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MIT Technology Review

Facebook’s Oculus Says Gaming Is Just One Thing You’ll Do in Virtual Reality

The chief technology officer of Facebook’s virtual-reality division predicts that its devices will be a popular way to watch videos.

September 24, 2015

Video games are an obvious application for virtual-reality headsets like the one Facebook’s Oculus division will launch early next year. But the chief technology officer of Oculus predicted Thursday that gaming will eventually account for less than half of the time people spend using the technology.

John Carmack, well known in the games industry for helping create the games Doom and Quake, described gaming as “the sharp end of the spear right now,” saying it will establish virtual reality as a technology consumers get excited about. But while many people love playing—and spending money on—games, much more time is spent watching videos and looking at photos.

Carmack predicted that those will also be popular in virtual reality. He said gaming will eventually make up a minority of the time that people spend using virtual-reality headsets, although he didn’t specify by when he expected that to happen. “Not everything has to be interactive,” he said. Carmack spoke at an Oculus event in Los Angeles for software developers.

Oculus plans to release its first consumer headset, the Rift, during the first quarter of next year, though the company hasn’t yet said exactly when it will come out or how much it will cost. The device will require a connection to a high-powered PC, and Oculus said Wednesday that computer makers including Acer and Dell will be rolling out PCs marked as “Oculus Ready” next year for under $1,000.

A more affordable way to enter Oculus’s virtual reality will become available in November. Samsung announced today that it will release a new version of Gear VR, a headset the company worked with Oculus to develop that uses a Samsung smartphone for its display and computing power. The new device will cost $99, half the price of the existing Gear VR device.

Oculus is working with entertainment companies to try to ensure there is plenty of content for people to experience on both the Rift and Gear VR. As well as games, for example Microsoft’s Minecraft, movies, and TV shows will be available. On Wednesday, Oculus announced that existing Netflix content can be viewed using the Gear VR. A Netflix app for the device places you on a red couch inside a virtual ski chalet, in front of a giant screen on which ordinary 2-D video appears. Video content from Hulu and Vimeo will become available on Gear VR in the next few months.