Virtual reality hardly could have received more exposure in Barcelona. Not just that it was VR everywhere (it was); but Mark Zuckerberg's appearance at the Samsung event was the absolute pinnacle of the whole Mobile World Congress. We collected everything you need to know about VR, post-Barcelona. It's exciting to see how virtual reality is getting more traction by the day.
Samsung is the de facto mass market leader
The Samsung Unpacked event was even bigger than expected. It almost looked like launching the new phones was just a prelude to Zuck's show about virtual reality. (Which was, by the way, unannounced, so there were quite a lot of excitement in the room.)
Zuckerberg, representing not just Facebook but also Oculus, stopped nothing short of announcing that "VR is the new platform".
Facebook has introduced 360 videos in last September, and the platform now features more than 20,000 of them, with several hundreds uploaded every day.
Zuckerberg hinted on launching new "social apps for VR" on Facebook, "dynamic streaming" being the first. It's a remarkable engineering feat streaming higher-resolution video to the area the viewer is actually watching, and low-res to the unseen areas. This can radically improve the 360 video experience, opening it up for live streaming. The Facebook CEO gave us a few very compelling examples where 360 videos can bring people closer, including documenting the first steps of his baby girl Max.
The new Samsung Galaxy S7 (edge) has a comparable display to S6, and the same screen resolution. The faster CPU can make a real difference for VR developers. All signs point to an Exynos 8890 OctaCore, although there are still rumours flying around about a Snapdragon version. We did not get a new Gear VR headset, but there's a brand new 360 camera, a much welcome surprise from Samsung. The baseball-sized Gear 360 has two fisheye lenses with two 15-megapixel CMOS sensors. It can capture 360 videos in 3840x1920, and 30-megapixel still images. We don't know anything about the price tag yet, but it's going to give a huge push to the 360 video scene.
The really big news here is not the hardware - it's decent, and it delivers a fine VR experience. The game changer is the consumer awareness and accessibility. Zuckerberg taking the stage shows Facebook's strong commitment to VR, and it's hugely important from a content perspective. The other crucial info barely made the news: Samsung is giving away a Gear VR with every pre-ordered Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. We know they have 300,000 in stock for the US, so this can easily mean a million devices worldwide.
HTC Vive confirms price and release date for Vive
HTC's much anticipated VR kit, developed in partnership with Valve, will be available for pre-order on 29th February, costs $799, and will be delivered in "early April". The steep price tag is somewhat justified by HTC shipping a pair of tracked controllers with the device (Oculus might be cheaper, but it comes with an Xbox controller). It's bundled with two games: Fantastic Contraption and Job Simulator.
A cool new feature of the Vive is the camera-assisted "real world mode". By pressing a button you can see real people in your room, and not bump into them while you are playing.
LG enters the VR race
LG had a pretty strong lineup in Barcelona, only to be overshadowed by its fellow Koreans. They basically launched everything Samsung did - but without Mark Zuckerberg, which is clearly a big disadvantage from a PR perspective.
The LG 360 VR is a lightweight smartphone-assisted VR headset. It's comfortable to wear, as you don't put the smartphone into the thing, as you do with Samsung's Gear VR, but rather connect it to your phone via a USB-C cable. It currently only works with the new LG G5, which is a problem, however excellent phone it is. We are also worried about the screen resolution (as it has its own screens). The two 1.88" displays have a resolution of 960x720. LG promises a sharp viewing experience, and the 649 DPI is impressive for sure, but it just sounds too little. The 360 VR is Cardboard compatible.
LG also introduced a 360 camera, which closely resembles the Ricoh Theta. Both lenses have a 13MP resolution, and it looks very easy to use.
The problem with the camera, as well as with the headset, is it's not particularly forward-looking. We are all in for consumer VR, and we strongly believe the success of the platform depends not on Oculus and Vive but the <$100 accessories. That said, LG's gear is a bit uninspired. We don't know anything about the price yet, but it has to be cheap to be successful.
Alcatel surprises with a clever VR product
The OneTouch Idol S4 might be a mid-range Android phone, but Alcatel did a very clever hack with its packaging. Its box doubles as a VR headset, essentially a well-built plastic Cardboard.
We don't expect Alcatel blowing up the market with the Idol S4, but it's great to see the company being creative. And this move also puts Alcatel into the VR Hall of Fame, as the Idol S4 is now the very first phone that comes with a VR headset by default. Well played!