As far as hot tech goes, we’re accustomed to waiting ages and ages for a promised Thing to become a consumer-ready product we can actually buy. For example, don’t get us started on Steam OS and that consarned controller, and on the VR front, the exciting Oculus Rift is still “many months” away.
However, the Samsung Gear VR headset -- a device powered by that Samsung first announced just a few months ago -- is already here. You can snap up your own Gear VR today from Samsung for $199.99. Just pop over to the product page, and within a few clicks, some warehouse drone will be prepping a headset for shipping to your house.
Of course, the catch is that the Gear VR only works with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but that’s because it’s powered by the Note 4’s CPU/GPU. It also makes use of Oculus VR’s Mobile SDK and employs Oculus’ firmware as well as the Tracker feature, although it lacks divisional tracking. It’s a wireless affair (except for any headphones you plug in) because the Note 4 just slots right into the Gear VR headset.
It’s perhaps a bit disappointing that you’re limited to the Note 4, but back when the Gear VR was first announced, Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell told us that the Note 4 was actually an ideal device for this headset because of its 1440p screen resolution and the fact that its screen size was quite similar to the original Oculus Rift prototype.
However, that’s not to say the Gear VR ends with the Note 4. There’s really no reason why Samsung couldn’t find a way to support a greater variety of handsets on the Gear VR, and if this first model sells reasonably well, we wouldn’t be surprised at all if the company rolled out a second version with expanded support.
It’s also worth noting that Samsung is creating a blueprint here that other mobile phone makers could follow. From our conversation with Nate Mitchell, we gathered that Samsung was a driving force in creating the Gear VR. Samsung is the one that created the Gear VR, and all Oculus had to do was license its tech to the phone maker. Samsung is the one making the actual headset. Thus, there’s no reason that an enterprising company with some HUD expertise, or simply another mobile device maker, couldn’t build its own Gear VR clone that works with a greater variety of devices.
There’s further reason for optimism given that Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 will support the Gear VR. If this device was just a gimmick, we doubt Epic would go to the trouble.
In terms of VR content, there’s not a tremendous amount out there, but of course that’s changing. For now, the Gear VR experience starts with the Oculus Home screen. Here, you can access available apps and dive into whatever experiences, such as watching video via Oculus Cinema, there are available.
One nifty feature is Passthrough Camera, which lets you use the Note 4’s rear camera to “see” your surroundings even while wearing the Gear VR. You can also receive calls and view notifications while you’re wearing the Gear VR.
The Gear VR has a focus adjustment wheel on the top, and there’s a back key, touchpad, and volume rocker on the right side. A foam cushion ensures your sweaty forehead and cheeks are comfortable while you’re using the headset. Samsung also includes a carrying case for the device, as well as a 16 GB microSD card (pre-loaded with “starter content” according to the product page) and an SD card adapter.
Suggested accessories include the Samsung Gear Circle earbuds and a Samsung Gamepad; you can get $20 and $30 off them, respectively, when you buy a Gear VR.
The Gear VR may not be the promising, presence-achieving Oculus Rift Crescent Bay, but it is something for VR fans to get excited about -- and something they can have today.