Samsung’s Gear VR slated for full release by the end of the year

While Oculus is still “baby stepping” out its app store for the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus CTO John Carmack said the company plans to do a broad release of the virtual reality headset during Samsung’s next product release cycle — presumably the Note release event in September.

Speaking to a packed room at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Carmack apologized to early Gear developers who may have rushed to create products based on his enthusiastic words about the platform. Samsung debuted the Gear headset in September last year, but labeled it the “Innovator Edition” while content slowly trickled out.

Samsung wanted to precede immediately with a broad consumer release, Carmack said, but Oculus was concerned that the software was not ready. He said the company, now owned by Facebook, was concerned the platform’s relatively low 60 frames per second refresh rate would make people sick.

“These are the nightmare scenarios that keep CEOs awake at night,” Carmack said. “A funny thing happened. People kind of like it. The response has been a lot better than almost anyone expected from this.”

Oculus CTO John Carmack speaks at the 2015 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Oculus CTO John Carmack speaks at the 2015 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Oculus hopes to integrate better optics and ergonomics into the consumer version of Gear VR, but the headset will likely perform at mostly the same level as the Innovator Edition. The company urges developers to continue to develop for the lower performance range.

Carmack admitted that Samsung could suddenly decide to drop virtual reality from its pursuits, but said that is a worst case scenario. He still warned developers that they should not expect the company to ship huge numbers of Gear by the end of the year.

Oculus plans to accept “uncomfortable” software into the Gear store that rolled out this week. While the company hasn’t seen the videos of people throwing up while wearing Gear VR it worried about, some content is still only acceptable for people with “iron stomachs.” Different apps will be labeled based on their comfort level. (Apparently Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe is very sensitive to VR-induced nausea, but he handles Gear experiences surprisingly well.)

A Gear VR demo at the 2015 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

A Gear VR demo at the 2015 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.


Carmack said he sees a billion people using virtual reality around the world, and believes mobile experiences will be an important way to expose people to the technology for the first time. He said people will be drawn to virtual reality for different reasons, and it won’t necessarily be the people you expect. His 70-year-old mother uses Gear VR and takes panoramic pictures for it while on vacation, for example.

Carmack decided to join Oculus full time after seeing an early Gear prototype. When Samsung originally approached Oculus with a demo, the hardware was good but the software was not any better than rival mobile experiences Oculus had seen. He said he saw that Oculus could do “something that’s pretty credible with this,” in the near term instead of the far future. The partnership with Samsung was a way to bring virtual reality to the masses relatively quickly.

“We want to see more interesting things that people are doing in VR,” Carmack said. “I honestly do see a world with a billion people using virtual reality headsets. It’s just so fundamental.”