Mobile VR with Samsung GearVR vs high-fi Oculus Rift

How does the GearVR compare to the Oculus Rift? Which one should I get?

Ultimately, the GearVR and the Rift are complimentary technologies that serve two different needs and use cases. The Rift is designed for the ultimate in high-performance, high-fidelity VR, while the GearVR puts the emphasis on portability and mobility, defining a truly mobile VR experience.

Its a bit like comparing between a tricked out home theatre system, and watching a movie in HD on your iPad. Both are valid experiences, and both have their advantages… and many people will choose to have both experiences in their hardware repetoires. The Gear VR is probably best suited to more passive media consumption activities, such as virtual movie theatres, while the Oculus Rift is better suited to gaming applications, such as high-speed experiences where there is a lot of graphics rendering and low latency is required.

That said, there is a magical area of opportunity for GearVR game developers. Angry Birds, Infinity Blade and the like broke through and defined an entire new genre of short-form games for the smartphone and tablet market. Teams should consider the performance characteristics of the GearVR from the outset, within their Game Design Documents. Doing so could produce very rewarding experiences that take advantage of the inherent mobility of the system, and the corresponding volumetric freedom and agency that is afforded to the players. Such an approach could end up actually transcending and trumping the inherently tethered experience of the Oculus.

What exactly is Mobile VR?

Mobile VR is a form of VR where there are no cords or cables, freeing the player to explore physical space and virtual space simultaneously. It also gives the player agency to enter the VR world from any point in the physical world, whether that’s on the airplane, the subway, or in the middle of a crowded park. Imagine having your entire virtual office contained within your backpack or purse. Imagine sharing a VR experience with a friend at a party without having to assemble an ungainly laptop rig with cables and camera. Now imagine all this shrinking down to the size of a pair of sunglasses. Imagine being able to walk around a physical environment, be it a park, a building, or a museum, and seeing entirely virtual creations within the same physical topology. Now you’re getting Mobile VR.

Well then: Can I connect the GearVR directly to my desktop gaming PC, instead of using a Note 4?

No. The GearVR is a $250 accessory that transforms a single high-performance phablet, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, into a self-contained VR HMD. That’s both the advantage, and the catch.
As so configured, the Note 4 phablet provides:
  • CPU — logic,
  • GPU — graphics,
  • IMU — orientation via accelerometers, GPS, gyroscopes,
  • camera — pass-through real world video / possible AR,
  • network — 4G / Wifi — for streaming content, and
  • battery — power.
The GearVR accessory provides :
  • optical lensing to distort the display image into a 100 degree wide stereo-3D panorama,
  • additional sensors to improve camera-free tracking,
  • additional processors to fuse the positional sensing, and
  • the head-mount straps to securely affix the whole package to your face.
If you were to hack the GearVR and attempt to connect it to your PC, you’d still need to mount a very small, very high-resolution display (the Note 4 is 2560×1440 QuadHD at 6” diagonal), which would nullify most cost savings you’d be trying to achieve by subbing a PC for a phablet. Secondarily, this approach would negate one of the primary advantages of the GearVR : completely untethered, sharable, and mobile VR experiences that you can carry in your backpack or purse.

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