If you are interested in virtual reality, you surely know that the buzzword of 2018 is “standalone.” All the major VR companies are betting on standalone VR devices: HTC Vive China president Alvin Wang Graylin announced in a recent interview that his goal for 2018 is to see standalone devices becoming successful and Oculus’ Hugo Barra has expressed a similar opinion.
But what are standalone VR devices? And why do all of these important people believe in them? Let me answer these questions for you.
What is a standalone VR device?
The typical virtual reality headset can come in two flavors:
- Connected to a PC for an expensive, high performance experience (e.g. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive);
- Integrated with your mobile phone for a cheap, low quality experience (e.g. Gear VR and Daydream).
Figure 1 Oculus Go standalone headset (Image credit: Oculus)
Standalone VR sits somewhere in the middle between these two extremes: it is a good quality experience, for an affordable price. But its peculiarity is that standalone VR headsets do not require anything else to work: they don’t need a phone or a PC; they work out of the box. A standalone device is similar to a mobile VR headset, but it already includes all the required electronical parts, it already embeds the display, the processing power and all the other hardware inside. It is a computer on its own.
Figure 2 Vive Focus device (Image credit: HTC Vive)
This means that the user can buy it, unbox it and then put it on his/her head to start living VR experiences immediately.
Why are all the companies betting on them?
Standalones offer a lot of clear advantages over the other available VR devices:
- They are affordable. A standalone VR headset costs less than a Samsung phone plus GearVR or than an Oculus Rift plus VR-ready PC. Some standalones are really cheap: the upcoming Oculus Go, for instance, will cost only US $200, and this will let a lot of people afford entering virtual reality;
- They are easy to use. They don’t require setups of any kind. Every person can use them, even without technological expertise. The user just has to just put the device on his/her head. This means that virtual reality may exit the techie realm and enter into the consumers domain;
- They are handy. It is very easy to carry a headset with you by just putting it in your backpack;
- They come in various flavors, like:
- very cheap standalone devices, such as the Oculus Go and Pico Goblin, that offer a very basic experience;
- more expensive devices that let the user move inside virtual reality, like the Vive Focus and Lenovo Mirage Solo;
- Oculus Santa Cruz and Pico Neo that offer an expensive experience but with the ability to move and interact within the virtual world.
In my previous post, I highlighted how price and ease of use are two of the pain points of virtual reality. Standalone devices can solve both. They can make virtual reality mainstream and can be the key to eventually get 1 billion people in virtual reality, as Mark Zuckerberg wants. That’s why always more companies are betting on this form factor.
There’s a big issue that I want to highlight: in the very short term, standalones are VR-only devices, so they require people to spend money just to experience virtual reality. But the general consumer still doesn’t understand the purpose of VR and, in fact, a lot of free Cardboards and Gear VRs gather dust on the shelves. This means that the various manufacturers will have to convince people why they need to spend money to have VR.
Standalone devices will be important for VR widespread diffusion. But, as you can see, the road to mainstream adoption is still long.