At Oculus Connect 5, Mark Zuckerburg took the stage and unveiled the Oculus Quest. Mark 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. 

Not everyone agrees with this future. 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. Facebook’s leadership may be moving away from headsets based on PCs, towards complete packages without tethered power.

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. 

standalone VR headsets
The Oculus Quest, revealed in 2018

Table of Contents

  1. What is a standalone VR headset?
  2. Companies making virtual reality headsets in 2019
  3. What is the difference between the VR headsets?
  4. Will standalone VR headsets become mainstream in 2019?
  5. Are standalone VR headsets less powerful?
  6. What is the best standalone VR headset?
  7. The Future of Virtual Reality and Oculus Quest
  8. Which virtual reality headset should I buy in 2019?

What is a standalone VR headset?

Standalone VR headsets are similar to tethered headsets like the Oculus Rift, 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 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.

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 some VR titles are optimised for lower-end services, typically these experiences need a lot of power. Standalone headsets have effectively mobile components to make them work. Later in the article, the benefits and flaws will be compared.

Companies making virtual reality headsets in 2019

  • Google: With the Google Daydream and Google Cardboard, Google provides low to high-end VR experiences. While the Google Cardboard has no control input, the Google Daydream lets players control via 3DoF controllers.
  • Oculus: The Oculus Go released in 2018 to widespread appeal and applause. The Oculus Quest will release in 2019, with high hopes for the device. The Oculus Rift will likely see continued support.
  • HTC: The company released the HTC VIVE Focus in 2018, and may get more traffic in 2019. The company is known for providing powerful experiences via the HTC VIVE and HTC VIVE Pro.
  • PlayStation: The PlayStation VR (PSVR) had great hits in 2018 such as ASTRO BOT and Tetris Effect. The company may release more content in 2019 for the platform. While it may release a cordless version of the PlayStation VR headset, it may not be truly standalone like competitors in the market.
  • Lenovo: Lenovo released the Lenovo Mirage Solo in 2018, which received favorable reviews. The company may build on its portfolio in 2019 with updates to the hardware.
  • Samsung: The company released the Samsung Gear, which gives VR experiences with phones in the Samsung Galaxy range among others. The company hints that there may be plans for this in the future.

What is the difference between the VR headsets?

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

  • Release: All three will be commercially available in 2019.
  • Price: The Oculus Quest and Lenovo Mirage Solo will be available for $399, while the HTC VIVE Focus is $599.
  • Motion controls: All three 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, and HTC VIVE Focus respectively. The Oculus and VIVEPORT stores are the mobile versions, rather than their high-end counterparts for the Oculus Rift 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.

Will standalone VR headsets become mainstream in 2019?

The Oculus Quest and HTC VIVE Focus, two standalone headsets in the market, will prepare themselves for 2019. The HTC VIVE Focus is already in the market, with 6DoF controllers being made for the device. The Oculus Quest may likely launch during the Facebook Developer Conference, like the Oculus Go the year before. Yet how popular will they be? 

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.

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?

The Oculus Quest will likely succeed in 2019. But how? This Christmas, Facebook gave a hint on their marketing plan for the upcoming Oculus Quest. 

During the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Ellen gave approximately 800 headsets to her audience members, two per member. This was after watching a live basketball game via NextVR, plugging how the experience was immersive and entertaining. The audience cheered, and the VR community raised an eyebrow. 

The VR community is trapped in a bubble, reinforced with several layers of concrete. High barriers of entry, lack of understanding, and lack of killer apps traditionally held the industry back (though less so on all three factors today). Targeting the Ellen DeGeneres Show show is a bid for mainstream appeal, and it is a sensible approach.

The Future of Virtual Reality and Oculus Quest

The show is incredibly mainstream, and a great way to normalise new products being released during the holiday season. If Ellen used a headset, then VR is seen as more appealing. The audience is also less technically minded, and would not have seen the headset otherwise, tapping a new market for Oculus. So far, basic brand theory. 

What’s really interesting is giving away two virtual reality headsets per person, not one. This is likely to demonstrate the social capabilities of the device, via multiplayer games and social apps. This is a great idea as it means a headset is likely donated to a family member, spreading the headsets further. More importantly, it also helps to show VR as a social experience, fighting back against the stigma of antisocial experiences. How can the experience be antisocial if you’re playing with friends? 

The Oculus Quest will likely have this kind of marketing in 2019, perhaps being pushed by apps which use Oculus Insight and making levels based on scanning the living room. We may also see another large-scale consumer activation in 2019.

standalone VR headsets
The Oculus Go, a standalone VR headset, being shown on the Ellen DeGeneres Show

Which virtual reality headset should I buy in 2019?

As you may tell from the article, there are high hopes towards the Oculus Quest in the western market. 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.

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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.