Facebook Inc-owned Oculus VR Inc wooed software makers on Thursday with the promise of a budding “virtual reality era” and an alliance with streaming television powerhouse Netflix Inc.
About 1,500 people already intrigued by the potential of virtual reality packed the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles for keynote presentations at a second annual Oculus Connect developers conference.
“We believe the more power people have to share and experience all kinds of different things in the world, the better the world will be,” Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg told the audience during a brief appearance on stage. “After video, the next logical step is fully immersive virtual reality.”
Facebook bought Oculus VR last year in a deal valued at US$2 billion, heralding virtual reality as the next-generation computing platform and one that will let people instantly “travel” to new places.
“It was like teleporting to some other place just by putting on a headset,” Zuckerberg said while recounting the first time he tried a Rift prototype at Oculus offices. “It was so good, I didn’t want to really leave. I was seeing the next great technology platform.”
The first Rift virtual reality headset is on track for release in the first quarter of next year, followed shortly thereafter by the debut of Touch controllers designed to let people reach in and interact with faux worlds.
Asustek Computer Inc (華碩), Dell Inc and Alienware Corp will release PCs with processing and graphics power configured for Rift virtual reality, and bearing a logo to show they are “Oculus Ready,” Oculus vice president of product Nate Mitchell said.
Oculus has yet to disclose what it will charge for Rift headsets, but said that Oculus Ready computers coming to market will have prices less than US$1,000.
“This is a once-in-a-generation moment where we can create something that inspires millions of people ... something that will change their lives forever,” Oculus chief executive Brendan Iribe told the audience. “This is the dawn of the virtual reality era.”
Samsung Electronics Co’s Gear VR headgear powered by Oculus software is already on the market.
An improved version will debut in the US in November at a price of US$99, according to Peter Koo, a senior vice president in the mobile communications division of the South Korean titan.
Koo said the price was intended to be affordable enough to make virtual reality “mainstream.”
People are already sharing 360o video and playing immersive games using Gear VR headsets, which let the company’s smartphones serve as display screens.
The new Gear VR model is 22 percent lighter than its predecessor, more comfortable to wear and has improve controls, Koo said.
The hardware works with the current year’s lineup of Galaxy smartphones.
Oculus has taken direct aim at video game lovers, working with major studios and gaming engine makers to immerse players in virtual worlds.
An Oculus Arcade unveiled on Thursday boasted partners including Sega and Warner Brothers and games including Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Popular online building game Minecraft, made by Swedish studio Mojang, is diving into virtual reality with the launch next year of Rift, according to Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.
Oculus Cinema capabilities and offerings were broadened and virtual reality gear users will be able to immerse themselves in game play streamed by Amazon.com Inc-owned Twitch.
Oculus also announced an alliance with Netflix to stream 360o video that will let viewers change perspective as if they were in the middle of on-screen action, with new Netflix content set to be released.
A Netflix application tailored for Samsung Gear VR lets members of the subscription video streaming service “get the Netflix experience from the comfort of a virtual couch” where ever they happen to be with the headset, Netflix engineering vice president Anthony Park said in a blog post.
“Despite all the talk of hardcore gamers and abstract metaverses, a lot of people want to watch movies and shows in virtual reality,” Oculus chief technology officer John Cormack said in the post.
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