Samsung will release its first early version of its virtual reality headset, the affordable $199 Gear VR Innovator Edition, in the United States in early December, making good on its announcement of the intriguing product back in September. The Gear VR brings together Samsung mobile capabilities with the world of virtual reality.
Preorders are being taken on the device immediately, which must be paired with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phablet for operation. The coming U.S. availability of the Gear VR, which is made by Oculus, was unveiled in a Nov. 12 post on the Oculus Blog. The Gear VR will retail for $199 by itself or for $249 with an included Bluetooth gamepad.
"You've never seen a Gear quite like this," Samsung states on the device's product Web page. "The new Samsung Gear VR Innovator's Edition transforms your Samsung Galaxy Note 4 into an unparalleled 360° virtual reality viewing experience, powered by Oculus technology. Immerse yourself in exclusive content and get ready for a visual experience like no other."
While the device will launch in the United States, it is expected to be distributed in other parts of the world in the future.
The Innovator Edition is being called an "early-access, beta-version" of the device for developers and enthusiasts rather than a final consumer product, according to Oculus.
While the device itself will arrive soon, Oculus has just released its Oculus Mobile SDK v0.4.0 in its Oculus Developer Center to provide software developers with the tools to create new applications for the Gear VR, according to the company.
"The initial version of the Oculus Mobile SDK is specifically designed for the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition on Note 4, and includes everything you need to get started developing for mobile," according to the Oculus post. "We've been working on the Mobile SDK for over a year in collaboration with Samsung, optimizing the Note 4 tech stack to deliver the first ultra-low latency, mobile virtual reality headset."
Among the features supported by the Oculus Mobile SDK are asynchronous timewarp; direct front buffer rendering; clock frequency locking; GPU context priorities; real-time, fine-grained GPU context switching; real-time CPU threading; and direct warped content.
Other features of the SDK include the full source code for other features of the Gear VR, including Oculus Cinema, Oculus 360 Photos and Oculus 360 Videos, under an open license, the post states. "We've done this so that you can jump-start your own VR app development."
The Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition was first announced in September as a partnership project between Samsung and Oculus, according to the Oculus Blog. The project "began as an experiment to see if great VR was possible on next-generation mobile hardware," according to Oculus.
The Gear VR Innovator Edition uses the GPU/CPU of the Galaxy Note 4 smartphone that it is paired with to power the device, while the Note 4's quad HD 5.7-inch 1440p AMOLED screen is used as its display.
Users connect their Note 4 smartphone to the headset, and then they put the device on their head and begin using it, according to Oculus.
Oculus was acquired in March by Facebook for $2 billion as the social media company moved into the virtual reality headset business, according to an earlier eWEEK report. Oculus VR also makes the Rift headset for 3D gaming. Based in Irvine, Calif., the company was founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey, a self-described "virtual-reality enthusiast and hardware geek."
Virtual reality devices have also garnered attention recently from Google, which unveiled its make-it-yourself Google Cardboard VR viewer in June. Cardboard is a set of published plans and an app that allow a smartphone user to build a small, simple virtual-reality viewer for their phone that they can then use to view various Google services such as Google Earth, YouTube and more for amazing VR experiences. The device is made by cutting and folding cardboard until it is shaped into a boxy-looking VR viewer. Several other parts are also needed, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses, which can be purchased online.
The Cardboard device will work with most modern Android phones, according to Google, including the Google Nexus 4 and 5, the Motorola Moto X, the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5, and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The HTC One, Motorola Moto G and the Samsung Galaxy S3 are partially compatible. Phones must be running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or higher versions and ideally should also support NFC, according to Google.