Samsung today unveiled the much rumoured Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD), a partnership with Oculus VR that will see virtual reality (VR) brought to mobile technology in a more impressive fashion than any other vendor has yet presented. Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey has famously stated that ‘the enemy of VR is bad VR,’ and it’s clear that the partnership has resulted in a device that manages to leap that difficult hurdle.
The Galaxy Note 4 is the basis for this experience, but it’s not the only contributing factor of course. The Gear VR HMD itself houses the motion-tracking aspect of the experience. There is no positional tracking, but the direction detection is second-to-none. A simple demo known as Land’s End was a pitch-perfect example of this, tasking the player with looking at an orb then tapping the Gear VR’s touchpad to move towards it. The player would chain together looks and taps to move swiftly across a brightly coloured beach environment. Sadly the demo frequently saw the player moving through objects, but the intention of delivering an immediate, uncomplicated experience is still evident.
The touchpad itself is a different kettle of fish altogether. Positioned perfectly on the right side of the HMD (when worn) the small square of interactivity proves to be a little unresponsive at times. Tapping is the key to movement or interaction in most of the demo software that Samsung have presented, and sadly this proves to be a victim of awkward implementation. Some titles only require a light tap, while others ask the player to forcibly impact the touchpad, thus moving the HMD from a direct viewpoint, if only for a moment. Of course this slight blemish might simply be down to the varying software experiences of offer and could well be tightened-up prior to release.
Above the touchpad is a ‘back’ button, used only for menu navigation in the demo software VRFocus has experienced, and in front of this is volume control. Both of these buttons are very well placed, as is the focus adjustment wheel mounted atop the device in a central position. As the Gear VR was being showcased to hundreds of industry attendees it would be far beyond expectation for Samsung and Oculus VR to devise an average IPD solution, but this adjustment wheel and it’s ease of use proves that a simple solution is often the best.
The HMD itself is light and comfortable to wear. The straps used to keep the device in-place are of course based on those used with the Oculus Rift HMDs, and while they position the weight of the device on the front of your face (rather than over the top of your head as with Sony Computer Entertainment’s Project Morpheus) the lightweight device inside and the housing presented with Gear VR don’t result in any discomfort. In fact, the HMD is significantly more comfortable in use than even Oculus VR’s own second development kit iteration, the DK2
Nearly a dozen different software experiences are available for the Gear VR here at Samsung’s Unpacked 2014 event in Berlin, and VRFocus will report back on each and every one in due course.