Report: Google aiming at Facebook’s Oculus with standalone VR system

Facebook’s move into virtual reality may be directly challenged by its arch-nemesis — Google.

Google is working on a virtual reality headset of its own that could take on Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the Wall Street Journal reported. Unlike the Rift and other rival systems that are already on the market or slated to hit shelves soon, Google’s will be a standalone device. It won’t need to be plugged into a computer or rely on a smartphone for its display, anonymous “people familiar with the matter” told the Journal.

But that’s not the only virtual move Google’s making. The search giant is also developing a new version of its Cardboard virtual reality viewer. That inexpensive device, which looks kind of like a modern day View-Master, allows users to view virtual content streamed from a smartphone but has no electronics of its own. The new iteration will be plastic and include sensors and computer chips, according to the Journal.

Google’s investments in virtual reality come as three major VR systems are about to hit store shelves. Both the Rift and HTC’s Vive are set to launch this spring. Sony’s PlayStation VR, which will be an accessory of its PlayStation 4 game console, is expected out later this year. A fourth system, Samsung’s Gear VR, which serves as a VR viewer for some of the company’s smartphones, went on sale in the fall.

The standalone virtual reality headset Google is developing will be distinct from those rivals. It will be powered by its own chips and will have its own built-in display, according to the Journal. It will also include cameras that could potentially be used to view the real world outside of the headsets.

Google could launch the new version of Cardboard as soon as its annual developer conference, which will take place in May, the Journal reported. It’s not clear when or even if Google will release the standalone VR system, but the Journal said it could potentially unveil it later this year.

Last month, Google named Clay Bavor, a vice president of product management at the company who had overseen the launch of Cardboard, as the new head of its virtual reality efforts.

In anticipation of the new VR systems hitting the market, the hype over virtual reality has been building. The technology will offer users amazing experiences. But it faces an uncertain market. The new systems will be expensive, especially if you factor in the PCs or game consoles needed to power them. And the content being developed for them, which is largely comprised of iterations of traditional console games, may not be particularly well suited for them.

File Photo: One of the buildings at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View. (Matt O’Brien/Mercury News)


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