end of that range.


The beauty of the standalone is that the cost of the device that's powering it is built in - you don't need to also fork out for a gaming PC or high-end Samsung, say.


There are also a few practical reasons to consider - you might not want to constantly charge your phone, you might not own or need the latest and greatest handsets, the rest of the family might want to use the PC without you flailing around 1m behind them etc etc.


Google is leading the charge

At Google I/O we saw a big push towards standalone headsets running Google's Daydream VR platform, which we have so far associated with mobile but only actually tested one headset for.


HTC Vive and Lenovo are both building standalone Daydream headsets, both due out later this year. We have more to go on for the Vive Daydream headset: we have some pictures teasing a bulky but not ridiculous-looking headset (as long as it's not too heavy); we know both will have inside-out WorldSense tracking for six degrees of freedom and no basestations or external sensors to track how your body is moving in 3D space.


Everything will be done on the headset. You can turn, walk and move freely and the headset will keep track. 6DoF tracking plots your head in terms of your X, Y and Z axis. So it monitors head movements forward and backwards, side to side and shoulder to shoulder, otherwise known as pitch, yaw and roll.


And HTC has confirmed there will be no crossover with SteamVR - the Daydream headset will be for Daydream apps and games only. It also looks like the Vive headset, and probably all, will come with a single handheld controller like the Daydream View. The Lenovo, meanwhile, seems to be more of a PSVR-style design but with much the same features.


Oculus isn't far behind


Facebook's first standalone Oculus headset was codenamed Santa Cruz and we got our first look at it way back in October 2016. The latest reports suggest that by next year we could have a budget standalone VR headset from Oculuscodenamed Pacific to compete with the untethered Daydreams.


The release is likely to be held back to 2018 but with a suggested price of $200 it could be worth the wait especially as it is touted to be superior to the very popular Gear VR. Zuckerberg has money to pour into his VR/AR investments, that's for sure.


Those in the know say this is different to the Santa Cruz prototype which is more of a Rift 2 and that the budget Pacific won't have positional tracking. Even more stories recently are suggesting that Oculus is developing a "spectrum" of different VR headsets, some with full motion tracking but that no new hardware will be released in 2017. Still, look out for news at Oculus Connect 4 in October.


How did we get here?

None of these developments are a surprise, the pursuit of truly standalone headsets has been bubbling away for a while and not just at Oculus. In early 2016, Samsung's head of R&D Injong Rhee indicated it was developingdedicated VR headsets that don't require one of its Galaxy smartphones, feature positional tracking and will include hand and gesture tracking at some point. It looks like we got our first glimpse at one of these, the Exynos VR 3, which popped up at Mobile World Congress Shanghai.


Late in 2016, Qualcomm unveiled a reference untethered headset with super specs: the VR820 rocked an AMOLED display with 1440 x 1440 resolution per eye, Qualcomm's 820 mobile processor and low 18ms latency. At the same time it hinted at its close relationship with Google and powering its new categories of devices.


Google's own efforts date back to at least 2016 when it was rumoured to be building a standalone VR/AR headset with eye tracking and positional tracking. And Intel has its own Project Alloy VR + AR reference device but doesn't seem to be in as good a position as Qualcomm.


At that year's IFA, the Alcatel Vision was a bonafide all-in-one headset, battery powered and cellular connected, because why not? Unsurprisingly, we haven't heard much about it since then.


Should you wait?

Whether to wait depends on what you want from a VR headset and how much money you have to burn.


If you're looking for something mid-range, between the Windows headsets - which require a PC - and these upcoming standalone headsets, it just might be worth staying put for six months. That's a long time though - just think of the hours of VR gaming you could get in.

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