Samsung jumps into the VR arena with Gear VR

Credit: Source: Samsung

A long, long time ago I put together a "VR system" using Sega 3D glasses and a Mattel Powerglove. Just to be clear, smarter people than me wrote the software and all that; I just bought the pieces and followed wiring instructions someone else had written. It was pretty cool for the time — almost as cool as hitting the arcade for a game of Dactyl Nightmare — and the first step towards home VR, which at the time was going to be the next big thing delivered to us by tech wizards like Jaron Lanier!

And then it all just went away for a few decades. I guess the technology just wasn't there yet.

Now VR is back and there's a lot of buzz around the Facebook's Oculus Rift (it still feels weird pre-pending that name with 'Facebook') and Sony's Project Morpheus. Both of these systems are coming to consumers but no one really knows when.

Yesterday Samsung threw their hat into the VR ring with the introduction of the Samsung Gear VR, a VR visor driven by the Galaxy Note 4.

I'm really puzzled by this device; it seems like an incredibly niche project. As far as I can tell, it only works with the Galaxy Note 4 (which actually slides into the visor and provides the screen for it) which, I would think, limits the audience quite a bit.

The "OS" is powered by Oculus and includes something called the Oculus Store. Polygon ran an interesting piece about what we can learn about the Oculus Rift from the Gear VR.

The Gear VR is due out this year but Samsung hasn't offered a price or a specific launch date yet. Both Ars Technica and Venture Beat ran stories about games being developed for the Gear VR. My guess is that all these titles will wind up on the Oculus Rift when it finally launches, too.

VR is a fascinating topic just because I feel like many companies are assuming it'll be the next big thing without any real concrete evidence that it will take off. Consumers are a fickle bunch, after all.

Personally I see two major challenges. The first is eliminating motion/simulator sickness. As I understand it the trick to this is eliminating lag from the system. If a consumer is going to spend a couple hundred dollars on a VR device they're going to want to be able to use it comfortably for long periods of time.

Gear VR will probably be relatively cheap (since the optics are in the Galaxy Note 4) but I wonder if it can address the lag issue?

The other major challenge is more of a social hurdle. VR sounds like a great technology for people who live alone (and teenagers who wish they did), but I'm not sure how well received it'll be for families and other social groups, just because the visor is so isolating. The Gear VR addresses that by letting you use the camera in the Note 4 to show you an image of the outside world in the visor. In other words when your spouse walks up to ask you something you can turn on the camera and look at him/her, though of course they'll still be staring at a visor.

Or maybe everyone will have a visor and we'll sit around the house while our avatars all go to some distance location together. I'm not sure if that sounds awesome or frightening to me. Maybe a little of each. I used to be really excited about VR but now that I live in a world where people rarely look up from their phones I'm a little worried what will happen when VR visors become commonplace.

Yes, I've officially gotten old. Let me leave you with this video of some of my contemporaries experiencing the Oculus Rift for the first time:

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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