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Google's Virtual Reality Tinkering May Get More Real

By Quinten Plummer
Feb 17, 2016 10:27 AM PT

Google is developing a standalone virtual reality headset that will be several steps removed from Google's Cardboard VR, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. Instead of relying on a user's smartphone and a lens-fitted cardboard headset, it will have all the necessary components built in.

It also won't have to rely on a PC or a console for processing power as do Sony's PlayStation VR, HTC's Vive and Oculus VR's Rift headsets, according to the Journal's sources. It will have integrated processors, lenses, cameras and sensors.

Chipmaker Movidius will provide the chips for the headset, enabling the device to track the motion of the user's head based on input from the product's cameras, according to the WSJ.

Pricing is expected to fall in the mid-tier range.

Supporting Evidence

Google declined to comment on the rumors that it has been working on a standalone VR headset, but evidence suggests that it is.

Last month, the company moved Clay Bavor from his role as vice president of product management and installed him as vice president of virtual reality.

Along with putting one of its best brains on virtual reality, it has offered curious job postings calling for talent to develop VR cameras and battery-powered portable products.

Fall Into the Gap

A midtier headset follows the logic of Cardboard. Google has introduced more than 5 million people to VR, and a standalone product could take those followers even deeper down the rabbit hole.

If Google is as serious about VR as it has said it is, it will need to move forward from Cardboard. The tech is limited in the type of experiences it can offer, even when compared to Samsung's $100 Gear VR, according to Patrick Walker, VP of insights and analytics at EEDAR.

"I would expect this next project to be an evolution of the Google Cardboard that will phase it out, especially because the price point of the Google VR headset will likely be relatively low but will offer so much more VR capability than the Google cardboard," he told TechNewsWorld.

A standalone Google VR headset would be an interesting play, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst at Tirias Research. With the Rift set at US$600 and the Vive expected to top that, there's a gulf between high-end VR experiences and the Cardboard and Gear VR types.

"It's a very good opportunity for someone to fill in the gap," he told TechNewsWorld. "There's a giant hole between the two experiences, and I'm surprised more companies haven't done something in the price range between $300 and $600."

Filling that gap could make the Google device priced to sell well, picking up consumers let down by the high cost of the Rift.

"From a price-point point of view, something in the midtier could sell a million or more units, while the higher-end stuff, despite the hype, might only sell tens of thousands of units, not a high volume, at this stage," said EEDAR's Walker.

Market Watch

EEDAR sees two primary verticals in the VR market, he noted.

"The high-end VR devices are targeting a consumer who is an early adopter and heavy gamer, whether on console or PC," said Walker.

That market is in the crosshairs of Facebook's Oculus Group, HTC and Valve, and Sony. It's different from the mainstream, more accessible market Google and Samsung have gone after, he said.

"Therefore," Walker said, "we think that the Google initiatives will have much more impact on the Gear VR than on Oculus, HTC and Sony products."

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

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