It's not the next Oculus Rift, but Oculus and Samsung began taking orders today for the smartphone-powered Gear VR headset. Priced at $200, the Gear VR "Innovation Edition" is part dev kit, part consumer-grade product.
The Gear VR operates by inserting a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 into the head-mounted device, transforming the smartphone into a virtual reality display. While this is a completely separate device from the forthcoming (someday) consumer Oculus Rift VR headset, the Gear VR was built in partnership with Oculus and uses much of the same tech.
“There are two very different projects right now: There’s Gear VR which is about portability, and there’s the Rift which is about power and presence,” Oculus mobile head Max Cohen told TechCrunch. “Both of these devices have pluses and negatives, and they really are separate lines. We don’t really have it broken down in the company as a mobile product and a PC company, we kind of work on both, and there are lessons being learned from mobile that go into PC and of course vice versa.”
This version of the Gear VR is considered a beta device for developers and VR enthusiasts. You won't see any TV commercials for it, but you also don't need any coding knowledge to use it, unlike Rift dev kits which require considerable diving into SDKs, firmware, and so on to get one running on a PC. The device can be used to watch media or play one of the slate of games developed specifically for VR, such as E McNeill's Darknet, the winner of the Oculus VRJam back in 2013.
But while the Gear VR's mobile smartphone-powered design adds mobility and ease-of-use, that also means it requires shelling out several hundred dollars on top of the Gear's $199 price tag for a Galaxy Note 4—currently the only compatible device.
GearVR runs at a lower framerate than the Oculus Rift DK2, and doesn't have that headset's head tracking ability. It's also not as incredible as the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype, which we tried earlier this year. But it is remarkably good VR for something that costs only $200, is portable, and runs off of a smartphone. It's a better headset than the Oculus DK1, and it's amazing how far Oculus VR has come in such a short time. Having John Carmack as a project lead helps, as it turns out.
GearVR may not be able to play PC games, but there's no doubt Carmack's work on the technology will feed back into the next iteration of the Oculus Rift headset.