Last week, Engadget reported that Samsung was making a virtual reality headset. This week, that report has been fleshed out with a lot more detail, including an interesting partnership: Apparently Oculus—the VR headset maker that was just bought by Facebook—and Samsung have agreed to share technology in order to each build a better headset.
Samsung is giving Oculus access to high-resolution OLED screens (that will make video displays feel more indistinguishable from reality). Oculus is giving Samsung its software technology—a way to build games and entertainment experiences for 3-D headgear. And together, they’re going to develop a new interface to control this display that covers one’s face. (The two companies are each still building headsets of their own—Samsung's will hook to a phone, and Oculus hasn't canceled plans to make a video-game-related rig for PCs.)
But why should you care about any of this? So far, every big company (Google, Sony, Microsoft, and Oculus) has been developing their headset technology in a bubble. They’ve been building hardware and software that won’t be interoperable—imagine if a Sony television couldn't watch Comcast cable, and you’ll understand the state of virtual reality hardware today.
Now, it appears that two companies—very big, powerful, companies—have joined forces for mutual benefit. Together, they’re building standards to the experience that could echo across the industry at large. There could be one common platform on which to design virtual reality experience. And for Facebook/Oculus especially, this is a good deal. If they can own the software-end of the experience—sort of like Google owns Android—and they can license several hardware manufacturers to build hardware for it.
As for what that hardware experience will look like, we’re not so sure. Engadget describes a scenario that Samsung is testing now, in which you wear a Samsung headset that plugs into a phone. The headset is the monitor, and the phone is the computer. You can watch movies or play games this way, but the phone’s camera can be used to feed environmental video to the headset and actually show the wearer where they’re walking.
Could be trippy. Literally.