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Samsung's VR future includes Star Trek holodecks and no wires

Think virtual worlds, software that can track the movement of your hands and the ability to "touch" virtual items.

When Samsung thinks about the future of virtual reality, what it sees is a star -- a Star Trek, to be precise.

Injong Rhee, executive vice president and head of R&D for software and services in Samsung's mobile business, on Wednesday gave some hints about what VR could look like in two to three years. Think holodecks a la Star Trek and (this might be even better) no wires.

"You enter a holodeck, you're actually in a virtual world, interacting with all the virtual objects as if you're living there," Rhee said during a keynote presentation at Samsung's developer conference here in San Francisco. "That's the kind of reality we're trying to create on these virtual-reality headsets."

Injong Rhee, executive vice president and head of R&D for software and services in Samsung's mobile business, gives hints about the future of virtual reality.

Injong Rhee, executive vice president and head of R&D for software and services in Samsung's mobile business, gives hints about the future of virtual reality.

Shara Tibken/CNET

The trouble is today's VR equipment isn't ready for that, Rhee said. It's too heavy, can make users dizzy and sometimes has poor image quality. Virtual reality also needs a lot of computing power, and headsets need to be plugged in, which restrict mobility, he said.

"These are the exact areas we are in fact working on and trying to improve," Rhee said.

Samsung wants to give users the full holodeck experience, the ability to roam around and touch objects and have motion tracking and gesture tracking.

"We're working on wireless and dedicated VR devices, not necessarily working [just with] our mobile phones," Rhee said. "You're going to see a lot of our products coming on the market in the next few years with these capabilities."

VR mania

Samsung this week is hosting a developer conference at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, the same place where Apple will hold its developer confab in June.

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Samsung has had difficulty generating enthusiasm for many of its software products. The company leans on Google's Android software to run the vast majority of its smartphones and tablets, while its own Tizen operating system has struggled to gain a foothold. Meanwhile, Samsung has scrapped many of the services it's created, like the Samsung Media Hub and Milk Video.

Virtual reality has been a big push for Samsung and is one of the biggest draws for developers. The company partnered with Facebook's Oculus business in 2014 to introduce Gear VR, virtual-reality goggles powered by a high-end Samsung phone. It launched a $99 consumer version of the headset late last year in hopes of making it a mainstream device. And it created the Gear 360 virtual-reality camera, which hits the market in South Korea and Singapore on Friday, to get more content for VR headsets.

Still, no one's quite sure how popular VR will be. Consulting firm Analysis Group in February estimated that through 2020, the revenue generated worldwide from virtual reality and augmented reality (a similar technology that overlays images on top of the real world) will total somewhere between $2.8 billion and $126 billion. That's not a typo. The huge range suggests that no really knows what will happen with this technology.

But many companies are making big bets on VR. Almost every major tech company, including Samsung, HTC, Facebook's Oculus, Google and Sony, has already launched a VR headset or is working on one. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook said virtual reality is "really cool."