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Oculus raises $75 million to take virtual reality headset mainstream

By Malathi Nayak

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The startup Oculus VR has raised $75 million to market its virtual-reality headset for video games, hoping to attract consumers who have shied away from such products in the past.

Irvine, California-based Oculus raised the sum in a round led by Silicon Valley investor Mark Andreessen of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

Oculus plans to use its new capital to produce commercial versions of its virtual reality glasses for video games called Ouclus Rift, which users mount on their heads with a strap. It also hopes to take its technology beyond gaming.

"We believe Oculus will not only alter the gaming landscape but will redefine fundamental human experiences in areas like film, education, architecture, and design," Andreessen said in a statement.

Andreessen, a venture capitalist currently on the board of a select and small set of startups, will join Oculus's board of directors.

Oculus faces the challenging task of building a commercially-viable virtual reality technology business. For years, analysts have questioned if 3D virtual reality devices, whether gamer-centric or otherwise, have the potential to achieve widespread adoption and mainstream success.

The company introduced its 3D gaming goggles after raising $2.4 million through the popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter last year. It quickly captured the interest of game developers who paid $300 for each device and its development kit.

It raised $16 million through its first venture capital funding round in June. Three firms that participated in that round, Spark Capital, Formation 8 and Matrix Partners, also participated in its second funding round.

Since then, the company has been building a technology platform for its hardware to support video games and other applications and sold over 40,000 development kits.

While developers have lauded the company's efforts to improve virtual reality technology with its 3D device, some have raised concern over latency issues and said its bulky design offered a cumbersome gaming experience.

The company used this feedback to build its latest prototype that will hit the retail market soon and offer a comfortable and smoother experience, Oculus Chief Executive Brendan Iribe said in an interview.

In the past, companies such as Sony Corp have attempted to put 3D goggles on the market but have been unable to garner interest from consumers. For instance, Sony's HMZ-T1, which launched in 2011, was criticized by tech enthusiasts for being clunky and gimmicky. Japanese game maker Nintendo discontinued its virtual-reality gaming device "Virtual Boy" shortly after its release in 1995 due to poor sales.

Iribe said that companies have not had much luck in building commercially successful virtual reality products, but said he is confident in the incremental technological improvements his company has made with its latest prototype.

"We have been able to make this massive leap" to solve hardware and software challenges, he said.

The company is still settling on a time frame for its launch. The current development kit is available to developers for $300. Iribe declined to share details about the price point but said it could likely be in the $300 to $400 range.

(Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by David Gregorio)

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