Project Santa Cruz: Everything you need to know about the Oculus standalone headset

Project Santa Cruz

Update: Facebook's big developer conference came and went in early May without the Project Santa Cruz releasing into the wild, however the week didn't end without a tease for the tetherless VR headset. 

Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer revealed that the headset is currently in the hands of third-party developers, and that the company will have "exciting updates" to share later this year. 

"Later this year" likely refers to the Oculus Connect conference, which typically takes place in October. 

Is it then that the Project Santa Cruz release date will be revealed? It's looking like that could very well be the case. 

In the meantime, don't miss our hands on Project Santa Cruz review!

Read on for more on Project Santa Cruz...

Oculus isn't taking its foot off the gas when it comes to virtual reality (VR) innovations. The Facebook-owned company recently launched the standalone Oculus Go headset, and it appears to be gearing up for its next big product, Project Santa Cruz, to release later this year.

Project Santa Cruz looks to bring the experience of PC-quality virtual reality to an untethered headset. 

That’s a pretty big deal for VR. While mobile virtual reality experiences like Google Daydream View and the Samsung Gear VR bring VR to the masses with smartphones, the best-quality virtual reality remains tethered to a computer of some kind. Project Santa Cruz looks to change that.

There’s some serious tech under the hood that enables for this untethered experience, like the sensors and trackers. 

Project Santa Cruz boasts four wide-angle lenses that track both the controllers and your hands. It tracks everything around your head, and even some stuff behind you - which should allow for much more immersive content. 

Oculus has had a long road in developing this headset, and it's actually not really a recently announced product. The company first announced it was working on an untethered headset in 2016, but it wasn’t until Oculus Connect in 2017 that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage to show off a revised and apparently fully-functioning version of the headset.

But, when can you get your hands on the standalone headset for yourself? And what should you expect it to be able to do? Here’s everything you need to know about the new Oculus Project Santa Cruz virtual reality headset.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A high-end standalone virtual reality headset from Oculus
  • When is it out? No firm release date yet, but Project Santa Cruz has shipped to third-party developers
  • How much does it cost? No price yet, but it will likely be more expensive than Oculus Rift

Project Santa Cruz release date and price

Unfortunately, we still don't know the Project Santa Cruz release date, though the good news is it appears not to be long now. 

The headset has already made its way to third-party developers, Facebook's CTO revealed in May, which is a sure sign development is chugging along towards a final release. 

What's more, Facebook teased we're in for "exciting updates" on Project Santa Cruz "later this year," with an Oculus Connect reveal in October seeming likely.  

Is this a guarantee the Project Santa Cruz release date is slated for late 2018? No, but it does bode well for those who want PC-tethered quality VR without the annoyance of a wire. 

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And what about price? That’s something we don’t know yet. The also-new, also-standalone Oculus Go costs $199 in the US, while the Oculus Rift is $399. 

Given that Project Santa Cruz is the company’s new flagship VR offering, it’s possible that it could simply replace the Rift at its former $499 price point. 

Because of all the new tech, however, it’s also totally possible that Project Santa Cruz will be much more expensive than the Rift at launch - we’ll just have to wait and see.

Project Santa Cruz features

Project Santa Cruz was first unveiled back in 2016, but at the time it was less refined. As you can see from the image below, it basically involved a tiny computer strapped to the back of your head. Now, all that tech has made its way into the headset itself. 

Perhaps the biggest new feature is inside-out tracking, which involves putting all the sensors inside the headset rather than having to place cameras and sensors around you. That’s all thanks to the four wide-angle lenses and on-board processing, which can track your hand movements - and controller movements - in real time. 

How does the headset track the controllers so accurately? We’ll dive into the hardware inside the controllers in the next section, but it essentially involves the use of tiny infrared LEDs, which is the point controlled by the camera. 

Those cameras can continue to track even when the controllers are above the user’s head. This is a notable difference between this headset and Microsoft’s HoloLens design. 

The result of all of this tech is that magic six degrees of freedom (6DOF), or the ability to move forward and back, side to side, and up and down in a virtual space. That’s something not all virtual reality headsets offer - especially mobile offerings like Daydream and Gear VR, which rely on smartphones to work.

A lot about Project Santa Cruz is still unknown. For starters, we don’t know the computing specs of the headset. It's basically a computer in and of itself, so it will need a processor, RAM, and storage,just like any other computer. 

Perhaps equally important is battery life. Virtual reality can seriously tax a battery, but with a tethered headset that isn’t a concern. It would be surprising to see an untethered headset that can last more than a few hours, but we’ll obviously have to wait and see what Santa Cruz has to offer.

Project Santa Cruz controllers

A big part of the Oculus Project Santa Cruz puzzle is the controllers, and while they are similar to the current Touch controllers, there are a few notable differences. For starters, the controllers feature tiny infrared LEDs, which are tracked by the cameras in the headset. 

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Apart from that, the Project Santa Cruz controller experience remains much the same. 

The controllers still offer a pointer-accessible trigger button, along with a grip button on the side. That’s good news for those that are used to the existing Touch controllers, as it means that they won’t need to get acquainted with a new layout.