Max Cohen, head of mobile at Oculus VR, the virtual reality startup bought by Facebook this year for $2 billion, is unequivocal: the dominant way most consumers will experience virtual reality will be on mobile devices.
“PCs and dedicated machines will al ways have more power, but at some point, graphics become ‘good enough’ on a mobile device and none of that matters anymore,” Cohen says. “Will it be in two years’ time? Five years? Ten? I don’t know. But it will happen. You can’t surpass the beauty of being untethered.”
Samsung’s product in the pipeline Gear VR, a combined effort from Oculus VR and Samsung, is the first attempt at this so called “untethered” vision. It is the product built our of necessity, when Oculus VR approached Samsung to have it create screens for the Oculus Rift, its yet-to-be-released device. Samsung had been working on a virtual reality headset into which you which you could slide a Galaxy Note mobile phone in order to experience portable VR. The two companies are working on the resulting product, with Oculus VR lending their vision and software support.
Mobile seems to be a conducive platform for the virtual reality technology. Often the experience offered by your PC can be deterred by the cables connected to it. But on a mobile it has a much more comfort level due to the mobility it offers. Also mobiles are cheaper.
“Heat is our primary issue,” says Cohen. “When you run a mobile phone’s CPUs and GPUs at maximum, the device heats up really quickly, and it needs to either cut the speed by throttling or shut down entirely.”
It’s a setback that Carmack and the rest of the Gear VR team are struggling to solve. “This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away in the near future, unfortunately,” says Cohen. “We’ll always have to manage heat; we won’t be able to fully solve it.”
Not only temperature, but also mobile screen refresh rate plays spoilsport on the possibility causing the screen to flicker in the event it tries to refresh, thus ruining the experience. Carmack and the gear team are trying their best to solve these.
Then there’s the problem of positional head tracking, where position of the head is required in the virtual space. The sensors present in a smartphone do not provide very accurate motion tracking (although the Gear VR is now rumored to use a relatively precise electromagnetic motion tracking system, called STEM, to overcome the problem).
There are the currently challenges of battery life that vex all mobile phone developers, even tho vse who make far lesser demands on their devices than those issued by a virtual reality application. For these reasons, the Gear VR is currently labeled “Innovator Edition,” a marketing twist, perhaps, on a more honest label: “prototype.”
Despite the challenges, Cohen is convinced about the product. “It is incredibly cool,” he says. “It just still has some rough edges.”
Even when the hardware issues have been solved, the challenge of creating compelling software will remain.
Video games are likely to represent one major area of output. The video game development community has led the way with exploring VR’s current potential.
But film could play a major role in selling the technology to the public. One application that Oculus VR has developed, Oculus Cinema, is a virtual movie theater that lets you watch 2-D and 3-D films on the Gear VR. The company even hopes to make this a more social experience by letting people inhabit the same virtual spaces together, and adding physical representations of each person.
“When I travel for work, I talk to my wife and son over videoconference—but what if I could actually continue that emotional connection through a sense of presence and being with them?” says Cohen. Cohen confirmed to our previous idea of Extending Virtual reality, which we had mentioned before.
The Gear VR is open for early adopters under the name “Innovator Edition”. Gear VR tries to over come the technical barrier and wants to create an immersive experience to the user.