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Oculus demos $99 Gear VR in push for mainstream virtual reality

There were a number of important announcements at the Oculus Connect 2 conference this week. First, Samsung’s Gear VR is expected to be on store shelves by the end of November, with support for a wider number of Android handsets. The first version of the device was only compatible with the Galaxy Note 4, which naturally limited its appeal. This new flavor will go on sale for $ 99 (half the cost of the original) and will be compatible with the Note 5, S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge Plus. The strange thing — and I’m not kidding, I find this more than passingly odd — is that the Gear VR final version apparently isn’t compatible with the Note 4.

Now, granted, you could argue that Samsung already rewarded last year’s group of customers with the hardware they paid for, but Samsung is claiming that the final Gear VR is 22% lighter and much more comfortable to wear for extended periods. You’d think that the customers the company would want to support the most would be those that shucked out $ 200 for last year’s model, but apparently that’s not the case. Oculus is also bringing a new arcade experience to Gear VR, billed as a novel way to play classic arcade games in a more immersive environment. Hopefully this doesn’t involve pumping virtual quarters into slots, much less the $ 2-$ 3 per play that most arcades charged when I last visited.

Oculus-Controller

If you’ve been trying to wrap your head around what kind of hardware you need for an Oculus-ready experience, meanwhile, the company has heard you and wants to make the entire buying experience less painful. Oculus is going to develop a new “Oculus ready” brand for inclusion on systems that meet a certain standard of quality. Exactly what this will look like is unclear, but everything we’ve seen suggests that the hardware will need to be quite powerful to deliver cutting-edge performance in VR. In traditional games, players can often tolerate frame rates in the 30-50 range without nausea, but low frame rates or erratic frame timing are both the kiss of death for VR — unless you like your virtual reality with a slice of very real-world nausea.

Finally, there’s Oculus Touch. We haven’t previously talked much about Oculus Touch (above), beyond a brief description of the initial demo earlier this summer. This system is designed to give users tactile feedback in VR environments; Gizmodo has published an incredibly positive hands-on review of the technology earlier this year. This is where the bad news comes in — while Oculus Rift is still expected to ship in early 2016, the Oculus Touch won’t be part of the system. The Rift is set to debut in Q1 2016, with Touch delayed until Q2 2016. As for hard launch dates for software or game conversions, information is still a bit fuzzy. Expect the VR space to take some time to really get kicking — there’s a lot of heavy lifting still to be accomplished.

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