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The company is reportedly teaming up with virtual reality startup Oculus VR – which is a newly acquired division of Facebook Inc. (FB) – to develop a headset capable of pairing up with some of Samsung’s high-end smartphones. According to inside sources, while a finished product is far from entering the market, Samsung is looking to build on Oculus VR’s expertise in building virtual reality experiences, and has forged a deal with Facebook which will allow it to share certain technologies under a mutually beneficial partnership.
The move comes just two months after Oculus VR was acquired by Silicon Valley giant Facebook in a $2 billion deal, as it shores up its pipeline of disruptive technologies. Sony Corporation (SNE) has already announced that it will launch a virtual reality gaming headset called Morpheus, which will work with the company’s PlayStation 4 console.
In the details that have now emerged, Samsung has decided not to follow rival Sony to develop its own VR headset from scratch. Instead it has taken a somewhat easier route, partnering up with Oculus VR to produce an immersive experience through its popular smartphones.
Oculus will provide the software and the technology behind the virtual reality interface, and Samsung will offer its advanced OLED displays for testing and eventual use in the upcoming product, and will also manufacture the hardware used in the headset. Oculus has allowed Samsung to use its mobile software development kit (SDK) during the development phase and Samsung has given Oculus access to its advanced OLED screens with resolutions higher than 1080p.
A relatively interesting feature which will likely initiate a lot of discussion is that Samsung’s headset will not have a built-in screen, and will instead carry a slot for smartphones to be inserted and used as the display. Users will be able to utilize the smartphone’s rear camera in order to interact with external surroundings. Other functions, such as the accelerometer and various sensors, will be made part of the headset.
Samsung pointed out that this particular headset is not in fact being developed solely from a gaming standpoint, and is touting a renewed focus on media consumption. The Oculus headset will include augmented reality mobile apps, messaging and communication platforms, and will even serve educational purposes.
For consumers, the new headset will be available on the Samsung S5 phone or its successor. Currently, developers are testing the headset using an early-version mobile SDK on Samsung’s Galaxy S4 models, and the initial response has been very encouraging, with users awed by its enhanced capabilities.
Where Is Virtual Reality Headed?
Oculus VR came into prominence in 2012 when its virtual reality headset Oculus Rift was launched following a $2.4 million crowdfunding round on Kickstarter. The Rift received rave reviews from the industry, and has generated takeover interest from tech giants like Google and Facebook since the start of the year. Facebook ended up acquiring the startup, and brought into its ranks the likes of Oculus’ Chief Technology Officer John Carmack, a pioneer in first-person shooter games and 3D technology.
Oculus is still on track in the development of its own consumer-facing gaming headset, and the new deal with Samsung to use its OLED display technology presents a great opportunity for the startup to enhance its upcoming products.
But the frantic pace of virtual reality advances has invited both benefits and risks. On one hand, the upcoming VR headset would surely benefit from the distribution and marketing power of the world’s largest smartphone maker, Samsung. The deal allows Samsung to make a powerful entry into the realm of virtual reality and be one of the first in the industry to launch an affordable, consumer-focused headset and set the benchmark for all other devices that follow.
Facebook’s push into diversifying its business may very well pay off, as the company stands to benefit from Samsung taking up the role of manufacturing the headsets. When the social media company bought Oculus VR earlier this year, several analysts noted that it was the first time the social networking company had entered a hardware business, and that it would find challenges related to manufacturing such devices on a large scale.
But the latest development has quelled those concerns, with Samsung taking on the role of providing assembly line expertise, while Facebook and its Oculus unit can focus on improving the virtual reality experience and its technology.
There are risks involved as well. If this particular headset and the technology running it are not an instant runaway success, Samsung and Facebook’s latest dive into the augmented reality space could fall flat on its head, damaging reputations as well as raising questions about the buyout of Oculus VR.
Critics of the technology say its future is still uncertain. Virtual reality has been around for decades but has not picked up the way it was expected to. The advent of the immersive technology also discourages physical interaction, leaving users isolated and cut off from the real world.
But such critics had similar things to say a decade ago, when smartphones were not as ubiquitous as they are now. Maybe Samsung and Facebook have a point to prove."