Virtual reality gear is turning heads at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

BARCELONA // Virtual reality launches are turning heads at this year’s Mobile World Congress, with the market set to be worth up to US$3.6 billion by 2018.

High-profile VR launches by Samsung and LG this year coincide with a growing take-up of the technology in the UAE, with the Samsung Gear VR headset experiencing a steady sales growth.

VR technology was at the heart of Samsung’s press conference on Sunday evening, with attendees donning the Gear VR headset to witness the unveiling of the company’s new flagship Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge handsets.

The South Korean giant also unveiled its 360 camera, which can capture 360-degree images and video, also offering live streaming. The camera is expected to hit the shops during the second quarter, at a price “less than a GoPro”, said a Samsung representative.

More significant, however, was the appearance of Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, at the press conference.

Facebook, which acquired VR pioneer Oculus for $2bn in 2014, was developing virtual reality applications that would be available via the Gear VR headset, which uses Oculus technology, in the coming weeks, Mr Zuckerberg told delegates.

Samsung’s announcements came hours after its South Korean rival LG announced the launch of its own VR 360 headset, together with the LG 360 Cam. Camera and headset will be launched around June, with no details regarding pricing.

HTC has announced pricing details for its long-awaited Vive VR headset, first announced at MWC last year. The Vive, which will retail for $799, is expected to hit stores in April.

Oculus, meanwhile, is to launch its much-anticipated Rift headset, retailing for $599, by the end of March. Virtual reality headset sales are forecast to hit 12 million in 2017, up from just 2.5 million in 2015, according to the industry analysts CCS Insight. This figure is expected to double in 2018, by which time the market will be worth $3.6bn.

“I think VR is really starting to come of age,” said Ashish Pan­jabi, the chief operating officer for Jacky’s Electronics.

“The number of 360-degree cameras that are coming on the market at price points that are attrac­tive to consumers has made it a lot more interesting.”

Samsung is best placed to take advantage of rising interest in VR, Mr Panajabi told The National in Barcelona, with demand for the Gear VR headset, which retails for about Dh600, increasing significantly over the past three months.

“The biggest challenge has been to get our hands on sufficient stock allocations. It’s at a price that consumers are willing to pay, and as we get more and more VR content, and with Facebook fighting the case, we should see a lot more take-up.”

Such take-up is only likely to increase following Samsung’s decision to offer the headset for free with pre-orders of the Galaxy S7 registered before March 18 this year.

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