Gear VR: The VR Taste-Tester

Samung and Oculus VR’s partnership on the Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD) was announced at Samsung Unpacked, Berlin, to considerable fanfare. Warmly received by both technology and virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts, the device has since gone on to become one of the key players in the VR scene. But what’s next for Gear VR? Now that a consumer release is almost upon us, there’s a much clearer picture of what the Gear VR means to gaming, movies and general VR entertainment.

The Gear VR benefited from a year-long incubation period. Known as the ‘Innovator Edition’, the initial launch saw support for just a single smartphone handset, the Samsung Note 4, which acted as both the screen for the device and the digital distribution platform for content. Just a few months later a second iteration was revealed and offered support for the two new models in Samsung’s flagship smartphone series, Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. Both of these Innovator Edition HMDs retailed for $199 USD and birthed a modest selection of software titles. In the last month however, a lot has changed for the Gear VR.

Consumer Gear VR 1

At Oculus Connect 2, Hollywood, last month, Oculus VR announced that the Gear VR would launch at US retail on 30th October 2015, with the rest of the world to follow shortly thereafter. This was to be expected given the company’s previous comments on the ‘full consumer’ release of the device, but perhaps more important was the price tag: $99 USD. Half that of the initial release, but also low enough to allow for an easy bleeding into the mainstream.

What’s so magical about that price-point? In 1998 Nintendo US boldly made the statement that a sub-$100 was an ‘attractive proposition for consumers’ as the Nintendo 64 received it’s second price-drop, bringing the console down to a suggested retail price of $99.95. That was 17 years ago however, and in today’s economy $99 means something very different. It’s no longer just an ‘attractive proposition’, but an almost disposable amount of money when considering rival entertainment opportunities. For retailers, it’s a low-cost solution for offering bundle solutions.

Given that the Gear VR requires a Samsung smartphone handset to function (Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ or Note 5), it’s surely only a matter of time until mobile phone contract retailers begin offering pack-in deals? At the time of writing, VRFocus found more than half-a-dozen UK retailers offering Xbox One consoles, annual Spotify subscriptions and various tablet computers as free gifts on contracts beginning from as little as £17 GBP per month. All of these devices cost more than the $99 price point of the consumer Gear VR in the US.

Gear VR poster

Offering a unique accessory compatible with your brand new smartphone handset would not only be an interesting incentive for consumers new to VR, but also a cost-cutting opportunity for retailers and a great boon for the VR industry as a whole. Gear VR has the potential to be a gateway drug for more the comprehensive VR experiences available on Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive, and giving consumers the opportunity to taste-test the new medium in such a way is surely a simple matter of joining the dots for all concerned.