MWC 2015: Samsung updates Gear VR and adds paid apps

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Samsung’s collaboration with Oculus on its first virtual-reality headset, the Gear VR, was a welcome glimpse at what’s to come, but with only the Galaxy Note 4 handset supported and limited content available it was destined to remain a curiosity. Now the Korean electronics company has updated the Gear VR headset to support it’s two new flagship devices – the S6 and S6 Edge – and announced that paid apps will come to the Gear VR Store, starting with the US.

The announcements were made at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week and are good news for VR developers, many of whom may well have been holding back their best work until there’s a way to make money from it. During the event Samsung showed of the new Gear VR Innovator Edition headset alongside it’s new handsets with their 2K displays.

Gear-VR-Innovator-EditionLighter than its predecessor, more comfortable and better ventilated, the new headset is a sound improvement from the original. Users can still adjust the built-in lenses using a wheel in the middle of the top of the headset (so they don’t have to wear glasses with the headset) and the touch-control panel on the righthand side of the headset makes it into the new version, too. The new headset can also be charged via a USB cable while it’s being worn, which is a welcome addition.

Gear-VR-game-controllerAs the name suggests, the Gear VR Innovator Edition headset is still a device aimed at early adopters and developers, but bringing it to more handsets can only help get it on more faces. We got the chance to try it out at MWC and found the experience very similar to that offered by the first edition. Despite the 2K resolution on the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge pixels are still easily discernible when wearing the headset and despite the improved processing power of the new handsets they still get very warm after a few minutes of use because of how processor-hungry VR is.

One of the challenges VR hardware developers face is creating an interface that allows users to do more than just move their heads around oohing and ahhing. Samsung’s Gear VR game controller is a good start, but could do with more tactile details to make it clear which controls are which. Nonetheless, VR is slowly growing up and the addition of paid apps (and presumably other content like video in due course) can only help with consumer uptake. The new headset will launch in selected countries in April along with the S6 and S6 Edge.

Craig Wilson is attending MWC 2015 as a guest of Huawei.

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