Google Plans Pricier Virtual Reality Headset (Report)

A step-up from its cheap viewer Cardboard would put Google in closer competition with Samsung and Facebook’s Oculus

Google's Cardboard virtual reality headset

Google may not be satisfied as the training wheels for virtual reality for long.

The search engine giant is developing a VR headset that would serve as an upgrade option to its cheap Cardboard viewer, according to a report in the Financial Times, citing unnamed people familiar with the plans. The device would have a more solid casing with better lenses and sensors for release this year, though it would built on the same design concept that uses a mobile device as its screen and computer.

Google declined to comment to TheWrap.

Cardboard, which Google unveiled in 2014 just a few months after Facebook announced its $2 billion takeover of VR startup Oculus, was an unabashedly populist plug for virtual reality. Compared with high-powered headsets coming out this year that require expensive computers to run immersive experiences, Cardboard is a DIY box costing about $20 that creates a hand-held VR viewer with a few simple folds by slipping your smartphone behind plastic lenses.

It lacks the same immersive fidelity as an Oculus Rift, available for preorder for $599, or even Samsung’s $99 Gear VR, which is a more high-quality riff on Cardboard’s premise. But Cardboard has been a helpful educational tool to acquaint consumers with an unfamiliar new format en masse.  The low price enabled the New York Times, for example, to mail more than a million Cardboards to home-delivery subscribers so they could watch a 360-degree short film created for the paper’s weekly magazine.

By creating a higher-quality version of Cardboard along the lines of Samsung’s Gear VR, Google gives itself the opportunity of following a consumer’s progress into the new format, rather than being limited as the entry-level option.