A consumer release is en route for Gear VR. Hey, alright! If you've been paying attention, you might realize the problem with that first sentence, though. Think for a few minutes, I'll be here. Give up? Well, here's the answer: Unlike Oculus' still-in-prototype Rift headset, you can go to Best Buy's website today, throw down $200 and, boom, you'll have a head-mounted virtual reality display. Just like that. Okay, you'll need a Galaxy Note 4 too. But still, it already exists.
What's largely separating the "consumer" Gear VR from the currently available Innovator Edition is a marketing push from Samsung. "We've got a plan now; we've got a date," Oculus Chief Technology Officer John Carmack said during his lengthy (and dense!) presentation at the Game Developer's Conference this week. "You can kind of mark it on the calendars. Oculus is going to go for it as hard as we can [with] broad consumers, trying to sell as many units as possible, unleashing Samsung [marketing] with the next Gear VR."
So essentially, when the Note 5 gets its multimillion-dollar marketing blitz, the consumer version of Gear VR will too. This all sounds a little like double-talk, though, considering how well-received the current Gear VR's been to this point. And Carmack's aware of that. He seems hopeful that older hardware will get a retroactive boost from the new awareness. It's what he sees as hitting an "infection vector" for VR. In so many words, he means that it won't be sitting in your "VR cave" where you're tethered to a high-end PC that's going to push virtual reality into the mainstream; it'll be tech like Gear VR.
The current Note 4 Gear VR (left) and Galaxy S6/edge Gear VR (right) -- not many differences!
"When we say we're ready, which is really on Oculus from a platform structure, software and content level, we're going to be able to sort of back-unlock the promotion and sales of multiple products there," Carmack said. He continued that Samsung's hardware "probably" could've gone wide with the Gear VR available currently, but that Oculus is taking the hit for not having enough stuff that everyone would expect to be there at launch. Namely, more software, more paid apps, in-app purchases and internationalization.
"We're still not ready for Samsung to go out and do their blitz," he said. "We expect when everything is ready, Samsung can go out. You'll see ads everywhere; [Gear VR will] be in all the cellphone stores, all these things that we really wanted and sort of expected to do in the beginning" will be in place.
So don't worry that the Gear VR you might already own, or the Galaxy S6-powered Gear VR, is somehow deficient (Carmack says there'll only be "minor tech improvements") compared to the one you'll be inundated with later this year -- that's just Samsung's marketing department talking. Carmack's entire speech is just below, and the Gear VR bits run roughly from the 15-minute to 30-minute mark.
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