I experienced five completely different takes on virtual worlds at Oculus Connect

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

The $100 Samsung Gear VR Is Going to Change Everything.

Oculus announced a lot of cool stuff at its developer conference today, like a set of new streaming apps, including one for Netflix that’s available now. But there was a verifiable Oprah moment at the Dolby Theater in LA when it was announced that Samsung’s new Gear VR headset will be sold for $100 this fall.

While the previous iteration of this VR solution worked exclusively with their flagship smartphones–the Galaxy S6 or the Note 4–this new version is excellent news for general consumers, promising support for all Samsung phones launched in 2015. I got to see one in person when I met with Samsung today and I don’t think I’m overstating things when I estimate that this one product will instantly push VR into the mainstream.

Much of the focus for this Gear VR version was on improving comfort, says Jim Willson, director of immersive products and virtual reality for Samsung. Resembling the current Gear VR in many ways, this one does have a redesigned D-pad type cross button that also doubles as a trackpad for navigating within the VR experience. This immersive toy is slated to be available in the US first, in time for the Black Friday sales this year (27 November), and is expected to roll out globally shortly thereafter. The stripped-down headset is 22 percent lighter than the existing Gear VR Innovator Edition (which sold for $200) thanks to a streamlined design that trades some of the plastic parts for webbing or mesh.

With the recent announcement of Facebook making 360 degree videos available on their news feed and video services like Netflix, TiVo and Twitch already pledging support for content, it looks like VR is poised for takeoff. There are also some nice material changes: Instead of using indifferent foam where the goggles meet your face, there’s a second layer of soft padding that’s almost like the microfleece you’d find on one of those supercuddly baby blankets.

Just this tiny difference in texture improves the tactile experience and also makes the headset feel less likely to slide down your face in a current of nose grease. Although additional comfort was deemed key, there are some technical improvements: The touchpad on the temple now has little grooves that help guide your finger in four directions, something that’s infinitely helpful when you can’t see where you’re touching.

This not only makes the product instantly accessible, it’s creating even more of a gateway drug for VR by loading it up with some very user-friendly mainstream apps like Netflix. Beyond gaming and entertainment, Samsung is seeing applications in fields like education and the nonprofit world where organizations being able to afford more headsets could make a critical difference. Willson gave an example of surgeons who are using it to teach complicated medical procedures. “Now at this price point, this is a game-changer.” The timing also couldn’t be better really, as this is basically the most perfect Christmas present (it will be available for purchase by Black Friday).

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