Watching your cell phone sitting it on your nose

The Gear VR headset, developed by Samsung and Oculus VR. Credit: Technology Review

We have seen amazing improvements in smart phones' screens, with resolution that are now beyond the eye resolution as you watch the screen from a "regular" distance (like 20cm away from your eyes). With the very best resolution screens you won't be able to see individual pixels even if you are touching them with the tip of your nose....

Hence it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone is thinking about using a smartphone as an immersive VR (Virtual Reality). Even less so if the ones thinking about it happen to be Samsung and Oculus VR!

The idea behind this cooperation is that mobile devices will be the ones to support VR in the coming years. So far VR devices (headsets) have been connected to a computer by a cable and Max Cohen, head of mobile at Oculus VR flatly states that as soon as the processing power of mobile devices will be good enough to support VR people will move to them, since no-one likes to be tethered.

Samsung and Oculus VR are planning to create a new gear, Gear VR, to provide immersive virtual reality on the move.

Actually, there are several challenges in providing a VR on the move. Clearly, it is not about moving around as you are experiencing a full VR immersion (it would clearly be dangerous) but about having the possibility of engaging in immersive VR wherever you are.  
The smart phone is clearly the first device that comes to mind as one is looking for engaging in information processing everywhere. And this is why Samsung and Oculus VR are joining forces. One of the challenges is that immersive VR requires a lot of computation power, something that present top of the line smart phones are approaching but in turns this processing powers produces quite a bit of heat. If you run a smart phone at its maximum power capacity after a few minutes (3-4) it would become really hot and the chip will slow down automatically (or even shut off).

Another challenge in using smart phones is that the refresh rate of the screen is not sufficiently high to avoid the perception of flickering (and increasing the refresh rate means increasing the processing capacity and heat dissipation...). Flickering, when looking at the phone from a normal distance is not perceived but if your eyes are just a few cm from the screen the flickering becomes apparent and will ruin the perception of VR.

Yet another challenge is the precision of the accelerometers and compass in the smart phone. Quite adequate for the apps you are using today but insufficient if you want to use it to track the head movement to provide the immersive VR sensation.

Last, and not a minor point, battery remains the Achille's heel in smart phones and using them at maximum capacity will drain the battery even more....

All in all the challenges are not minor but Oculus VR is betting on being able to meet them and bring VR everywhere.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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