LOS ANGELES – Virtual reality is taking a few steps closer to the mainstream with Samsung unveiling a headset that brings the technology to its latest smartphones at half the price of its previous model, Facebook launching support for 360-degree video, and online video services like Netflix and Hulu jumping into the format.
The announcements at a developers conference in Los Angeles for virtual reality technology company Oculus represent attempts to push the platform beyond a video-gamer-focused niche.
Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who cut a deal to buy Oculus for $2 billion last year, told some 1,500 conference attendees Thursday that virtual reality is “the next logical step” in online sharing after text, photos and video.
“In just a few years, VR has gone from being this science fiction dream to an awesome reality,” he said. “And now we all here have a chance to change the way we play, communicate and collaborate.”
Zuckerberg showed off a promo for the upcoming “Star Wars” movie showing a speeding vehicle zooming over the desert landscape of fictional planet Jakku. Users can look around in any direction using their mouse as the video is playing.
Samsung said its new virtual reality headset will be 22 percent lighter and cost $99, half the price of its previous model. The Gear VR, which requires users to insert the latest version of a Samsung smartphone into the headset, will ship in November.
Netflix content is available to be viewed in Oculus or Samsung headsets starting Thursday, while Hulu said it would also bring its app to the Oculus platform where users can stream 2-D content as well as an original virtual reality short film called “The Big One,” from YouTube star Freddie Wong’s RocketJump production company. A Hulu launch date wasn’t announced.
Meanwhile, Oculus said it would begin a certification program so consumers can look for a sticker that will identify which computers support its Oculus Rift headset, which is due to come out early next year. Asus, Dell and Alienware will have certified models that cost less than $1,000.