At the annual Game Developers Conference last March Valve and HTC made quite a splash with the HTC Vive virtual reality visor, powered by Valve's SteamVR platform. At the time it was announced that the Vive would be out by this coming holiday, and that it would be just one of a number of VR products powered by SteamVR.
Since then Valve has set up a form that developers can use to request a free Vive development system; you'll have to provide specifics about your project and team size so I'd assume Valve is going to be taking a long look at all applications. In other words this isn't a way to try to score a free headset if you're not really a developer!
But what anyone can get is the new OpenVR SDK which Valve just released yesterday via GitHub. Granted there's not a lot you can do with it without hardware, but you can read the documentation and check out the samples and get a head start that way, I assume. (Disclaimer: I am not a developer!)
Valve says that the SDK release is "the next step toward the first major Developer Edition shipment" and that there is still time to apply for a free dev system. They don't offer any kind of time frame but if they expect developers to have software ready for a hardware launch this holiday season then you'd think they'd need to get those kits out pretty soon.
This week also saw Epic Games announcing that Unreal Engine 4 will have support for SteamVR. Unity had previously announced support via a plugin. Both of these are popular game development platforms, which means a whole bunch of game developers will be able to get involved with SteamVR without learning a whole new platform.
I'm still not convinced we'll have a viable ecosystem for regular consumers by the end of this year (we've seen that Valve is willing to leave hardware vendors hanging with its delay of SteamOS last year) but it feels close, doesn't it? I'm really excited to watch arrival of VR; I'm still not sure if it's going to be a massive success or a total flop and that's part of what makes this all so interesting.