Oculus, Facebook's virtual-reality division, on Wednesday announced plans to ship a $199 virtual reality headset that doesn't require a smartphone or a PC early next year.
Facebook hopes the Oculus Go will appeal to consumers who have balked at paying for the more expensive Oculus Rift headset, which requires a powerful-enough PC, and to those who preferred lower-priced, lower-resolution competitors that require a smartphone to run.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new headset will help Oculus reach a goal of getting 1 billion people into VR.
"I'm more committed than ever to the future of virtual reality," he said during the opening keynote of Oculus Connect 4, the company's annual conference for virtual reality developers at the San Jose Convention Center.
"It's not about escaping reality, it's about making reality better," Zuckerberg said. "It's about curing diseases, connecting families, spreading empathy, rethinking work and bringing us all closer together. VR is about imagining the world as it could be."
In another effort to boost sales, Oculus said it has dropped the price tag of the Rift, including touch controllers, to $399. The headset alone cost $600 when it went on sale last year. It's the latest of a series of deep price cuts across the industry that signal companies' eagerness to reach a mass audience.
The company is also working on a wireless Rift prototype that would eliminate the current cable between the headset and a PC.
Oculus Go could give the company a relatively high-level VR experience but without the high price of equipment, which includes the secondary cost of a computer powerful enough to run the technology.
The research firm CCS Insight predicted that the vast majority of headsets shipped this year -- 13 million of 16 million total -- will be smartphone-reliant devices such as Samsung's Gear VR, which uses Oculus technology. The rest are divided up between Oculus, HTC's Vive and Sony's PlayStation VR.
"Facebook is betting on hardware pricing to broaden VR appeal," CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber said. However, he said, "$199 for the new stand-alone headset and $399 for the Oculus Rift bundle is punchy, but it's still a tough sell. Getting consumers to just experience VR is the first hurdle."
And while the Go could broaden the audience, he said, consumers still need "a compelling reason to adopt it."
Oculus previewed upcoming VR titles from Disney's Pixar Animation Studios due out in November, an upcoming "Blade Runner 2049" game for next year and a first-person combat shooter from "Titanfall" maker Respawn Entertainment scheduled for 2019.
But Gartner analyst Brian Blau said Oculus executives still realize VR will not capture a larger audience right away.
"They think that VR and immersive tech is the next great computing platform, but they're also cautious in saying it's going to take a long time to develop," Blau said. "They want people to be patient and enjoy what's there now."
Zuckerberg issued an apology this week after posting a virtual and augmented reality tour of hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico. In the video, Zuckerberg and Rachel Franklin, Facebook's head of social VR, are the tour guides, but both are represented on-screen as cheery cartoon versions of themselves, built with a Facebook VR creation tool called Spaces.
"One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy," he wrote in a post. "My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what's happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn't clear, and I'm sorry to anyone this offended."
Benny Evangelista is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @ChronicleBenny ___
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