The rumors were true, every single one of them. Yes, Samsung is creating a VR headset of its own. Yes, said VR headset was designed around a smartphone. Yes, it's being designed with help from the virtual reality whizzes from Oculus VR. And yes, Samsung formally unveiled the Gear VR at its IFA event on Wednesday.
Unlike Oculus' stand-alone Rift headset, the Gear VR doesn't actually have a display of its own. Instead, it needs to be paired with the newly revealed Samsung Note 4, whose 2560x1440 Super AMOLED screen functions as the headset's display after sliding into the device's removable front cover. The Note 4 actually docks into the Gear VR via a micro-USB connection and serves as the brains for the headset, as well, augmented by a gyroscopic sensor inside the Gear VR capable of sub-20ms latency. It can provide a completely untethered 360 VR experience, as Samsung representatives were keen to point out.
Samsung says it designed the Gear VR to be ergonomic and fit lightly on your head, befitting its "mobile VR" focus.
In other words, Gear VR is essentially a fancy version of the Google Cardboard concept unveiled at Google I/O this year, but with much, much more software optimization.
Speaking of, Oculus handled the software design for the Gear VR, with Oculus CTO (and gaming legend) John Carmack taking the stage for a very detailed explanation of how the tech works and integrates with the Note 4. The Gear VR comes packed with four Oculus-designed software experiences to showcase the abilities of virtual reality: Oculus Home, Oculus Cinema, Oculus 360 Videos, and Oculus 360 Photos. All are straightforward enough, with Oculus Home being "a simple interface for connecting to the Oculus Store, where you can discover, download, and launch VR content."
Samsung promises to team up with big-name partners to bring more virtual reality cinema, gaming, and just-plain-cool experiences to its mobile VR platform. In fact, the headset will ship with a 16GB microSD card loaded up with VR demos from IMAX, Marvel's Avengers, Cirque du Soleil, Dreamworks, Vevo, and more.
All in all, the Gear VR looks pretty intriguing, even if it is essentially a fancy-pants accessory for the Galaxy Note 4, which will be sure to limit its initial uptake. Look for the Gear VR Innovator Edition--an early release model targeting developers and VR enthusiasts--to appear at Samsung distributors and select cellular carriers later this year, price unknown.