People looking to immerse themselves in virtual worlds can now preorder Samsung's Gear VR headset.
Cooked up by Samsung and Facebook subsidiary Oculus VR, the Gear VR is the first virtual reality headset designed for consumers, according to its manufacturers. Priced at $99, the device will serve up computer-generated virtual worlds in which you can play immersive games and view videos and photographs. The Gear VR requires a compatible mobile phone and will support Samsung's newest lineup, including the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+.
The launch of the Gear VR will be a test for both consumers and the virtual reality industry. Will gamers and other people gravitate to a technology that requires them to wear a chunky headset to get a dose of virtual reality? The need for a Samsung smartphone could serve to limit adoption.
The Samsung Gear VR is essentially a plastic box with a phone inside it that you strap to your head. Lenses magnify the smartphone's screen and make it appear to wrap around your field of vision. Sensors inside the phone and the headset can tell when you turn your head, causing the images to change accordingly so that you get the sensation of being in another world.
A good mix of games and videos could help the system take off.
Occulus is touting new made-for-VR games, some available now and others "coming soon." Gaming titles launching right away include Land's End by Ustwo Games, Bandit Six: Salvo by Climax Studios and Dead Secret by Robot Invader, all available in the Oculus Store. Such titles as Gunjack by CCP Games and Anshar Wars 2 by OZWE Games are on tap for a little down the road. Via these games, you can do things like exploring the terrain of alien-inhabited planets and battling enemy ships in outer space.
Gear VR owners will be able to watch the entire catalog of TV shows and movies on Netflix and turn to Oculus Video to catch more than 70 films from 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate and 9,000 videos from Vimeo. Users also will be able to explore more than 200,000 photos in 360-degree views.
There's also a social aspect. A feature called Oculus Social lets you select an avatar and watch videos with friends and with other people from around the world.
Other companies are also venturing into the virtual reality realm. Google Cardboard is a headset that you can make yourself or order as a kit to get a simple type of virtual reality viewer compatible with Android phones and the iPhone. Smartphone maker HTC and game maker Valve this year plan to release a competing headset called the Vive. Sony is working on PlayStation VR, and the Vive from smartphone maker and game maker Valve is expected to be released by the end of the year.
The Gear VR is up for preorder through Best Buy, Amazon and Samsung. It will ship on November 20.