Facebook's $2 Billion Oculus Play Still a Virtual Reality

Months after Facebook Inc. (FB) closed its purchase of virtual reality startup Oculus VR Inc., there is little tangible evidence, at least to outsiders, of what exactly Mark Zuckerberg got for $2 billion.

While Oculus sells a developers kit with a barebones version of its Rift virtual reality headset, the company has no commercially available product.

During a conference Thursday at the Paley Center for Media Summit, Facebook vice president of partnerships Dan Rose explained that the deal's value becomes clearer once someone tries on the headset.

"Once you have done that, it's not too hard to explain," he said. "It really is like looking into the future."

Oculus will debut a consumer product in the coming weeks, said Rose and Oculus head of worldwide studios Jason Rubin.

Samsung Group manufactured the hardware for the product, while Oculus developed the software. Samsung's Note 4 mobile phone clips into the headset, and serves as the screen and the engine for the virtual reality experience.

The barebones verstion of the headset will run "a few hundred dollars" but will not convey the full sense of "presence" that Oculus' higher-end Rift headset will deliver, Rubin said. Oculus will develop the hardware and the software for the more immersive headset, which will work with Apple Inc.'s  (AAPL) Macs and with PCs.

The Samsung headsets, demonstrated at the Paley Center, give the sense of stepping inside a reticulated image. The footage replicated the experience of floating in space above the Earth, sitting with a family in a Mongolian yurt and standing on stage during a performance by Cirque du Soleil.

Rose said that the virtual reality headsets are a natural stage in the evolution of computing, which went from mainframes to desktops to laptops and mobile devices.

"The next computing platform will move closer to our bodies," Rose said. "Our bet is that virtual reality will be the on ramp for ocular computing."

Facebook is not the only big name staking out a position in the market.

Sony Corp. (SNE) is developing the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset that will plug into its PlayStation game systems.

Google Inc. (GOOG) , which markets its Glass computerized eyewear, has a do-it-yourself alternative called Cardboard. After downloading a mobile app, users can make their own headsets a piece of cardboard and simple materials. A Velcro flap holds the user's phone in front of two eye holes in what is essentially a pair of makeshift goggles.

While virtual reality has long been fodder for science fiction, Rose said that recent advances in mobile phone screens have made projects like Oculus possible.

One hang up for early adopters of virtual reality headsets is the dearth of content. Cameras with 360 degree camera lens that could capture every point of view as a user turns his or her head up or down, or side to side, do not exist. New cameras are in development, and VR videographers can rig multiple cameras together.

As proof that content is in the works, Rose cited Palo Alto, Calif., startup Jaunt Inc.'s Thursday release of a virtual reality video of Sir Paul McCartney performing at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. The video will play on the Rift and on Google's Cardboard.

"Feel as though you're by Sir Paul's side as he plays 'Live and Let Die' ā€” see it in 360-degree, stereoscopic 3D, hear it with ambisonic audio, and immerse yourself in cinematic VR," Jaunt's marketing materials urge.

Jaunt has raised more than $34 million in venture financing from Highland Capital Partners, Google Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, British Sky Broadcasting and tech veterans Peter Gotcher and Blake Krikorian.

Live events, sports and games are likely the most immediate uses. However, Rose and Rubin described other applications, such as remote medical diagnoses and school trips that would allow Midwestern elementary students to visit the Colosseum in Rome.

A conference participant asked if he and his wife could view, say, the Super Bowl using the headsets, and whether they would have the experience of being together.

Initially, Rubin said, you would see an avatar rather than a lifelike replication of your spouse. "Eventually, yes, it will look like your friends, your family," he said.

More from Mergers and Acquisitions

Aceto's Search for Deal May Be Slowed by DOJ Subpoena

Aceto's Search for Deal May Be Slowed by DOJ Subpoena

Could Spotify Be Next on Amazon's Wish List?

Could Spotify Be Next on Amazon's Wish List?

Sprint, T-Mobile Might Have to Do More Than Make Promises to Get Deal Approved

Sprint, T-Mobile Might Have to Do More Than Make Promises to Get Deal Approved

Xerox Received Interest From HPQ Before Fuji Deal: Sources

Xerox Received Interest From HPQ Before Fuji Deal: Sources

Divestitures at Newell Expected in Weeks: Wells Fargo

Divestitures at Newell Expected in Weeks: Wells Fargo