Today let's look at the Gear VR and the Oculus Rift and see what we need for our iPhones VR Experience to get better
To start off this topic I would like to talk about the Gear VR and the Oculus Rift and see how iPhones and VR Headsets for iPhones need to be improved to achieve the same Virtual Reality experience as you have in a Oculus Rift and a Samsung/Oculus Gear VR.
The Pioneer: Oculus Rift
If you want the real Virtual Reality WOW! effect, than the Oculus Rift is what you need.
The Oculus Rift DK2 (Developers Kit 2) is far from perfect, but at the moment it is as perfect as a VR immersion as you can get. I've made several VR architectural environments for the DK2, spent a lot of hours in both headsets and everybody that I have seen trying it out loves it.... and some get sick. Motion Sick. But even the people who get sick like it. I think that says enough!
The Oculus Rift has positional head-tracking, which is something no smart phone based VR Headset or cardboard has, these devices only have regular head-tracking. Oculus has both.. It enabled the user to look closer at objects and even look around a corner, just like in the real world. Oculus made this possible by adding a positional tracking device which you have to place in front of you when you are using the DK2.
Two other very import features are the 75Hz screen and good sensors (Accelerometer, magnetometer and most important of all the gyroscope). Fooling your eyes is relatively easy, fooling your brain to make it think you are in an other reality is more difficult. a 60Hz screen, like present smartphones have is not enough to fool you brain.
The Oculus Rift DK2 has a few downsides too: it has a lot of cables attached to the headset and a low resolution (HD for each eye). You can see the pixels and you have to be carefull not to get stuck in the thick cables that are attached to the back of your head. Also you need a really powerful PC and gaming video card to play games. I use the Oculus Rift on a full spec AlienWare Aurora with a 12GB Nvidia Titan Z card, that's about the best you can get on the market. And even with this super game Desktop PC not all Games and VR Environments play smooth.
The Oculus Rift consumers version (CV1) is expected Q1 2016 and later this year Oculus will launch its VR controllers.
Are there other Competitors on the market? Not yet, but soon there will be. Sony is launching its Playstation VR this year. HTC Steam Vive, a Virtual Reality headset with the ability to walk/move in a 5 m2 area, is also launching this year and others like the FOVE (with eye-tracking) and Razer OSVR (open source headset) are also preparing its way to the consumers home.
If you want to know more about the near future and Virtual Reality headsets you should attend CES 2016 (a global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada), VR entrepreneurs are there waiting to blow your mind with new VR hardware and software.
Resuming: Oculus Rift has a good set of sensors, a 75Hz display, a positional head-tracking device, wide FOV (Field of View) and very powerful hardware (Desktop PC) to create the best VR experience money can buy today.
A Smart move: Samsung Gear VR
Sure, it is not an Oculus Rift DK2, it does not have that powerful hardware connected and does not track your head´s position in space, but it is very good.
Samsung and Oculus joined forces and launch the first consumer smart phone based VR headset with integrated hardware : The Gear VR. The experience is far superior to any other VR headset at the moment. And here´s why:
The Gear VR does not depend on the smartphones sensor, it has its own (high quality) sensors and it connect's directly to a high-end Samsung Smartphone so controls are taken over. Thank to its built-in sensors, the VR immersion is very good and head-tracking feel very natural partially fooling your brain.
The good set of lenses and the controls on the side of the Gear VR are nice too, but the sensors make all the difference.
Import features the Gear VR has and Oculus Rift does not: it's portable and free from cables so you can look around 360 degrees without having to worry about getting stuck or destroying de hardware which is surrounding you and a high-res display (depending on the smart phone you are using off course). Also Gear VR has its own VR platform in which you can access Apps/Games and a Gear VR Store to buy Apps/Games.
Downsides are the lack of a 75Hz screen, as all smartphones have a 60Hz display, it only works with a few high-end Samsung smartphones, no positional tracking and no powerful hardware to play premium games like the latest Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.
Oh yeah, and the Gear VR has a very important exclusive title: Land's End, a fabulous VR experience/game created by UsTwo, the guys that invented one of the best games in the iOS and Android Store: Monument Valley.
Resuming: Gear VR has its own integrated sensors, integrated controls, a custom-made VR operating system/platform and its own exclusive Gear VR software titles.
Virtual Reality on your iPhone
So there is a big list of VR Headsets you can buy or pre-order, but they don't have a lot of the very important features I mentioned above.
That's true, VR on iPhones has a long way to go as Apple did not jump into the Virtual Reality market yet. I expect and hope they will do very soon though.
There are enough reasons that show Apple is working in the background on Virtual Reality. They have patented Virtual Reality ideas and they bought a few VR related companies like FaceShift. Also I don't think Apple would want to miss out on a market that promises to be very VERY big the next years.
Is it worth it buying one of the VR Headsets and cardboards that are for sale at this moment?
Yes, although it's VR immersion is not like the two devices mentions above, it is a lot of fun and much better than having no VR headset at all. Almost every day there are new VR titles hitting the iOS AppStore, the VR Game list just keep getting bigger and bigger. Playing games End Space VR, FastHit VR and Lamper VR: Recue Firefly on your iPhone 6 or 6 plus with a high quality VR Headset Homido VR, Zeiss VR one or Freefly VR is a great way of entertainment.
VR headsets that you can pre-order like Cmoar and ION VR are using hardware integration as well but they do not connect directly to iOS devices so I doubt the experience will be as good as the Gear VR but probably much better than existing headsets which do not have any hardware integrated.
Note : beware that Cmoar is a crowd funding project. Funding this project does not guarantee that you get a product delivered.
iPhone 7 VR
Here's how I hope Apple will enter the Virtual Reality market:
With the new iPhone 7: a 100hz display, more ppi (pixels per inch), improved gyroscope (like the one in the Gear VR), better GPU and CPU.
Now let Apple launch a very well designed VR headset with integrated controls which connects to the iPhone 7 and they are ready to destroy competitors like Samsung and OneplusTwo.
With these specs you could use the iPhone in the VR headsets that are already available right now and have a better experience than you have on a Samsung Gear VR.
Devices like Zeiss VR One and Homido already have VR platforms so that's taken care of as well, the only thing missing is the positional head-tracking.
Btw: head-tracking is done by the internal sensors (gyroscope, magnetometer and accelerometer), positional head-tracking is (at the moment of writing) done by an external device nearby like the position head-tracking camera the Oculus Rift has, the Nintendo Wii Sensor or Microsoft Xbox's Kinetic.
Luckily companies like uSens or working on smart phone empowering VR Headsets that have both positional head-tracking and real-time hand tracking.
Lenses are very important as well. Although some headset already have great quality lenses with a cristal clear view and a very wide FOV, there is room for improvement. A Dutch student called D. van den Oord (Bachelor student TU Delft – Industrial Design) has won a innovation price for creating a Virtual Reality headset for mobile devices which has 3D printed lenses which can be placed much closer to the screen, create a very wide FOV and enables the VR headset to be a lot slimmer.
With patented technology, Netherlands-based Luxexcel is the only company in the world to provide a 3D printing service for fully transparent, perfectly smooth and optically functional products, they say.
An unpleasant feeling, nausea, dizziness for several hours after the VR immersion. This is a frequently mentioned problem that VR devices are criticized about.
Some people never feel it, other feel it after a few seconds. You know when you are inside a cabin on a boat,the boat move up and down but you don't see it and get boat sick... well this is the other way around. Motion sickness happens because your brains sees thing your body does not feel. The better the VR experience is, the less sickness you get. The way games are controlled have a lot of influence also.For example: I never see anybody get sick playing Land's End which has very smooth and natural movements. Yet in another great game called InCell VR I already felt some nausea myself (something that does not happen very often) as the gameplay is fast and you can turn up side down which feels really strange. So developers have to discover what works best in VR. Gameplay and interaction that works good on normal games might not work in VR at all...