Facebook’s Oculus Spruced Up the Samsung Gear VR Headset

Mar 29, 2017

Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality unit has revamped the software powering the Samsung Gear VR headset.

Oculus overhauled its Oculus Home screen for the Gear VR headset, which requires an Android-powered phone to operate. Facebook and Samsung are partners for the Gear VR headset. Samsung builds the hardware while Oculus provides the software.

Oculus said on Wednesday that the upgraded landing page will no longer take as long to load various VR apps. Additionally, the software overhaul has improved the homescreen’s visuals, which the company said is “like upgrading from Standard Definition to High Definition.”

Eventually, third-party developers will be able to create VR content with improved resolution. The tradeoff: Better visuals will drain a smartphone’s battery life faster, notes Fast Company.

Oculus also debuted a new Oculus Browser for the Gear VR, which will let users search the web from the device’s revamped home screen.

“Using the keyboard, navigate to your favorite sites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube just like you would on a desktop,” Oculus said in a statement. “The browser brings 2D and most 360 video content right into Oculus Home, with all the benefits of our newly built experience.”

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While the quality of visuals for the Gear VR may improve, it’s still not likely to be as breathtaking or immersive as the visuals generated from PC-powered VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Mobile phones are considerably less powerful than desktop computers.

Oculus also said that 20 new VR titles would debut in April alongside a revamped Gear VR and a motion controller that will cost $130. An individual controller will cost $40.

The Gear VR adding support for a controller makes it more competitive against Google’s Daydream View VR headset. But Google’s (goog) headset is still cheaper at $80 with a motion controller.

Reviewers who have had the chance to play with the Gear VR controller seem pleased. Analyst Avi Greengart at research firm GlobalData said in a tweet that the Gear VR with controller and new software “is the best mobile VR” he’s experienced. Yet Greengart also noted that mobile VR headsets are “still limited, and motion sickness is an issue.”

The Verge said the new controller works like Google’s Daydream controller in that embedded sensors enable owners to “use it like a laser pointer inside VR” in order to interact in the virtual environments. That said, the tech publication commented that the controller is clunky and “not pretty” but “it seems to get the job done."

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