Samsung Hits The Accelerator on the VR Age With Gear VR

on Wednesday, Sep. 3rd

A couple of weeks back I watched the vice president of content for Jaunt VR—makers of a revolutionary live action video camera for virtual reality—hint at the imminent arrival of a consumer VR device. Jaunt and New Deal Studios would be releasing a short WWII themed film made with the camera this fall, and that meant people would need to able to watch it on something, after all.

There was no way that Sony was fast-tracking Morpheus, and all signs pointed Oculus VR’s first consumer product needing until 2015 to be ready. Google has the DODOcase Cardboard kit already available, but that thing is more like a Viewmaster on steroids than a fully realized VR device.

Which left one suspect in the room: Samsung, and their rumored “Gear VR.” Today the South Korean manufacturer came clean: they will be unleashing the Gear VR, a headset adapter for the forthcoming Galaxy Note 4 phone. The kicker: the software running the Gear VR is from Oculus.

A fairly through, if quick, hands-on with the device can be studied over at Engadget. One stand-out features being the use of the phone’s rear camera to create a video pass-through feed. This opens up the possibility of augmented reality as well as virtual reality, suggesting that the future of these two forms of immersive entertainment will share a hardware base even if fans prefer one form of experience over the other.

Making any experience possible is the touchpad on the side of the headset, which creates one of the first touch-based user interfaces for VR. While experienced gamers adjust quickly to using a gamepad to navigate a VR environment there are plenty of mass market users who can’t operate an Xbox controller while blindfolded. Touch interfaces get around that, and are a large part of while mobile gaming has seen so much success.

As the JauntVR short film and the launch options for GearVR attest, this device is being marketed beyond the gaming demographic. As The Verge reports Gear VR launches with “Oculus Home,” “Oculus Cinema,” “Oculus 360 Videos,” and “Oculus 360 Photos,” as the core UI. Three out of four of those options have nothing to do with games.

This isn’t a matter of a few indies and start-ups like JauntVR, either. Dreamworks, Warner Bros. Fox, Legendary, Marvel, Paramount, Cirque Du Soliel, and IMAX are all signed up for delivering content to the Gear VR platform. Read that list again. Now you get it.

Which doesn’t mean that the art of gaming will get left behind in the coming VR age. In fact the lessons learned over the past 30 years of gaming are going to
influence the way other media are made in VR. That’s a discussion for another day.

For the moment what is worth noting is that prominent VR game developers, many of whom hail from the indie game scene, are already pledging their support for Gear VR. E McNeill wrote up a report about his experience with the Gear VR development kit. His much-lauded game DARKNET is going to be a launch title for the device.

Also coming to the mobile device will be a VR version of the popular game Temple Run, the gorgeous educational space-sim Titans of Space, and work from Harmonix, the studio who brought us Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The talk amongst developers is that the tangle-free experience is a revelation in and of itself. The smart money is that “mobile first” is going to wind up being “mobile always” as fast as possible.

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