Soon after Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion back in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg declared he wanted to take virtual reality mainstream. Now's he's making a big move toward that goal.

Zuck revealed that Facebook is working on a new standalone VR headset, which won't require the wires and high power computer that the first version of Oculus Rift needed. The announcement, which did not include a release date or a price for the headset, came during the Oculus Connect conference on Thursday in San Jose.

Oculus's Rift, one of the most hyped VR products released to date, has been slow to catch on. A big reason is the price: It'll run you $600 for the headset, plus another $700 or more for the powerful computer needed to run the software. At this point it's still a system for hardcore gamers and wealthy techies.

Google, meanwhile, is gearing up to go toe-to-toe with Oculus: earlier this week the company revealed its own VR headset, the Daydream View, which will be released this November. It's compatible with specially made immersive YouTube and Street View videos and already has partnerships with more than 50 game and movie makers. Most importantly, at $79, it's far more affordable.

But there's a catch: To use the View, you'll need Google's new Pixel phone. The $649 price tag on that phone isn't crazy--it's the same as an iPhone's and will presumably come with similar discounts when bundled with data packages. Google says there will be other (and likely cheaper) View-compatible devices in the future, but at least to start, it's Pixel or bust.

What's not entirely clear is how Google plans to pry iPhones from potential View customers' fingers. Apple controls about 44 percent of the U.S. smartphone market-- and most iPhone users are wedded to their handsets because they're also wedded to Apple's ecosystem. Even if the Pixel beats the iPhone on specs, trying to bring a meaningful shift in the way iPhone users spend one-third of their waking hours will be a tough slog.

The new Oculus has the advantage of not requiring a phone or other device. If Facebook can nail the price point--bringing it down significantly from the Rift's $600 price tag and make it competitive for customers considering the View-plus-Pixel combo--it has a good chance at broad adoption. With the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, consumers have proven they'll pay $350 for a gaming console as long as it's awesome.

There's also the experience: The graphics on Google's Daydream View look solid, but they're not quite as realistic as the Rift. (And isn't that what we're going for: virtual "reality"?)

Another Oculus headset, the Samsung Gear VR, uses the VR company's software with Samsung hardware. Oculus said in May that one million people had at least tried the Gear headset--but that number doesn't equate to sales, and is still small compared to the number of people who have smartphones.

With a standalone headset, Oculus finally has a chance to create a winner. But the details will matter and we won't see those for some time. The headset, which doesn't have a name or release date yet, is currently in the prototype stage.

Published on: Oct 7, 2016