Gear VR

Samsung surprised us all last week by unveiling a brand new VR headset they have been secretly working on for the past year. Dubbed ‘Gear VR’, it is a mobile phone holder based headset a la Google Cardboard but with a significant difference: it also incorporates Oculus’ head positional tracking technology.

Indeed the biggest surprise of the announcement, was that Oculus have been secretly in cohorts with Samsung. This was confirmed when none other than Oculus CTO, John Carmack himself stepped on to the stage at the media event and explained that they were involved in this experiment to see if great VR was possible on next gen mobile hardware.

​​”We are thrilled to reveal the Gear VR Innovator Edition, a state-of-the-art mobile VR experience powered by Oculus,” said John Carmack. “The deep technical partnership with Samsung has enabled us to create a virtual reality headset with world class resolution and performance, all on a completely mobile platform.”

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I’ll have two from the top please rach

Under the Hood

The headset is a plastic case attached to head straps and housing the standard lenses you expect to find in VR headsets, as well as the motion sensors provided by Oculus which track the orientation of your head. On the right side of the casing is a touch-sensitive pad for controlling content in VR and the left side contains volume controls. The rest of the case is a placeholder for a mobile phone.

It’s worth remembering that Oculus’ head tracking sensors are substantially better than any accelerometers found in mobile phones and it is these which make this headset stand out from the crowd. Carmack stated that their sensors detect head position with sub-millimeter accuracy and with a refresh rate more than five times higher than sensors in any mobile devices.

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Taking selfies to the next level

The mobile device in question is none other than Samsung’s flagship phablet: the Galaxy Note 4. Powered by a Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 Krait 450 CPU @ 2.7Ghz featuring Adreno 420 Graphics (4.8Gpix/sec, memory bandwidth 2x64bit, 25.6GB/Sec, 800Mhz memory) and 3GB RAM; the phone is clearly no slouch and is certainly worthy of Carmack’s description of ‘next gen’. The device also features a whopping 5.7 inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display (2560×1440 pixels / 515 ppi) which is notably higher res than Oculus current development kit headset the DK2.

Further specs:

Optical Lens

96˚ Field of View

Sensor

Accelerator, Gyrometer, Magnetic, Proximity

Motion to Photon Latency

< 20ms

Focal Adjustment

Covers Nearsighted / Farsighted Eyes

Interpupillary Distance Coverage

55 ~ 71 mm

Physical User Interface

Touch Pad, Back Button, Volume Key

Connection

micro USB 1.1 connection to the Galaxy Note 4

Dimension (Headset)

198(W) x 116(L) x 90(H)mm

Contents

Available through Oculus Store

microSD Card(16GB) in-box: A collection of 360-degree videos and 3D movie trailers from major studios will be pre-loaded.

 

Software and target market

In addition to bigging up the hardware aspects of the device, Carmack also waxed lyrical about the performance improvements that have been made to the Android software to deliver the lowest possible “motion to photon latency”: the time it takes from moving your head to the display updating and light being sent to your eyes – a key performance indicator for presence in VR. Even under strain, the system will prioritise data from the motion sensors to maintain a smooth framerate, eliminating judder and blurriness.

The main focus of of the software appears of be on interactive media and film watching. Early demos planned for release include:

– Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron tour of Tony Stark’s Lab inside the all new Avengers Tower
– Oculus VR Cinema: where you can watch streamed movies in a virtual IMAX theatre
– DreamWorks VR: which allows users to interact and laugh with DreamWorks characters and content
– Legendary’s Pacific Rim Jaeger Pilot: an immersive content experience that puts viewers at center of the action
– Cirque du Soleil 360 degree live-action 3D VR experience, featuring an act from Zarkana filmed by Felix & Paul Studios
– M-GO Advanced: a new paradigm for digital video VR applications, which offers an unmatched interactive search and discovery experience
– Vevo offers more than 100,000 HD music videos, live concert events and original programming streamed onto a full-screen VR theater
– Protocol Zero (working title) from DENA: enables Samsung Gear VR players to infiltrate enemy grounds undetected in blackout conditions with hi-tech optics including night vision, X-ray vision, and thermal vision.

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VR-Finn likes this

Mobile phone 3D graphics hardware has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years but still remains considerably behind PC GPUs. As witnessed with Oculus’ DK2, VR demands substantial 3D grunt when it comes to properly immersive games, with a minimum of 75 frames per second at full HD as a sort of benchmark which will likely only get higher. With this in mind, I foresee limited gaming potential in this product, particularly given the Note 4’s higher than HD screen resolution which means 75 fps is an even harder target to meet. Expect to see only very basic 3D games with a definite ‘made for mobile’ feel to them.

Conclusions

Samsung and Oculus’ experiment will likely be something of a hit with VR enthusiasts but maybe not so much for VR purists. More than a gimmick, I see Gear VR as a very worthwhile accessory for Note 4 owners. However, therein lies a problem: with the headset only being compatible with the Note 4, this suddenly divides the potential reach of the product.

Touted by many as “the best mobile VR experience”, this is probably not as high praise as it sounds. With only the likes of Google’s pizza box headset and other z-list brands competing in this arena, it isn’t much of an achievement to better them.

However, the uses of the device for media and interaction great. Watching films in VR is fun, particularly so for ‘made for VR’ 360 degree video such as the Cirque du Soleil demo. This use of VR is really why Facebook acquired Oculus: to develop interactive, social and rich VR media. Mobile really suits this medium as it removes the requirements for a high-end PC and consequently delivers a fully mobile / no wires VR experience.

There are still hurdles to get over: namely, positional tracking (leaning in/out, peer around corners, etc) otherwise known as 6 Degrees of Freedom (6DoF). Head rotation and orientation is great but now that the world has experienced 6DoF thanks to the DK2, this is seen as a must have; I mean let’s face it, what good is a virtual world if you can’t explore it properly?

Finally, 3D power for mobile phones will need to improve enormously to deliver holy grail of truly mobile gaming VR. This headset doesn’t deliver that, but is a fine contender in it’s own arena.

Finn Rogers
#CheckDisYo

Finn Rogers

Co-founder at VR-Gaming
Self-proclaimed indie dev, technology freak, gaming geek, internet nut and coffee addict.
In his spare time, stunt doubles as the Hulk.
Finn Rogers
#CheckDisYo

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