Samsung today announced the U.S. availability of the Gear VR, a virtual reality headset for the masses. Samsung revealed the Gear VR earlier this year. It's a relatively inexpensive consumer-grade headset that holds lots of promise. At launch, however, the amount of content available to the headset is severely limited. That's where developers come in. The Gear VR represents an entirely different type of opportunity when compared with smartphones, tablets and wearables — one that's potentially more rewarding, at least from a creative standpoint.
Samsung and Oculus — maker of the Oculus Rift headset — created the Gear VR in tandem. It's a headset that wholly contains a smartphone (the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, to be exact). The two devices work together to deliver immersive, 360-degree landscapes and 3-D worlds to the wearer. The phone is positioned sideways across the wearer's eyes, and the Gear VR has an optical lens that provides a 96-degree field of view within the headset. It essentially recasts the content being shown on the Note 4's 5.7-inch quad HD screen. The Note 4 provides the processing oomph to power the headset. Samsung says the Gear VR offers exceptional tracking time and has a touch pad, back button, volume controls and focus adjustment that are within easy reach.
The Gear VR will come with some sample games and experiential content, says Samsung. Think HeroBound and Anshar Wars, as well as theBlu, an underwater exploration app. Oculus has more games and apps available for the Gear VR from its own content store, but the selection could be a lot better.
Oculus is offering an SDK (available here) that developers can use to create apps for both the Gear VR and its own product offerings. According to Oculus, the SDK is made up of source code and binary libraries. It also includes documentation, samples and tools to help developers get started. Oculus didn't call out specific APIs within the SDK, but here are some specifics available. For example, the most recent version of the SDK is 0.4.4, which means it is still in beta status. It covers C/C++, which means it can support bindings for other languages. The SDK is available to Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, as well as OS X 10.8 and 10.9, and Linux 64-bit. In addition to the Gear VR, the SDK also supports Oculus DK1 and DK2 hardware (which is different from the Gear VR).
"With Gear VR Innovator Edition, Samsung is putting the device in the hands of creators to craft amazing experiences, as we define this new mobile category together," Justin Denison, vice president, product strategy and marketing, Samsung Telecommunications America, said in the press release. "This is a great opportunity for the enthusiast community, developers and Samsung to get feedback and continue to innovate in this exciting new space."
The headset itself is priced at $199 and is available from either AT&T or Samsung; you won't be able to find it in Best Buy. The Note 4 is sold separately and is required to make the Gear VR work. The Note 4 is priced at $700, or about $28 per month from AT&T. That's a potentially steep entry point for consumers, but Samsung thinks early adopters will scoop up the Gear VR in droves.