At Oculus Connect 5, Mark Zuckerburg unveiled the Oculus Quest. By the time Oculus Connect 6 arrived in 2019, the impact has been clear: the Oculus Quest is revolutionising virtual reality. Facebook believes that the future is tether-free, with no cables or powerful computers needed to run fun experiences. No external cameras, no computers – just standalone VR headsets and your room. 

But not everyone agrees with this future. In 2019 Brendan Iribe, the former Oculus co-founder, left the company after clashing with Facebook and their view of the future. Publicly, Brendan wanted to take a break after several years of work. Privately, TechCrunch’s sources report that there was a dispute following the cancellation of the PC-based Rift 2. With the Oculus Link, a way to play Rift experience son the Quest the merging between the two is now clear.

This is no surprise. Facebook’s applications thrived on being frictionless experiences, with ease of access and usability. Facebook is designed to be as easy as possible to browse, search, and engage for this reason. In their quest to get a billion people in virtual reality, standalone sets are the future. 

Thow Oculus Quest, one of several standalone VR headsets.
The Oculus Quest, revealed in 2018. Photo credit: Oculus.

What is a standalone VR headset?

Standalone VR headsets are similar to tethered headsets like the Oculus Rift S, HTC VIVE, or the HTC VIVE Pro. Like these headsets, players can interact with virtual worlds with 6DoF controllers, similar to the Oculus Touch. The headsets also provide high power and fidelity, powering immersive games and experiences.

However, the difference is that standalone headsets are not tethered to a powerful computer. Instead, the headset is disconnected and can be used without wires or sensors. While some controllers offer 3DoF, the upcoming Oculus Quest will offer 6DoF capabilities.

3DoF means the controllers work within three degrees of freedom. much like working in a pivot. 6DoF means six degrees of freedom, which give the user more freedom. For example, walking experiences would not be possible in a 3DoF headset, such as the Oculus Go. Whereas the Oculus Quest with 6DoF controls enables more complex experiences, such as Beat Saber.

These headsets work by having all the computer parts within the headset, including gyroscopes and sensors. This enables the headset to function without a PC, though with less power and functionality.

Standalone VR headsets are normally less powerful than their PC counterparts. High-end headsets can be connected to a powerful computer to bring ultra-realistic experiences, while the other uses mobile components. For example, Robo Recall looks better on the Oculus Rift S, while the Oculus Quest runs a less graphically intense version. While some VR titles are optimised for lower-end services, typically these experiences need a lot of power.

How do standalone VR headsets work?

6DoF headsets usually use a mix of cameras and internal gyrometers to map the room, so that players can wander around. These components communicate with one another to follow where the player is, where their controllers are, and whether they are near the corner of the room.

For example, on the Oculus Quest a player can draw a boundary in the room around them so that, when they are near it during gameplay, a red alert appears. This ensures players are safe while in the headset.

In the future, some headsets will be upgraded to track hand movements as well. The Oculus Quest will have hand tracking in 2020.

List of companies making standalone VR headsets

  • Oculus: The Oculus Go released in 2018 to widespread appeal and applause. The Oculus Quest, the next version with better controls, released in 2019 to critical acclaim.
  • HTC: The company released the HTC VIVE Focus in 2018, with no plans for a further iteration.
  • Lenovo: Lenovo released the Lenovo Mirage Solo in 2018, which received favourable reviews.

These same companies also make full-fledged VR systems that need a PC, such as the Oculus Rift S and the HTC VIVE Pro.

Currently, the four most relevant standalone VR headsets are:

  • Oculus Quest
  • HTC VIVE Focus
  • VIVE Focus Plus
  • Lenovo Mirage Solo

What is the difference between the VR headsets?

The Oculus Quest, HTC VIVE Focus, VIVE Focus Plus, and Lenovo Mirage Solo have several differences between each other:

  • Release: All four are commercially available.
  • Price: The Oculus Quest and Lenovo Mirage Solo are available for $399, while the HTC VIVE Focus is $599.
  • Motion controls: All four headsets are capable of 6DoF controls, via either ad-ons or built into the headset itself.
  • Software stores: The Daydream, Oculus, and VIVEPORT stores can be accessed by the Lenovo Mirage Solo, Oculus Quest, HTC VIVE Focus and VIVE Focus Plus respectively. The Oculus and VIVEPORT stores are the mobile versions, rather than their high-end counterparts for the Oculus Rift S and HTC VIVE.

In previous years, the motion controllers were a differentiating factor as standalone VR headsets did not normally use 6DoF systems. Now, headsets in 2019 will likely use 6DoF controllers.

In terms of financial benefits, the Oculus Quest has the best balance of price, software available, and quality of controls.

Is Oculus Quest the best standalone device?

Taking the above into account, the Oculus Quest is the best VR headset. With its low cost, lack of major set-up, and frictionless use, Facebook’s device has gained a lot of traction and popularity.

The Oculus Quest currently has a widespread store with plenty of stellar experiences on the system, some available for free.

By comparison, competitors need to offer great alternatives which can compete with the headset. While plans are scarce, competition may heat up through 2020.

What about the VIVE Focus Plus?

In early 2019, HTC announced the VIVE Focus Plus, a new headset intended for enterprise use. Released in Q2 2019, the headset features 6DoF controllers, a step up from the original VIVE Focus.

“At Vive, the announcement of Vive Focus Plus furthers our commitment to rapidly iterate and refine the VR market for both businesses and consumers,” said Paul Brown, General Manager, HTC Europe. “This rollout of Vive Focus Plus leads the way for deeper immersion, more realistic training and simulation, and easier porting of experiences from PC to the stand-alone category.”

Reviews have been positive for the device. However, the lack of content on the system compares poorly to the Oculus equivalent.

VIVE Focus Plus
The VIVE Focus Plus. Photo credit: HTC

Will standalone VR headsets become mainstream?

It is likely that the headsets will propel the market towards maturity.

CCS Insight, an analyst company, provided their forecast for the future of VR, with mixed views. The company predicts that the number of virtual reality headsets sold in 2018 has dropped, from 10 million in 2017 to 8 million in 2018. CCS Insight’s chief of research, Ben Wood, comments, “We continue to believe that content is the key to unlocking adoption of VR. Although some games companies and adult content creators have embraced VR technology, much more needs to happen to persuade consumers that virtual reality devices are a must-have item”.


Standalone Future

29,000,000

Number of standalone headsets forecast to be sold by 2022

A Bold Claim

$82,000,000,000

Combined market value of VR and AR by 2022

Out With The Old

5,000,000

Number of tethered headsets expected to be sold in 2019

Source: CCS Insight forecast, 2018


The insights match expectations across the industry. While tethered VR is stagnant, standalone VR headsets may invigorate the market as it is put in the hands of consumers. China has a head start with this, where the HTC VIVE Focus and Facebook’s collaboration with Xiaomi made a strong start in the country. 

Analyst claims should sometimes be taken with a pinch of salt. Yet with the ease of usability combined with a marketing push from multiple companies, the predictions for standalone VR headsets are likely correct, to an extent. 

Are standalone VR headsets less powerful?

Typically, standalone VR headsets are less powerful than their PC counterparts. The Oculus Quest, HTC VIVE Focus, and Lenovo Mirage Solo need to compress all their parts into an enclosed space. By comparison, the PC has much more space to play with.

The Oculus Go impressed commentators with its sleek design and lack of heat that radiated from the headset. However, the Oculus Go had effectively a mobile phone inside the headset. This meant the headset cannot run ultra-realistic expeirences like the Oculus Rift S. The same occurs with the Oculus Quest.

In my opinion, graphical fidelity matters less. Nintendo focuses on gameplay and visual aesthetics to provide clean and pretty experiences. The Switch is not the most powerful console in its generation, yet the software still looks great via design choices. Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey still looks great when compared to the grizzly shooters of Call of Duty. Likewise, great VR games can be made with less power.

What is the best standalone VR headset?

As you may tell from the article, the Oculus Quest is the most warmly received. The headset has accessibility, good support, and great controls. However, the HTC VIVE Focus may do exceptionally well in 2019 as well.

Alan Kay, a computer scientist, once said that “people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware”. Apple took these steps to heart, quoting Alan during the unveiling of the original iPhone in 2007. Facebook is taking the same steps too, knuckling down with VR over the next few years.

Will the future be bright for standalone VR headsets? Time will tell, though as a casual commentator on the industry, hopes are high.

Tom Ffiske

Editor, Virtual Perceptions

Tom Ffiske specialises in writing about VR, AR, and MR across the immersive reality industry. Tom is based in London. 

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