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The battle of the VR headsets is heating up. Earlier this year the Facebook owned Oculus announced that in 2018 they plan to release a standalone VR headset codenamed Pacific for $200 (about £150). This would place it in the sweet spot between the high price units that depend on external computing power – like a powerful PC – and the low end devices that require a smartphone to be slotted into a holder.
This price point is actually better than it looks because it’s $200 for a device that requires no additional hardware. This is in addition to the company’s other standalone offering, the Santa Cruz. The difference between the two is that Santa Cruz is set to offer head-tracking and room-scale virtual reality without needing any hookup – wired or wireless – to a computer.
This already gave rise to rumours that Oculus was planning to release two standalone headsets. However, it turns out that two may be an underestimate. A new report by Ars Technica suggests that Oculus and its parent Facebook is actually considering the possibility of launching a whole spectrum of standalone VR headsets.
The Pacific is to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. However, the low price for a standalone product – together with s recent price cut for the Oculus Rift from $499.00 to $399.00 suggests that Pacific may in fact be a loss leader. The forthcoming Daydream headset from an alliance of Google and HTC will provide the same level of performance (standalone but no head-tracking) for a significantly lower price.
It could also be a sign that despite much publicity long before it ever launched a product, Oculus is struggling to compete. According to Stephanie Llamas, VP of Research and Strategy at SuperData research: “Oculus is losing the high-end race to HTC Vive.” She also observed that Oculus’ parent company Facebook “is not a company for the niche consumer – their selling point is how accessible their services are to anyone, anywhere. So finding something with the potential for mass penetration is a priority, especially with Rift’s bumpy past.”
An alternative opinion was presented by Karol Severin of MIDI Research, pointing out that the price reduction was temporary.
“Instead of devaluing its own product, it’s smart for Facebook to introduce a mid-range device, with the hope of maintaining higher price points of top tier VR devices in the future, when more and better content becomes available for them.”
“More justifiable price points and an increasing volume of content (not only in terms of the number of titles, but also in terms of the genre and entertainment format scope) will make VR more appealing to the masses over time.”
However, Llamas maintains that the reduction indicated that oculus was suffering from “a lack of confidence.”
The question is how much will Santa Cruz and Pacific do to restore that confidence? We’ll know next year.