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High hopes for Gear VR, as it shines a light on Samsung's tech

The new version of Gear VR will be out in November, and Gamasutra spoke to two high-level VR staff at the company about the company's hopes for the tech.

This November Samsung will launch a much more consumer friendly of Gear VR, its smartphone-based headset housing developed in collaboration with Oculus VR. It supports more Samsung handsets, and is both lighter and cheaper -- at $99.

Gamasutra spoke to Jim Willson and Tom Harding, two of Samsung's directors of immersive products, who both work on its Milk VR service for Gear VR, about the company's hopes for this new headset.

The Innovator Edition launched a year ago, aimed primarily at developers and the earliest of adopters. "We had to ensure we had the ecosystem built up, that's why we targeted developers, we targeted content creators," Willson said. "When a consumer purchases Gear VR, we wanted the wealth of content to be available to them."

Apparently this November, Samsung feels confident enough to pull the trigger on a real consumer launch. It will include super-mainstream video app Netflix, Twitch stream viewing, and of course all of the games and apps that have already been released. Taken in tandem with the new, lighter and cheaper hardware, "it's about multiple components lining up" and making a launch and "broader adoption" among consumers feasible, Willson said.

"We felt that the timing was right," as the experience was now truly worthwhile for consumers. "And that was a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus."

Over the course of the conversation it became clear that it's important to Samsung "to get it into many people's hands as possible," in Harding's words, because Gear VR showcases not just the potential of VR but the strength of Samsung's technology, and makes its phones attractive to buyers.

The pair seemed quite hopeful that the Gear VR will take off when it's released this fall. But it's also just one piece of Samsung's overall mobile strategy: "It's a really compelling medium, and we invest in VR, as in wearables in general," Harding said.

But it's a compelling one for the smartphone giant: the partnership "leverages our technology," said Harding, creating "a perfect storm of all those things" -- CPU, GPU, and AMOLED display -- according to Willson, to allow consumers to "suddenly have access to all of these amazing 360 experiences" -- games and videos both -- that Gear VR offers.

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