NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- After years of promises and tech demos, virtual reality headsets are finally going to make their way to consumers by the end of 2015.
The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week was one of the first showcases for a new VR headset from game developer Valve Corporation and smartphone maker HTC. Sony(SNE) - Get Report and Facebook's(FB) - Get ReportOculus also made a few announcements regarding their previously-announced headsets at the show.
The four companies are poised to enter a new product category which could sell 25 million units by the end of 2015, according to research firm Gartner.
The biggest VR surprise from the show was the new HTC Vive, made in collaboration with Valve, which uses a unique set of sensors and lasers for motion tracking. The companies claim its approach to motion sensing can prevent the sort of motion sickness that many people experience when using other headsets. The dual 1200 x 1080 screens also help "eliminate the jitter common with previous VR technologies," according to the companies.
The Vive's lasers and sensors also work with a pair of controllers that make interacting with objects in VR more intuitive by tracking their motion in 3D space and showing their position in the virtual world seen in the headset.
HTC and Valve were the first companies to promise a consumer launch of their headset in 2015. The developer edition of the Vive will ship this spring, with the consumer version slated for release before the end of the year.
The companies were clear that the design of the headset, which currently looks almost insect-like with all of the sensors, will change before its release.
The Vive won't be the only headset out this year, however. During a talk at GDC Oculus CTO John Carmack said his company has plans to make big consumer push later this year through its partnership with Samsung (SSNLF) .
Through their current partnership Samsung and Oculus developed the Gear VR line, VR headsets that are powered by the Galaxy Note 4 and the new Galaxy S6 smartphones. While the company made a number of enhancements for the second version of Gear VR for the Galaxy S6, including a new fan to prevent the lenses from fogging up and a new focus dial, Carmack made it clear that the current headsets are not ready for the mass market yet.
The goal, Carmack said, is to make a big push during Samsung's next smartphone cycle, hinting that the push would come with the release of the next phone in the Galaxy Note line.
What Carmack couldn't comment on, however, was the release of the consumer model of the Oculus Rift for the PC.
Sony, the other big player in VR going into GDC, also took time to give some more details of its upcoming Project Morpehus headset that debuted last year. Project Morpheus, the company announced, will ship sometime in the first half of 2016.
Project Morpheus is unique because it only works with Sony's PlayStation 4 console. The headset will use a 5.7-inch 1920 x RBG x 1080 OLED display with a 120hz refresh rate, and latency of just 18ms, according to Sony. To improve the head tracking of the headset, Sony put nine LEDs on the device that look similar to the LEDs on the DualShock 4 controllers for the console.
Sony didn't give many other details about the headset, but said it will have more VR games to show at E3 later this year, and at other events leading up to launch.
Later in the week, theWall Street Journal reported that Google(GOOGL) - Get Report is also interested in created a virtual reality version of its Android platform. The company already has an app in the Google Play Store called Google Cardboard that turns smartphones into inexpensive VR headsets when used with a cardboard accessory. Google will reportedly distribute the VR version of Android as it does with other versions of the platform.
All of the major VR headset companies, and others including gaming accessory maker Razer's Open-Source Virtual Reality (OSVR), are putting a major focus on games with their headsets, which makes sense. Games are a great demonstration for the technology. The experience of putting on a headset and finding yourself in the cockpit of a spaceship, riding on the back of a dragon, or in the middle of a Portal test chamber, is impossible to compare to anything else. There's more to it than just games, though.
When HTC and Valve announced the Vive they said they were working with content creators including Google, HBO (TWX) , Lionsgate (LGF) , and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan to bring other experiences to virtual reality. Oculus recently brought its headsets to the Sundance Film Festival to show off the storytelling experiences that are possible with VR.
In his talk, Carmack even mentioned his idea to create a virtual comic shop for the Oculus. Though it sounded like a joke, he insisted he was serious about the idea, and implored interested developers to come help him make it.
While HTC, Valve, Sony, and Oculus all have their own headsets to push, none of them want the other to fail. Carmack mentioned there was a fear of "poisoning the well" at Oculus. "There's this fear that if a really bad VR product goes out, it could set the industry back to the '90s," when some companies tried VR, but found the technology wasn't there yet.
It's not clear how consumers will react to the VR headsets when the companies are ready to make their big pushes, but if the long lines that always seem to form whenever Oculus shows off its headsets at consumer events like Penny Arcade Expo are any indication, there is certainly a lot of excitement around the idea of putting on a headset and stepping into another world.
"I want to see a billion people in VR," Carmack said. "Zuck wants to see a billion people in VR," he added, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Gartner expects VR technology to have a slower adoption rate than smartphones, but said that rate will accelerate "when users increasingly experience compelling, immersive worlds offered by well-made VR and AR apps through their headsets."
Stock impact? Jim Cramer, who owns both Facebook and Google for his charitable trust, ActionAlertsPlus.com, says anything virtual reality is icing on the cake for either company given that "no one I know is even using anything virtual reality in any of the numbers either short-term or long-term."
"Non-event, earnings wise, " Cramer says, "but buzz wise? Very exciting. Certainly better than Google Glass."