Zuckerberg teases a prototype standalone Oculus VR headset

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage today at the Oculus Connect developers conference and showed off a taste of the company’s mobile VR future.

The hallmark feature of the new prototype standalone headset is positional tracking. In a brief demo video, the headset appeared to be a modified Rift with a compute module embedded into the back of the headset. This positional tracking technology allows the headset to understand where it is in physical space and adjust the onscreen content accordingly. With 360 videos, you’re limited to a spherical viewpoint from a fixed point, but with positional tracking enabled you can walk through an experience and see a story from every angle. There’s a reason that plenty of enthusiasts refer to this as the hallmark feature of “real VR.”

Zuckerberg said development is still incredibly early, but that it’s on the product roadmap. Unbelievably the word “affordable” was mentioned at some point.

Positional tracking has previously only been available on the major high-end VR headsets including Oculus’s Rift headset, the HTC Vive and PS VR, but with this announcement Oculus is closing the gap between mobile VR experiences and their high-powered counterparts.

Oculus, which released its Gear VR consumer headset to Samsung Galaxy users this past November, is facing increasingly stiff competition in the mobile VR headset space, particularly from Google, which launched its Daydream View headset earlier this week. It appears that rather than smartphone mobile VR, Oculus is looking at a standalone strategy.

Oculus has developed a strong presence in the mobile VR space, largely from major initiatives on the part of Samsung and mobile carriers to provide the headset free alongside purchases of compatible Samsung devices. The company reported in May that there were over one million monthly active users on the platform though this was directly after Samsung shipped a headset with every S7 pre-order so it’s unclear what those numbers look like now after consumers have had a chance to exhaust the available VR content on the device.

Positional tracking on mobile is a technology that’s long been available but the key for Oculus has been ensuring that it doesn’t kill your battery immediately. This is something that Oculus CTO John Carmack has talked about very passionately.

It appears that the company was either unable to get positional tracking tech where it needed to be for mobile VR’s power consumption needs or it is conceding to Google and focusing on owning the next platform hardware.

There were no details given a potential launch date but it would behoove Oculus to get this one out quickly.