The virtual reality (VR) arms race is heating up, as various tech firms announce new headsets on a regular basis. Whether fully-fledged devices like the Oculus Rift or smaller test bed designs like the Google Project Cardboard, there's soon to be no shortage of choice for consumers.
Samsung have just announced a promising new VR headset called Gear VR, following a number of rumours over the past few months. The device is being developed in collaboration with Oculus Rift, and brings many innovative new approaches to the VR space.
The question is, can the device compete in an increasingly crowded (and growing) market?
What exactly is it?
This new device from Samsung takes a radically different approach to VR headset design, and could in fact lead to an entirely new category of headsets. Unlike the now 'traditional' approach to VR, which involves an external computer or console powering the headset display, the Gear VR utilises a smartphone.
Though no price has been announced it's likely the total cost of the Gear VR set up could be cheaper than having to purchase the Rift and a computer capable of powering the games and applications.
Gear VR works by essentially providing a casing for the new Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, which slots into the front the device and serves as the display. Lenses and a Rift-like design help to provide an immersive and comfortable experience for users.
The phone is no slouch either, and is able to output 1440p on a 5.7 inch AMOLED screen. Once the smartphone has been slotted in, the applications transition over and the user is able to begin taking advantage of the full experience without any complicated set up.
A focus has been placed on developing the underlying drivers and technology to power Gear VR, with a special team at Oculus headed by legendary game developer John Carmack leading efforts.
Collaboration with Oculus
There's one thing that the Gear VR has, however, which certainly gives it a substantial leg up over the competition – collaboration with Oculus, the company that's restarted the race for VR. Such a substantial technology alliance could ensure the success of the unit.
It's important to consider exactly what this relationship will mean for both companies, especially given the fact that the VR market will likely become extremely competitive in the near future. It's able to provide mutual development benefits, as Samsung is arguably a leader in the mobile space, and Oculus is well-positioned to supply the first proper consumer VR headset.
Collaboration and cooperation on both hardware and software could lead to high-quality hardware and an extensive range of entertainment and productivity software over the next few years.
A clear example can be seen with the first software announcements, which provide a good basis for other app developers to build on.
- Oculus Home – This app functions as a hub for connecting to the Oculus Store, where users can find VR-specific content.
- Oculus Cinema – A virtual reality cinema where movies (both 2D and 3D) can be played back across a number of theatre environments.
- Oculus 360 Videos and Photos – These two applications allow the playback of panoramic videos and photos in VR.
These apps lay a strong groundwork for content developers to publish games and experiences in a similar framework to the Android phone ecosystem.
The Gear VR is certainly positioned to succeed following an eventual release, given that it has the support of such a substantial VR company (Oculus) behind it. While being required to utilise a specific smart phone (the Note 4) could set back adoption, a well-priced headset with a useful suite of software and entertainment experiences could certainly boost sales of both the phone and headset.
There's no denying that this first foray in mobile VR is an exciting one, and could grow the casual VR space following a market release.