If VR is going to be the next big thing, you wouldn't expect Samsung to pass up such a golden opportunity, would you? Alongside three other devices, Samsung today revealed a new virtual reality headset that's powered by a Galaxy Note 4. Gizmag got some hands – erm, heads-on time with the Gear VR.
Samsung partnered with the folks at Oculus for the Gear VR – and it shows. I got a demo of the Crystal Cove version of the Oculus Rift at CES, and the experience of using the Samsung headset was remarkably similar.
This could be a huge development in the adoption of virtual reality. Rather than being tethered to a bulky desktop PC or gaming console, you can now just slide in a phablet and enjoy your new virtual reality.
To me, the experience of using modern virtual reality is far different from any form of entertainment that we're used to. When playing a console or PC game, or watching a movie on a TV, I'm always aware of the separation between me and the content. I may get absorbed in it, but I never really feel like I'm shooting up baddies with Nathan Drake or asking a favor of Nucky Thompson.
Oculus – and now the Oculus-esque Gear VR – can enrapture your imagination in ways that legacy media can't. Now that it's been hyped for a while, with no retail products to show for it, it's easy to get cynical about virtual reality. But just wait: it's really like nothing else before it. And the retail products are almost here.
The Gear VR headset itself looks almost exactly like the Oculus Rift prototypes that developers are playing with – only with a more Samsungy consumer-friendly exterior. The biggest difference is that, instead of looking at a self-contained display, you're looking at the Quad HD display of the Galaxy Note 4 that slides inside. We don't know what pricing is going to look like, but I'd imagine (or at least hope) that customers can save a few bucks over a self-contained VR headset by letting the phablet provide the power.
The device's quality looks to be right on par with Oculus, but the demo itself left something to be desired. In my little virtual world, I sat in front of a stage at a party where Coldplay was playing. At first I thought that was just the prelude to a more in-depth gaming demo, but nope. That was it. Just me, Chris Martin and some drunk people shaking their tail feathers.
That points back to the biggest question mark here: content. At its presentation, Samsung splashed a big screen full of current and future partners for the Gear VR. But what will be available at launch? Will it be more impressive than a looping Coldplay concert? I sure hope so.
If not, maybe Google's legion of Cardboard developers can lend a hand.
Samsung didn't announce any pricing details, but the Gear VR will be available later this year. So unless there are some surprise announcements right around the corner, this is going to be the first big virtual reality headset to hit store shelves. Yep, Samsung knows how to latch onto "the next big thing" when it sees it.
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