Virtual Reality is about to become Mainstream Reality, judging by the array of products and content — and a lot of hype — previewed at the Oculus Connect 2 developer conference in Hollywood, Calif., yesterday.
Not to mention Mark Zuckerberg’s surprise appearance to tell the assembled that Facebook “is committed to [virtual reality] for the long-term” and is “going to work hard to serve this community.” He would say that, of course, having shelled out $2 billion in cash and shares for Oculus in March 2014.
Samsung unveiled a new The Gear VR headset, a collaboration with Oculus that works with the Galaxy Note 5, S6 Edge+, S6, and S6 Edge and will retail for $99 starting in November. It’s 33% lighter than the current Innovator Edition, which costs $199, and will have an “improved touchpad that provides greater control for movies, gaming, 360-degree video,” reports Aubrey Sitterson for PCMag.
“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of getting people to experience VR with regards to the larger success of the medium,” writes Brad Jones for Digital Trends. “It’s very difficult to explain the appeal to someone without having them try it out for themselves, but a $99 price point and compatibility with Samsung’s flagship smartphones makes it very accessible.”
The Oculus consumer headset that will be available in the first quarter of 2016 will cost “at least $300,” VP of product Nate Mitchell tells PCGamer’s Wes Fenlon. It will include a sensor and Xbox One controller.
Lack of content has been a “hurdle.” But Oculus announced it is working with Twentieth Century Fox and Lions Gate “in an attempt to re-create the experience of watching a movie on a big screen. Executives said more than 100 movies will be available from Fox, including the ‘Alien’ trilogy, ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Black Swan,’” Deepa Seetharaman writes for the Wall Street Journal.
And Lucasfilm’s Ron Bredow said Wednesday that it’s experimenting with 5- to 10-minute videos, Seetharaman reports.
“Is that going to be the kind of thing that’s compelling enough as its own medium to hold your attention for two hours?” Bredow asked. “If the answer is yes, we haven’t yet figured out all of the language of that sort of filmmaking to entertain people like that.”
Gaming seems to be a surer bet, at least in the short term.
“The Windows 10 version of ‘Minecraft’ will be compatible with the Oculus Rift headset, according to a Microsoft representative,” writes Chris Plante for The Verge. “Further details are sparse, but we'll learn more closer to the update's release in spring 2016.”
Oculus also “announced a mix of very old and new games.” There are “classic titles from previously established gaming leaders, including Sega, Midway and Bandai Namco,” writes Matt Swider for TechRadar. There was also news about “games from modern-day developers” such as one called “Lands End” from the team behind “Monument Valley.” Other titles include “Darknet,” “Shooting Showdown 2,” “Bazaar,” “Into the Dead” and “Rocket Toss.”
“The Oculus platform will have social features, games and app services, and commerce,” writes Boonsri Dickinson for TechCrunch. “There will be more features around user profiles including Oculus IDs and avatar pictures. The Oculus platform will also have its own robust friend graph. There are rooms so people can connect with a group of people before they go into a virtual world.”
In addition, “a Netflix app for Oculus launched Thursday, followed by apps from video game streaming company Twitch, along with Hulu, Vimeo and TiVo coming soon,” reports CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, who points to a post by Oculus CTO John Carmack on Netflix's Tech Blog: “In many conditions, the ‘best seat in the house’ may be in the Gear VR that you pull out of your backpack,” he writes.
“The idea is that putting on an Oculus headset will allow users to feel like they're sitting in a screening room, providing a much more intense, immersive experience than simply staring at a smartphone or iPad screen,” writes Boorstin. “And the idea is that as each of these content companies creates more VR content, they'll work with Oculus to make sure it's easy and compelling for users.”
They may want to work on making the experience more compelling to bloggers, reviewers and journalists, too. “These PR speeches were being streamed in virtual reality through the NextVR app on Samsung's Gear VR Innovator Edition headsets,” writes Kyle Orland for Ars Technica.
He allows that “watching in VR was a bit more gripping than just watching through a 2D video window.” But there were some technical issues and he says that he “[missed] looking down at my phone and laptop.” Bottom line: “I don't plan on revisiting any future press events in VR until the technological and multitasking problems are fixed.”
There are other “obstacles to making virtual reality feel real,” as its chief scientist, Michael Abrash, admitted in a presentation about the “three biggest.” Dave Smith covers it in depth for Tech Insider.
Who’s betting they won’t figure it out?