In the near future, when it’s time to relax, you’ll head to the living room, sit on the couch, pick up the remote, turn on the TV, fire up Netflix, and zone out to your favorite show. But the living room, couch, remote, and TV won’t be real—they’ll be simulations on your virtual reality headset.
Yesterday (Sept. 24) at Oculus Connect—the Facebook-owned VR company’s developer conference—Samsung announced a new model of its Gear VR headset, and Oculus announced a Netflix streaming app that’ll work on the Gear.
The swathe of virtual reality headsets that are due to be released in the coming year—like Oculus’s Rift, and HTC’s Vive—are essentially focused on the hardcore gaming market as they’ll be expensive devices that will require powerful PCs to run effectively. Quartz’s Alice Truong noted, however, that the Gear VR could be the device that brings VR to the mass market, as it costs only $99. And apps like Netflix could prove to be the reason you’ll want to get one.
If you have a Google Cardboard or one of Samsung’s first-generation headsets, watch this to get a feel for what VR Netflix will look like (and then come back here):
Gizmodo’s Darren Orf tried out the actual Netflix app on a Gear headset, and said that “now reality seems hollow and pointless,” suggesting that soon we will all be content to live inside virtual living rooms instead of our own. To be fair, that ski-lodge-themed living room Netflix chose for its demo looks infinitely better than my actual living room, so I kind of get it, but there are a few hurdles that still need to be overcome before we’re all going to strap these things to our faces instead of watching on a laptop.
First off: The Samsung Gear is, at its core, a $99 holster. It requires inserting a current flagship Samsung phone into it to work, meaning that a relatively small audience will be able to actually use one. Secondly, not as immersive as Oculus’s eventual headset will be (although the company worked with Samsung to build this), and you really are just looking into a smartphone strapped close to your face: The resolution is just not as great as an HD TV’s (or 4K TV’s) would be. And currently, none of Netflix’s content itself is in 3D, so unless you really like that ski-lodge theme, it’s not a wholly different experience than watching Netflix regularly.
But Netflix’s app hints at a future that we’ve been driving toward since the days of Tron and Microsoft Bob: an actual, virtual world to operate in. If the Gear VR or Oculus Rift prove to be successes, we may one daybe strapping on our VR sets before we Netflix and chill. It’s a brave new world.