Samsung’s Gear VR headset reaches the marketplace

Samsung's Gear VR: now available in the US & pre-orders being taken in the UK
Samsung’s Gear VR: now available in the US & pre-orders being taken in the UK

Can’t wait for the Oculus Rift consumer edition to arrive? Got a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phablet (or thinking of upgrading your existing contract to a Note 4?) Then you can get into the VR revolution wirelessly, if still pretty much on a “beta” basis.

The Gear VR headset, featuring Oculus technology, is now available in the US for around $200.00. The headset can be ordered from the likes of AT&T and direct from Samsung US, which both price the headset at $199.00 – although a game controller is a purchasable extra (Samsung offer 30% off the price of their gamepad if purchased with the headset)

Offering a wireless, portable VR experience, the Gear VR headset requires the Samsung Galaxy note 4 phablet
Offering a wireless, portable VR experience, the Gear VR headset requires the Samsung Galaxy note 4 phablet

Within the UK, advance order of the Gear VR headset are currently being offered by the likes of Expansys for £159.99 sans controller but inclusive of VAT. Handtec are offering the headset at £185.99 inclusive of VAT, or £239.99 (inc VAT) for the headgear and a controller.  Handtec are also supplying a 16Gb micro SD card for the Note 4 along with both versions of the headset. This contains a collection of immersive trailers and film tie-ins, and a Cirque du Soleil 360-degree immersive experience, all of which are separately available through the Oculus Share store.

Samsung are offering 30% off the price of their game controller (which works with most of their smartphones) t US purchasers of the Gear VR headset
Samsung are offering 30% off the price of their game controller (which works with most of their smartphones) t US purchasers of the Gear VR headset – although the company also admits, a game controller isn’t the best way to partake of an interactive VR experience…

The Samsung Gear VR Innovator’s Edition headset combines the Note 4’s Super AMOLED 2560×1440 and software (remembering that the Note 4 is not included in the Gear VR’s retail price) with the Oculus Rift’s optics,  head tracking and dedicated controls – you can see the full specs on the Samsung global site.

According to The Verge, the tracking controller is from the Oculus DK1. Also, note that although the finish product is more polished than the Oculus DK offerings, “innovator” in the name should be taken as indicative that it is still a “beta” unit.

This is something the company itself is emphasising, with Samsung virtual reality VP Nick DiCarlo carefully defining the marketing approach to this release of the Gear VR, “We’re very carefully trying to avoid overhyping this, but we think it’s going to be amazing.” DiCarlo also notes that while company’s game controller is being offered at a discount when ordered with the headset, game controllers are perhaps not the ideal companion for immersive VR experiences.

That Handtec are  also offering offerings from the Oculus store helps to underline the fact that the Gear will work with content that is already available. In this regard as well, Titans of Space, already hugely popular with DK1 and DK2 users, is pointedly listed as being available for the Gear VR, as is cyberpunk hacking game Darknet. Oculus Mobile themselves are keen to point-out that they are working on both sides of the net with products suitable for both mobile options and for desktop / laptop options.

Titans of Space: an Oculus  / Gear VR experience which allows users to experience the majesty of the solar system
Titans of Space: an Oculus / Gear VR experience which allows users to experience the majesty of the solar system

Samsung is also promoting a new VR service alongside the headset – although this still, at the time of writing, has yet to be rolled-out. It’s called Milk VR, which the company defines as:

Milk-VRThe company’s first virtual reality content service. Milk VR will deliver new and immersive 360° videos five days a week, with channels in music, sports, action and storytelling. The service also tracks what is trending across the VR landscape, to help viewers find the best VR content.

Samsung’s belief is that by making VR a mobile experience, they stand to help it gain more widespread acceptance as an entertainment medium – hence the Milk VR offering. “If VR is only ever for gaming, it’s going to be a great and successful business,” DiCarlo told The Verge in another interview. “But part of what we’re hoping to do is really have VR evolve over time towards a mainstream thing that people do in a lot of different cases.”

This is perhaps also reflected in the company’s recent launch of Project Beyond, a 3D, 360-degree camera rig designed to capture videos and stream them on the Gear VR.

However, not everyone is convinced that releasing the Gear VR now is necessarily a good move. At the end of November, having tried a pre-release version of the headset, TechRadar noted:

Where the Oculus Rift is tethered and feels like a “grown up” version of virtual reality, the Gear VR feels more accessible as a mainstream product. But this December may be too soon for Gear VR to hit the market. Sure, it’s targeted at early adopters and developers but making it widely available doesn’t seem to be the right move. Given more time to improve latency and allow more content to flow in, it could very well be a hit.

It might also be argued that while both Project Beyond and Milk VR are interesting concepts, they perhaps also demonstrate a lack of imagination, regulating VR to what James Cameron recently critiqued as little more than “stand and watch” (although it has to be said Milk VR could easily offer more in the way of involvement and interaction, depending upon the content curated through it). Nevertheless, by making VR more accessible and less reliant on slaving yourself to a computer, Samsung is more on the right track in making VR a more accessible medium with full freedom of use.

Nor are they entirely alone – Carl Zeiss recently launched their $99 (£79 / 99 Euro) Zeiss VR One, which is intended to work with a range of mobile ‘phones, starting with the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 6 (in a novel move, users are being asked to vote on which other ‘phone should be supported by the headset in the future). The headset is tied to an app supplied by the company, which may limit initial offerings, but Zeiss are also offering developers wanting to work with the Zeiss VR One access to their open source Unity3D SDK so that games and other offerings can be more easily developed.

Zeiss VR One - yours for $99.00 (£78.00  / 99 Euros
Zeiss VR One – yours for $99.00 (£78.00 / 99 Euros)

While mobile headsets may well be the means by which VR could achieve deeper market penetration than being constantly slaved to a computer, they will require  fair amount of maturing. The Gear VR Innovator Edition, for example, despite having a higher image resolution capability, thanks to the Galaxy Note’s screen, actually delivers pretty much the same per-eye experience as the Oculus DK2, so on-screen text can still appear blurred and hard to read.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see where this all leads, and what else might pop-up in the mobile sector of the new VR market ahead of the Oculus Rift eventually making its appearance. And on that point, please don’t see the arrival of the Gear VR as indicative that the Oculus Rift is now “just around the corner”; Brendan Iribe seems to have been pretty clear on that subject recently, and the emphasis at Oculus VR is still on getting it “right”, rather than getting it “out”.

All images of the Gear VR and the Milk VR logo courtesy of Samsung; image of the Zeiss VR One, courtesy of Carl Zeiss AG; image from Titans of Space courtesy of Drash VR LLC.

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Bay City tree lighting nets L$277,371 for Child’s Play

The Bay City Christmas Tree at the Bay City Fairgrounds
The Bay City Christmas Tree at the Bay City Fairgrounds – click for full size

Saturday December 6th, 2014, marked the fifth annual Tree Lighting event held by the Bay City Alliance. Featuring live entertainment, music and dancing, a skating party, silent auction,  refreshments and fun, the event was aimed at raising money for Child’s Play Charity, a 501c3 non-profit organisation offering on-line communities such as the Bay City Alliance an opportunity to help seriously ill children around the globe during their hospital stays with the purchase of games and gaming equipment.

In all, the event saw an amazing L$277,371 raised for Child’s Play, L$159,721 through the silent auction – the winning bids of which are still on display for the the time being at the Bay City Fairgrounds – and the remainder coming from donation from those attending / supporting the event, including a post-event donation.

The donation bins will remain out and available in the Fairgrounds through until the start of January 2015, to allow those who were unable to attend the Tree Lighting to contribute to fundraising efforts, if they so wish, and so they can be a part of the Bay City holiday and New Year celebrations, which will include a lighted boat parade and skate party, as well as the New Year’s Eve Prim Drop.

GoSpeed Racer, Christov Kohnke and Beth Odets provided the music and live entertainment  at the Tree Lighting
GoSpeed Racer, Christov Kohnke and Beth Odets provided the music and live entertainment at the Tree Lighting

The Bay City Alliance wishes to thank all of those who donated goods and services to the auction: Vick Forcella, Robin Sojourner, Flowey, Pygar Bu, Whiskey Monday, Uccello Poultry, Benjamin Wahl, Zen Creations, %Percent, Lightning Video, Echelon Sands, ADudeNamed Anthony, and Black Tulip, as well as Apple Fall for their generous Linden donation.

Thanks have also been extended to the event’s performers, Beth Odets, Christov Kohnke, and GoSpeed Racer of KONA Stream, Marianne McCann for organising the event, Kinnaird and Rachel Seelowe for helping arrange for donation items, to Kriss Lehmann of Botanical for providing the tree and lights, residents of Bay City for their tree ornaments, and to all who donated, participated in the silent auction and joined in the fun f the event!

About Bay City and the Bay City Alliance

Bay City is a mainland community, developed by Linden Lab® and home to the Bay City Alliance. The Bay City Alliance was founded in 2008 to promote the Bay City regions of Second Life and provide a venue for Bay City Residents and other interested parties to socialize and network. It is now the largest group for Residents of Bay City.

Viewer release summaries: week 49

Updates for the week ending: Sunday December 7th, 2014

This summary is published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:

  • It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog
  • By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.

Official LL Viewers

  • Current Release version updated to version 3.7.22.297128 December 5th (formerly the Benchmark RC update.) –  release notes
  • Release channel cohorts (See my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • Maintenance viewer RC updated to version 3.7.22.297131 on December 3rd – includes a broad ranges of fixes, including merges from the Attachments RC (3.7.21.296904) (download and release notes)
    • Attachments viewer RC version 3.7.21.296904 withdrawn December 3rd – merged with the Maintenance RC, above
  • Project viewers:
    • No updates.

LL Viewer Resources

Third-party Viewers

V3-style

  • Black Dragon updated to version 2.4.1.3 on Tuesday, December 2nd and then to version 2.4.1.4 on Wednesday, December 3rd – core updates: bug fixes (change log).
  • Kokua updated to version 3.7.22.35091 on Friday, December 5th – core updates: bug fixes (release notes).

V1-style

  • No updates.

Mobile / Other Clients

  • No updates.

Additional TPV Resources

Related Links

Battling balloons: Loki’s digital mastery at work

Take to the air with Loki Eliot's new Balloon Battles
Take to the air with Loki Eliot’s new Battle Balloons

As I wrote back in July 2013, Loki Eliot is many things. Games developer, content creator, blog / philosopher to name but three, and his Escapades Island in Second Life is legendary.

At the time I made those comments, I was writing about his free, Star Trek inspired starship battle game that allowed players to face off against one another flying either a Federation Starship or a Klingon Bird of Prey.

Since then, Loki has been refining things, generating a wholly original game, Battle Balloons, in the process. He’s just announced the launch of the game on SL Marketplace, and it again demonstrates that while SL may not be a game, it is possible to develop some fun game-focused experiences which can be shared among friends.

Commenting on the launch of the game, Loki says:

I think for a lot of people the experience that is Second Life revolves around visiting places, looking at pretty objects and chatting to people. There are the odd rides, combat systems and role playing groups but its always a bit rare to find simple instantly fun epic gaming experience.

And he’s right. What’s more, Battle Balloons fills the void perfectly. The essence of the game is to fly an armed, powered balloon and try to shoot down those flown by your opponents. Each balloon has a crew of two, a pilot and a gunner, who much work together, as Loki explains:

It is the pilot’s job to keep the airship in the sky, avoiding other cannon fire while collecting repair crates. It is the Gunners job to shoot down the other teams battling for air supremacy. Gunners must be careful not to shoot repair crates, unless of course you are trying to prevent the other teams from getting them … The game, while a shooting game, is also one of corroboration. While the Gunner is on the offensive, the pilot is on the defensive and success often relies on a balance between the two as you compete against others.

Fly through the repair crates to recover from damage your balloon has sustained
Fly through the repair crates to recover from damage your balloon has sustained

Battle Balloons comes complete with a balloon rezzing platform  and vendor, a spectator platform, and hovering repair crate dispensers (shown in the image above), all supplied Copy, No Mod / Transfer.  Loki tells me he is considering releasing a standalone balloon with texture kit, for those people who want to run team-based competitions.

While not specifically designed for the Oculus Rift, Loki notes the game works “pretty well” with the headset – and his request that the Lab include a means of firing guns while wearing an Oculus came directly from the development of Balloon Battles.

The game, seen in show #20 of The Drax Files: World Makers, can be purchased via the SL Marketplace, and for those wanting to try it out for themselves and get a feel for it, a version is available to play above Escapades Island.

So, if you’re looking for a new attraction for your region, or you simply like the idea of a little lighter-than-air combat with friends, when not take a look at Battle Balloons?

Images and video courtesy of Loki Eliot.