At Oculus Connect 2014 last weekend in Hollywood, CA, I spoke with Oculus VR’s Head of Mobile, Max Cohen, about his work on the Android SDK and Samsung’s Gear VR. Among other topics, Cohen noted that Gear VR is meant for shorter virtual reality experiences than we might find on desktop VR.
Samsung announced their long-rumored partnership with Oculus in early September with the reveal of a new virtual reality headset, the Gear VR. The headset is comprised of two parts: the most important is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phone which powers most of the experience with its 1440p display, processor, and Android operating system. The other part is the VR smartphone adapter—which the Note 4 will clip into—to supply lenses, means of input, and a precision sensor used for rotational head tracking.
See Also: Samsung Gear VR is ‘Powered by Oculus’
To learn more about the close collaboration between Samsung and Oculus on Gear VR, I spoke with Oculus’ Head of Mobile, Max Cohen.
“Unequivocally so,” Cohen told me when I asked if Gear VR was better suited for shorter virtual reality experiences.
“Mobile is really designed for 5 to 20 minute experiences,” he said. “That doesn’t mean [those experiences] can’t be incredibly engaging… that you put dozens of hours into—I can’t count how much time I’ve spent in Candy Crush right now, but it’s usually in a 5 minute chunks.”
While Cohen acknowledges that there are some downsides to Gear VR over the experience on PC with the DK2, like lack positional tracking, Cohen believes that there are unique advantages to mobile VR, especially when it comes to ease-of-use.
“…what I like most about the Gear VR is that… you don’t have to sit people in front of a computer for instance, you can hand it around a room, everyone can try it from where they’re sitting and get exposed to it,” he told me. “So I think that the viral coefficient of Gear VR will be very high and it will be most people’s first taste of VR.”
Gear VR will initially be sold with the moniker ‘Innovator Edition’, an indication of a sort of pseudo-developer kit with a tilt toward enthusiasts and early adopters. I asked Cohen where the company drew the line between who Gear VR is and isn’t for.
“Anyone who wants to buy [Gear VR] can. [It will be] sold online, it’s intentionally limiting the distribution channel,” said Cohen. “There won’t be a lot of TV advertising… that stuff will come in time as the product matures a little bit more, but there will be some hiccups, there will be some bugs, this is very much a work in progress…”
Oculus and Samsung have impressed by achieving sub-20ms latency on rotational head tracking through Gear VR, something that hasn’t been seen on any other smartphone-powered VR headset to date. And while this is great, Gear VR can’t track a user’s head movements through 3D space, a capability known as positional tracking. Without it, users can find themselves dizzy if they try to lean in and out of the VR scene.
Cohen says that positional tracking is “an area of intense research” for Oculus, but for the time being it’s an unsolved problem and a feature that Gear VR will launch without. Cohen says that compensating for the current lack of positional tracking is a matter of content design.
“This really comes down to content,” Cohen told me. “Content needs to be developed in certain ways where you don’t want to have near-field objects too close that make you want to lean in and look at it for instance.”
Samsung has yet to announce an official release date for Gear VR, though they have confirmed that it will ship in 2014.