Skip to Content

I Tried Oculus’s Cordless VR Headset

Cutting the cord tethering high-end VR headsets to a PC would make virtual reality much more powerful.
October 7, 2016

Crouched on all fours, I crawled forward to peer through a window cut in a sheet of cardboard and into the living room of a friendly-looking monster. Minutes into a demo of a new prototype VR headset from Oculus, the benefits of not being tethered to a PC as I would be with the company’s flagship Rift were becoming apparent.

Oculus is experimenting with a cordless design because it is seen as necessary to make virtual reality appealing to the masses.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, which bought Oculus in 2014, unveiled the “Santa Cruz” prototype Thursday. Speaking at the annual Oculus Connect developer conference in San Jose, California, he said the “stand-alone” design would fit between expensive headsets like the Rift, which tether to an expensive PC, and cheap ones like Samsung’s Gear VR, which are based around a phone, limiting their power.

Mark Zuckerberg showed a short video of someone trying out a new prototype VR headset during an event in San Jose, California, Thursday.

The most notable feature of the Santa Cruz’s design is the way it uses four cameras to watch the world around you and track your position in space. In my short demo, I could walk around a staged living room to explore a colorful cardboard virtual world. The headset warned me when I got close to a wall.

The Rift headset can also track your position, but it doesn’t afford such freedom. Not only does the PC cord tie you down, but the Rift requires a special sensor to be placed on a desk or shelf in front of you. HTC’s Vive headset has a similar design. The low-cost Gear VR and Google’s forthcoming Daydream headset can’t track your head position at all, limiting you to just turning your head in place.

Santa Cruz is a modified version of the Rift headset, with a compact lump of extra electronics on the back of its strap. Oculus won’t detail what exactly is inside, but one of the team members working on the device said the components are similar to those found in a smartphone.

Zuckerberg yesterday repeated his prediction that virtual reality will become a phenomenon on par with the smartphone, and spoke of one day seeing a billion people regularly using the technology.

Max Cohen, vice president of mobile for Oculus, told MIT Technology Review that the Santa Cruz design shows a possible path to that end. “We think the stand-alone is a sweet spot that gets you most of the way to one billion,” he said.

Intel and Qualcomm have recently showed off cord-free headsets of their own, although they appear to be less polished, and demos made available so far have been limited (see “High-End, Cordless VR Headsets Are Nearing Reality”). Cohen says it is likely the entire industry will converge on stand-alone, also known as all-in-one, headset designs.

Cohen declined to say anything about when Santa Cruz might develop into a product. When Zuckerberg first introduced the prototype on stage, he signaled that it won’t be soon. “It’s still early,” he said. “I don’t want to get your hopes up too much. We have a demo. We don’t have a product yet.”


Keep Reading

Most Popular

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant
Image of workers inspecting solar panels at a renewable energy plant

Renewables are set to soar

The world will likely witness a wind and solar boom over the next five years, as costs decline and nations raise their climate ambitions.

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month

Gene sequencing gave an early alert about the latest covid variant. But we'll only know if omicron is a problem by watching it spread.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.