Samsung (005930:KS), best known in recent years for its smartphones, released its first version of a new kind of mobile device on Wednesday: a virtual reality headset. But it’s an accessory, not an separate product. Samsung’s Gear VR is a headset that turns the company’s Note 4 smartphones into 3D virtual reality machines.
Virtual reality is hot, but it has been going through a renaissance-in-waiting: Fancy headsets from Facebook (FB)-owned Oculus VR and Sony (SNE) exist as prototypes. Sony has been demoing its Morpheus while keeping tight control on third-party software development. Developers can get their hands on Oculus devices to write software, but that’s about it.
In the meantime, Oculus is working with Samsung on Gear VR. Samsung says the devices will be on sale later this year, and customers can try them out in select stores in Chicago, New York, and certain other cities as soon as this week.
While Samsung claims it has created smartphone-powered virtual reality, that’s not exactly true. A growing array of cheaper, smartphone-powered headsets have been making it into the wild. The University of Southern California’s virtual reality lab has been designing virtual reality headsets for smartphones for several years, and it has designed versions that can be made inexpensively on 3D printers. Google (GOOG) passed out cardboard headsets designed to work with Android phones at its I/O conference in June. And an obscure company called Vortex recently began selling $100 VR headsets designed to work for the LG (066570:KS) G3.
None of these are yet commercial devices, with the exception of the Vortex. Samsung’s idea is farther along in another way: software. The company said it is working with a range of partners, including 20th Century Fox (FOXA), Marvel (DIS), and Dreamworks (DWA), to create content for the headsets.