Samsung teaming up with Oculus VR for a rumored media-focused virtual reality headset makes sense for both companies. Samsung gets access to not only the best software for virtual reality, but also the best minds working in virtual reality. The team at Oculus is made up of an almost punishing amount of talent when it comes to both virtual reality and software.
The Oculus brain trust, including Michael Abrash and John Carmack, is almost as large of an advantage as the Facebook acquisition.
Oculus, on the other hand, gets first crack at Samsung’s OLED panels for use in the consumer version of the Oculus Rift. Finding the right screen, at the right price and in the right volume, has been a problem for Oculus since they first showed the product to the press back at QuakeCon in 2012, and it's an issue we've discussed at nearly every meeting at various trade shows. Getting access to the best hardware was even brought up as a reason the Facebook deal was a win for the company.
This potential deal with Samsung goes a long way to solve that problem, and Oculus could get to put its name and software into a product that could go a long way to making virtual reality a mainstream product.
Why this deal could matter
According to Engadget, this upcoming headset will be focused on media, not games, and will use your existing Samsung phone as the brains and display of the device.
This gives the proposed device a number of huge advantages in the VR market: It would be completely self-contained, no need to connect it to an external PC or use wires of any kind. It would also be cheap. As long as you own the proper smartphone, and that’s a large assumption, the price of the headset could be kept very low.
We've already seen another self-contained Android-based headset that's coming to market, and the experience was much better than expected. This headset wouldn't need to ship with any brains or even a screen, the Samsung smartphone you may already own provides those. The price gets lower and the quality of the experience is easy to control.
Using standardized hardware, in this case a smartphone, also allows Oculus and Samsung to control the quality of the experience. If they release virtual reality games, experiences or media programs they know exactly how they will run on everyone’s phone, which means they can plan for, and guarantee, a smooth experience for everyone who picks up the system.
Virtual reality requires low latency and high frame rates to work well, and that means a powerful PC. Being able to shoot for a locked product, in this case a powerful smartphone, kills the need to plan for multiple specs. The ability to know for sure that each customer is getting a good VR experience is a huge win, and that only comes from standardized hardware.
Facebook has already made a huge bet that virtual reality will be the next big thing, and making a move like this into mobile is the next logical step
In other words, this would be a plug-and-play virtual reality device that comes out at a low price for existing Samsung customers that features the quality of experience that Oculus can provide through its hardware.That's a pretty massive deal in the early days of virtual reality.
What about Facebook?
This could be a killer move from Facebook’s point of view, and we have to remember that Facebook is more interested in mindshare and install base than profits. Facebook can begin to move into VR as a mobile platform by putting Oculus software, and likely logos and branding, over an inexpensive and easy-to-use headset that works with smartphones.
Facebook has already made a huge bet that virtual reality will be the next big thing, and making a move like this into mobile is the next logical step.
Smartphones don’t have the graphical power to do many games, but as a media device that allows you to watch movies from inside your own virtual movie theater, or listen to music inside your personal concert hall, or to be surrounded by pictures of your family … this sort of device has many interesting applications. And of course developers will flock to creating Android-based virtual reality games, even if the graphics may be limited, if the market is there.
This is a smart move from both companies, but it's also still a rumor. Oculus putting its technology to work on an inexpensive, completely mobile, self-contained and locked down device that works with technology people are already comfortable with, their phones, would win a huge battle in the war to make virtual reality a mainstream product.
And those OLED screens they’re reported to get in return? Ammunition to fight on the next front.