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Samsung, Oculus plan consumer virtual reality launch in 2015

Oculus executive says the company is planning to sell the Gear VR mobile device headsets with the next set of Samsung products.

Samsung and Oculus are planning to release their Gear VR headset later this year. Sarah Tew / CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Virtual reality is just about ready to hit the store shelves.

The Gear VR, a virtual-reality headset designed to be used with Samsung smartphones, will reach consumers by the end of this year, said John Carmack, Oculus's technology chief. The device, which was developed jointly by Oculus and Samsung, will be accompanied by a specialized app store, said Carmack. He advised developers to work closely with Oculus if they hope to make and sell apps for the device.

"For people to do mobile games, that's a reasonable-ish timeframe," he said during a speech during a speech at the Game Developers Conference here. He added that the Gear VR that will eventually hit store shelves will not be very different from the prototypes the company has shown so far.

The launch plans mark an inflection point for the nascent virtual reality industry. Until now, most VR technology has primarily existed as an effort among game developers, with various prototypes of devices and games being shown at trade shows and in high-profile announcements. So far, the only products that have been sold were intended for developers.

The larger question for Oculus, Samsung and the many other game companies creating products is whether consumers will actually buy these products at all.

Many companies are expecting they will. In just the last year, companies ranging from Sony and Microsoft to tiny startups have announced their plans to build virtual-reality devices. Even smartphone makers like HTC and game makers such as Valve have unveiled prototypes.

Oculus itself has been working on virtual reality products for nearly three years. The company is mostly known for a headset called the Rift, which was designed to be used alongside high-end PCs. The company unveiled its mobile headset late last year, about six months after being acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.

Carmack, a veteran game designer, said he joined Oculus specifically to work on virtual-reality technology for mobile devices. He had often tinkered with virtual reality, and was a vocal fan of the Rift's earliest prototypes.

But he realized that people need to experience VR to be truly interested in it. Offering the technology for mobile devices will likely do exactly that, he said, representing an important part of the industry.

"In the long run, mobile technology is going to be the dominant platform," he said. "I do believe this is a good direction."