Virtual reality is getting real, fast. Samsung joined the high-end VR crowd today with its announcement of a new Gear VR headset. It’s powered by Oculus VR software, and is the first VR headset to use a smartphone as its screen – the newly announced Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phablet.
The front cover opens up, allowing users to put all of the Note’s extra resolution (5.7-inch Quad HD 2,560 x 1,440 Super AMOLED) to good use. The device, pitched as a prototype at the IFA 2014 show now taking place in Berlin, also has another advantage in the fast-moving VR race — it will be out this year. That gives it a head start against the other big players – including Facebook/Oculus VR’s Rift and Sony’s PlayStation Project Morpheus. No pricing has yet been announced.
If the idea of using increasingly powerful mobile devices for VR works, it could represent an entirely new landscape for a competitive smartphone scene that appears to have reached stasis. First-hand reports indicate that the Note 4 can freeze when connected to the micro-USB port in the headset, especially if an app is accidentally opened during the process.
“The Samsung Gear VR goes far beyond expectations of how mobile technology can be used to consume content and is a powerful representation of the progressive innovation of the Gear series,” Samsung mobile division head JK Shin said in a statement.
There’s an accelerator and gyrometer for head tracking left and right, but not forward or backward, a square touch pad to tap-select, a back button, and a volume rocker switch. The demonstration model features a 360-degree video of a Cirque du Soleil performance, but without interactivity yet.
As for content, Samsung said that a collection of 360-degree videos and 3D movie trailers will come pre-loaded. In addition to Cirque, they include “exclusive access” to Tony Stark’s Lab from Marvel’s The Avengers, IMAX samplers, clips of Dreamworks Animation characters, and “an immersive content experience,” Legendary’s Pacific Rim Jaeger Pilot.
Also announced are immersive music videos and concert events from Vevo and DENA’s infiltration behind enemy lines with night, X-ray and thermal vision, tentatively titled Protocol Zero.
There’s also a video feed of the outside world, from the Note 4’s 16-megapixel rear camera, for possible augmented reality applications. So you can keep it on your head all day long and still walk around this physical planet.
One as-yet-unsolved design problem is what to do if the very busy Note 4 actually gets a phone call.
After all, do you really want to talk to your Mom in the middle of an immersive alien war?