ZEISS has been in the virtual reality game for a while now, having debuted its first VR headset at the 2016 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show. Two years later, the company is once again in Las Vegas for the annual gathering of the most cutting-edge and wackiest technologies the industry has to offer, and this time, it opted to showcase the latest addition to its head-mounted display lineup - the ZEISS VR ONE Connect.
The headset isn't an entirely new product, having already been announced last summer with a planned release in late 2017. After missing that launch window for unspecified reasons, the company opted to reorganize its efforts and move the commercialization of the gadget to spring while simultaneously building some additional anticipation for it. That's exactly what its CES 2018 booth was all about, having been focused on allowing curious visitors to try out the ZEISS VR ONE Connect and experience what the firm is describing as its most refined VR headset to date. While Google and some of its partners are now pushing standalone VR platforms powered by their own hardware, ZEISS remains much more interested in hybrid solutions involving external help, which is precisely what the VR ONE Connect is. However, instead of just relying on a smartphone, the head-mounted display is attempting to take things a step further by being able to be tethered to a gaming PC and take the traditional mobile VR experience to the next level. In practice, such a setup will provide you with much more processing power for handling any VR games and apps and is also by far the cheapest entry point into the SteamVR ecosystem used by premium solutions such as HTC's Vive lineup.
The ZEISS VR ONE Connect is compatible with select Android and iOS smartphones, with the actual process of hooking it up to a PC being relatively straightforward; just connect it to your gaming rig with a USB cable after you already inserted your smartphone into it and you're good to go. The headset also comes bundled with two wireless controllers that allow for three degrees of freedom and communicate with it via an efficient Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) connection. In practice, the entire experience isn't as intuitive as what the HTC Vive is offering in the context of the SteamVR ecosystem but for a third of its price, it's a solution that's definitely worth considering as a (somewhat more serious) VR starting point. The actual list of compatible Android smartphones has yet to be revealed by ZEISS but don't expect it to be populated by anything other than 2017 and 2018 flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 XL.
The ZEISS VR ONE Connect will be priced at $129 once it hits the market in the United States this spring. The company has yet to provide any details regarding its potential global availability plans, though the product is largely expected to be offered on an international level by mid-2018. Besides ZEISS itself, the VR ONE Connect will also be sold by most major stateside retailers including Amazon and Best Buy.