Samsung rumored to race Oculus and Sony to the virtual reality market


Samsung is reportedly planning to release its own VR headset sometime this year. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Long the purview of pipe dreams, virtual reality suddenly seems to be a hot market.

Engadget reported Thursday that Samsung, which had never publicly expressed interest in the technology, is bursting onto the virtual reality scene sometime this year. Citing unnamed "sources close" to the company, the technology blog said that the Korean tech giant is working on an immersion headset that would work with its ever-expanding line of smartphones and tablets.

Samsung declined to comment on the reports.

If Samsung is indeed rushing to the virtual reality market, it would join an upsurge of competition during the past few months. Facebook's $2 billion purchase of OculusVR, the Kickstarter darling that first made virtual reality feel attainable, appears to have lit a fire under other companies to either start working on their own version or at least talk up what they're already doing. Sony has also announced that it's deep into development of its own VR headset, provisionally called "Project Morpheus," as an accessory to its PlayStation console. Samsung would be the third large tech company to jump into the fray.

The battle of the virtual reality headsets is expected to be a major trend at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, as Oculus and Sony both head into the show with a ton of buzz from the industry and from potential customers who are excited about what the companies have developed.

The Oculus has its roots in gaming, and that's certainly the most obvious application for virtual reality, since being able to immerse players in a game is a serious advancement for the genre. The current prototype -- known as the Crystal Cove -- provides a good, stable gaming experience that does feel immersive. Wearing one, you can lean your head to peek around corners or lean in to look at something. And all of that comes with a minimum of the motion sickness that plagued earlier attempts at these kinds of headsets.

Just as elements of video games spill over into other areas of the world -- think training videos for the Defense Department, or virtual field training for surgeons -- so, too, will the demand for virtual reality likely reach beyond the game industry. When Facebook acquired Oculus earlier this year, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that he expected the Oculus acquisition to affect how people communicate, period.

"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," Zuckerberg said on his Facebook profile. "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home."

Sure, the idea of having begoggled people everywhere may feel, to some, like technocentric dystopia come to life. But the fact that we can even seriously consider that such a thing might happen in the average living room is significant in and of itself.

Now, onto the hoverboards and flying cars.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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