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Wearable Tech

5 ways Facebook's Oculus is amping up VR for you (and your Gear VR)

Exciting titles, original content and ties into Facebook contacts are all on the horizon for making your Samsung Gear VR experience better and brighter.

Juan Garzón/CNET

Oculus' upcoming improvements to the Samsung Gear VR headset will happen step by step, not in one fell swoop. When you add up the plans, which Oculus shared with press at a small event in San Francisco earlier this week, you start getting a sense of where the company wants to take VR, both on the phone-based Gear VR and on its own, more involved Rift system.

That is: everywhere.

You better believe that VR is part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's strategy for (social) world domination.

James Martin/CNET

1. Facebook (which owns Oculus) is embracing 360-photos in a big way

If there's one news nugget you can pull out of the crop, it's that Facebook will soon turn on support for uploading 360-degree photos. The upshot is that you can share cool panorama photos with everyone and they can view them in a much more engrossing way though a VR headset.

2. Oculus is working on original content

VR is only as cool as the content you interact with. Right now this ranges from games and education to roller coasters and even pornography. Just as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu today are grabbing up marketshare by creating their own shows, Facebook-backed Oculus will gain a lot of momentum by giving its users stuff they can't find on any other platform.

To that end, it's working with Hulu to film 360-video shorts, and with Discovery to bring a VR version of Deadliest Catch, where you get to be a virtual crew member. The latter comes out May 17.

3. Critical mass: Oculus passes 1 million user mark

Minecraft's incarnation in virtual reality puts you in the center of the action.

Mark Hobbs/CNET

Over 1 million people used the Samsung Gear VR (which Oculus powers) in April 2016, which could be a significant milestone for the VR business.

"A million is kind of a magic number for a lot of people to start taking this seriously," Oculus head of mobile, Max Cohen, told me. "It starts making more economic sense for others to join in."

For example, Cohen continued, Microsoft wouldn't have been involved with releasing a VR version of Minecraft if it didn't think Oculus' platform was going anywhere. The potential is huge, too, just like it was when Facebook itself first took off.

With numbers like a million users per month under its belt, other organizations may start looking at jumping on board with VR in general and Oculus in particular.

That could mean more VR experiences for you down the road.

4. Facebook friends coming soon

The contact list in your Oculus app for Gear VR (which lives on your phone) will soon include Facebook friends, if you want it to. The optional feature would surface people you know on Facebook alongside buddies who signed up with their own Oculus ID. This could expand your social network in the VR world without you having to work to find other people you know.

So, you know, more virtual experiences with real-world friends.

5. Convincing new content for Gear VR

Oculus developed the collectable card game Dragon Front with High Voltage Software.

Oculus

Oculus continues to expand its content library with titles like:

  • The Guardian's 6x9 (Free, available now), which explores what it's like to live incarcerated in solitary confinement.
  • Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness (Cost TBD, available late June), which forays into the experience of becoming blind. It's a VR companion to this forthcoming feature film.
  • Nomads (Free, May 11), an interactive educational program that tracks three nomadic tribes around the world.
  • Tactera ($10, end of May), strategic war games where you're overseeing a holographic battle map.
  • Dragon Front, a card game you play with friends, will launch simultaneously on the on the Oculus Rift and Gear VR (in beta form). Check it out here.