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Facebook takes US$2 bil. dive into virtual reality

SAN FRANCISCO--Facebook on Tuesday announced a US$2 billion deal to buy a startup behind virtual reality headgear that promises to let people truly dive into their friends' lives.

Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg said that the acquisition of Oculus was a long-term bet that making the social network's offerings more immersive would pay off.

“People will build a model of a place far away and you will just go see it; it is just like teleporting,” Zuckerberg said.

“I do think gaming is a start,” he said in a conference call, referring to the Oculus headset's original design focus.

Zuckerberg billed the acquisition as part of a drive to build the “next major computing platform that will come after mobile.”

For now, Facebook will use its resources to make Oculus headgear affordable and ubiquitous, according to Zuckerberg.

The California-based social network does not intend to become a hardware company, but Zuckerberg said it is open to people using virtual reality devices for immersive shopping experiences at Facebook.

Facebook plans to build on Oculus technology for areas such as communications, education and entertainment.

Oculus shareholders will receive US$400 million in cash and 23.1 million Facebook shares in the deal.

Facebook called Oculus, launched in 2012, the leader in immersive virtual reality technology with a strong following among developers.

The company has already garnered more than 75,000 orders for the US$350 Oculus Rift headset development kits.

Beyond Games

“While the applications for virtual reality technology beyond gaming are in their nascent stages, several industries are already experimenting with the technology,” Facebook said.

“Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

Oculus's headset earned raves from reviewers at the annual global technology fair CES in Las Vegas in January.

Buying it puts Facebook, the social networking leader, in competition with Oculus rival Sony for development of advanced virtual reality headsets.

Japanese consumer electronic titan Sony last week unveiled “Project Morpheus,” development of a virtual reality headgear system for its new-generation PlayStation 4 video game consoles.

Facebook said Oculus will maintain its headquarters in Irvine, California, and continue developing the Rift platform.

Word of the deal stymied some analysts, who noted that the people hot to get hands on Oculus headsets have been hardcore video game players.

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In this Jan. 7 file photo, show attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

(AP)

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