Samsung’s Gear VR turns a phone into a fully-fledged virtual reality headset

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Samsung has announced the Gear VR, a virtual reality headset built to fit the new Galaxy Note 4 mobile phone.

Gear VR can be controlled with an integrated touch pad, motion, voice or a gaming controller. Although it can use the phone’s back-facing camera to combine the real world with the virtual, allowing for augmented reality applications, Samsung’s focus with the Gear VR is to provide rich video experiences as opposed to interactivity.

Both the Gear VR and the Galaxy Note 4 were announced Wednesday. The price of the Gear VR, set to launch this fall, hasn’t been announced.

The headset is unusual for its close ties to Oculus, the Facebook-owned virtual reality forerunner that will likely release its headset sometime in the next year. Samsung gave Oculus first dibs on its next-generation OLED screens in order to get early access to Oculus’ software development kit. The Samsung device will feature a mix of Samsung and Oculus content, including four new Oculus applications known as Oculus Home, Oculus Cinema, Oculus 360 Videos and Oculus 360 Photos.

A screenshot of Oculus Cinema. Photo courtesy of Oculus.

A screenshot of Oculus Cinema. Photo courtesy of Oculus.

“The project actually began as an experiment to see if great VR was possible on next-generation mobile hardware,” the Oculus team wrote in a blog post. “Oculus CTO John Carmack and the mobile team at Oculus were able to blow everyone away in an extremely short amount of time, quickly proving that we were on to something special.”

The headset falls into a growing group of virtual reality devices that use a mobile phone instead of an embedded screen, such as the one found in Oculus Rift. As demonstrated by Google Cardboard, it’s actually not that hard to adapt a mobile phone to provide a respectable virtual reality experience, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Samsung will be selling a mass-market VR product this fall, which will make high-quality virtual realty available to a significantly larger group of people than ever before.

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Given the number of developers that have been hard at work creating games and other applications for Oculus, this shot in the arm from Samsung could end up significantly expanding the content library.

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