Samsung Gear VR price cut in half while support for Galaxy smartphones expands

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Oculus and Samsung unveil new Gear VR for US$99.

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. Samsung Electronics and Facebook’s Ove unveiled a new version of theGear VR headset, aimed at bringing what executives said was the “power of virtual reality to the mainstream.” To reach the masses, the headset will be priced at $US99 and work with the full slate of 2015 Samsung Galaxy phones: Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6 Edge+, S6 and S6 Edge.

Facebook-owned Oculus VR wooed software makers on Thursday with the promise of a budding “virtual reality era” and an alliance with streaming television powerhouse Netflix. The new headset is 22 per cent lighter and “much more comfortable” than the previous Innovator editions, which Samsung first released last year to fine-tune its consumer product. 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. The Gear VR includes a trackpad, back button and motion sensors to detect acceleration and gyroscopic position, but it still requires the brains and high-resolution screen of a smartphone to work.

Oculus also said it was partnering with Netflix Inc, Hulu, Vimeo and Amazon Inc-owned Twitch, among others, to bring video content and live streaming to virtual reality over the next few months. Facebook bought Oculus VR last year in a deal valued at US$2 billion, heralding virtual reality as the next-generation computing platform and one that will let people instantly “travel” to new places. “It was like teleporting to some other place just by putting on a headset,” Zuckerberg said while recounting the first time he tried a Rift prototype at Oculus offices. “It was so good, I didn’t want to really leave. 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. I was seeing the next great technology platform.” The first Rift virtual reality headset is on track for release in the first quarter of next year, followed shortly thereafter by the debut of Touch controllers designed to let people reach in and interact with faux worlds.

Oculus has yet to disclose what it will charge for Rift headsets, but said that Oculus Ready computers coming to market will have prices less than US$1,000. “This is a once-in-a-generation moment where we can create something that inspires millions of people… something that will change their lives forever,” Oculus chief executive Brendan Iribe told the audience. “This is the dawn of the virtual reality era.” Samsung Gear VR headgear powered by Oculus software is already on the market. 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. An improved version will debut in the United States in November at a price of US$99, according to Peter Koo, a senior vice-president in the mobile communications division of the South Korean consumer electronics titan. 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. People are already sharing 360-degree video and playing immersive games using Gear VR headsets, which let the company’s smartphones serve as display screens. Popular online building game Minecraft made by Swedish studio Mojang is diving into virtual reality with the launch next year of Rift, according to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. 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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