For a while, virtual reality has seemed stuck in neutral for the nongaming audience, with companies struggling to make VR appealing to everyone. But firms keep trying -- and they're starting to make a better case as prices continue to drop. Microsoft recently showed off a slew of new high-end virtual reality headsets for Windows 10 PCs from a number of partners to show off the breadth of its ecosystem, including a new $500 set from Samsung.
I had around 10 minutes to try out Samsung's HMD Odyssey which works on Windows 10 and is set to hit store shelves on Nov. 6.
And it's pretty good. The graphics were immersive enough to activate my fear of heights in a demo set high in the mountains. The headset also has a design that curves snugly around the face. That makes the immersion feel pretty complete, even if the graphics aren't quite as striking as what you'd see on a high-priced headset hooked up to an equally pricey gaming computer.
And, having tried out a few versions of virtual reality headsets over the past several years, I was surprised by how comfortable this one was. It weighs about a pound and a half -- on the heavy side for a headset, but the weight is distributed well.
Above all, the price of the HMD Odyssey is notable, as it's in line with the fast-descending price of virtual reality headsets. Both computer-based virtual reality headset makers, Oculus and HTC, slashed their prices this summer to $500 and $600 respectively -- down from their original price tags of $700 and $800. Other previously announced sets from HP, Dell, Acer and Asus are launching for Windows 10 on Oct. 17, and their prices go as low as $350 or so.
Those still aren't quite impulse-level prices -- at least for me. But at least the price of good VR is down significantly from when the hype first began.
Which is to say: this may be the beginning of the beginning of VR for the average person. Microsoft showed off some appealing applications, such as being able to watch video on the virtual equivalent of a 300-inch television or being able to easily teleconference. Outside of entertainment, the promise becomes murkier. The idea of editing a spreadsheet or writing an article using those VR controllers makes me queasier than any VR-related motion sickness.
Microsoft consumers should expect to hear way more about this type of experience in the years to come. Microsoft's Alex Kipman, who invented its HoloLens and is its chief presenter on all things augmented and virtual reality, said that the experience lets us "renegotiate our very contract with reality.
That's no small claim. To accomplish it, though, there is still a lot of work to be done.