Samsung's unveiling of its Gear VR headset at IFA shouldn't come as a huge surprise. The company is always among the first to back fledgling niches, and there have been numerous rumblings of its venture into virtual reality. What is surprising is its choice to make a partner of Oculus Rift rather than a competitor, and the choice has turned its headset into a highly advanced piece of kit. Let us explain.
Essential reading: Oculus Rift vs Sony Project Morpheus
The key feature of the Gear VR is that it’s a standalone headset, which doesn't need to be connected to a computer.
Samsung's new Galaxy Note 4 phablet provides the visuals and sound, making it like Google's Cardboard or Durovis' Dive in this respect.
Both Project Morpheus and Oculus need to be wired to a console or PC, which limits the appeal to hardcore gamers. By using a smartphone to power the VR, Samsung’s vision will have wider appeal, and will reduce the cost of accessing VR dramatically.
Samsung's clever tech
Rather than plugging in and sitting down, you attach the device inside, and the headset's super-accurate positional tracking system, and touchpad on the side of the unit take over and do all the work. The positional tracking chip is interesting in itself. The prototypes of both Sony's Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift use cameras to track the headset's position, which limits where you can use them.
There’s no doubt that Oculus’ experience has had a hand in creating this unique system, so for once Samsung’s innovation may not just be for their own bottom line, but help Oculus too.
If this positional chip turns out to be as accurate as Samsung says, it could suddenly make VR possible everywhere. It could even turn up in the next, supposedly wireless, iteration of the Oculus Rift.
Oculus is a new company with very little experience of large-scale manufacturing of complex technology, while Samsung has been doing it for years. Even if Gear VR doesn't amount to a huge success – and let’s face it, the fact you need to buy a Galaxy Note 4 to use it is going to limit success – the partnership with Oculus could be the longstanding legacy.
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Samsung’s entry into VR isn’t without its questions, and its flaws.
However, bringing mobile VR to the masses is going to change the way we play – and this vision of the future seems to have wider appeal than that of Oculus’. We’re just happy that the two companies are in it together.
See also: The best Oculus Rift hacks