In our product comparisons, we line up consumer gear and do our best to help you make up your mind, but this one is a little different. The Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 (DK2) isn't a consumer product, but there could be value in seeing how the Samsung Gear VR, a virtual reality headset that is a consumer product, measures up with it.
In case we didn't hammer the point home hard enough yet, the Oculus Rift DK2 isn't meant for consumers (since it's made for developers, you can't even do basic things like return it if you aren't happy with it). And while the Gear VR is being sold to the general public, it earned that asterisk, as Samsung is branding it as an "Innovator Edition" for early adopters and (it too) developers.
Modern virtual reality is still laying down its roots, hence all the developer-focused gear we're seeing here. But it's also one of the most exciting new technologies we've tried in some time, due to its incredibly immersive nature. It sounds cliché, but you really do have to try it yourself to get it.
If you're Samsung, and you want to get into VR on the ground floor, who do you turn to? You turn to Oculus VR, that's who. The young company (now owned by Facebook) provides the software for the Gear VR, as well as the SDK for the Rift development kit.
Neither headset is a standalone device, though the Gear VR looks like one. You'll need to slide a Galaxy Note 4 inside of it, to provide its screen, processing and ... well, pretty much everything but its lenses.
The Oculus Rift DK2 (and the upcoming consumer version) instead connects to a PC, opening the door to more advanced games.
On the other hand, relying on a smartphone gives the Gear VR the advantage of being wireless. The Oculus Rift is wired and tethered to the PC.
Want some more specifics on that connection? Okay then, the Note 4 slides into a micro USB nub in the Gear VR headset, while the Rift connects via USB and HDMI (or DVI-D) cables.
If you aren't careful, this can be a big disadvantage for the Gear VR. VR games put a lot of strain on the Note 4, and it heats up pretty quickly. If you don't keep your playing area cool, it will go into underclocked (lower performance) mode after just 20 minutes or so.
We have some tips on delaying the Gear's overheating, but cooling is going to be a regular consideration when using the headset.
The ways that you get apps on each platform correspond with their mobile vs. desktop natures. Like mobile devices in general, the Gear VR gets apps through one store (in this case, the Oculus Home app on the Note 4). And like PCs in general, the Rift development kit can run any compatible app you install on your PC.
Field of view
The DK2 has a slightly wider field of view than the Gear VR.
The displays inside the headsets each measure 5.7 inches diagonally. Of course the Gear VR uses the Galaxy Note's screen, but in a way the Rift does too: it has a Galaxy Note 3's screen sitting inside.
Display resolution (per eye)
Because of that Note 3 screen in the DK2, it's noticeably less sharp, with 1080p overall resolution (or 960 x 1080 per eye). If we had to bet, we'd put our money on the first consumer version of the Oculus Rift having a Quad HD Note 4 screen inside.
Both displays use AMOLED technology, with deep blacks and rich colors.
Just to avoid any confusion, both headsets respond to your head movement: turn your head all the way around, and you'll see everything in your 360-degree environment (it wouldn't really be virtual reality if you couldn't, would it?).
But the Oculus Rift adds an extra dimension. It includes a tiny camera that you can set near your PC or monitor, which tracks when you move forward or backward. This lets you "lean in" to zoom in on parts of your virtual environment.
The Gear VR only tracks your head's rotation, not leaning.
Latency describes how quickly the headset can respond to head movements (older Oculus Rift prototypes would get blurry when you moved your head quickly). Both of these devices, though, are capable of very clear <20 ms="">
Both headsets have built-in wheels that let you adjust the focus, to make your virtual environment look as clear as possible for your eyes. The Rift includes two separate pairs of lenses: one for normal or slightly near-sighted users, another for more near-sighted folks.
Many people can get away with wearing glasses underneath the Oculus Rift DK2. You can't wear glasses with the Gear VR, but its adjustable focus range is wide enough that most people should have no problem finding a clear setting without using any prescription lenses.
The Gear VR has a trackpad, back button and volume controls on its right side. With the Oculus development kit, you'll need to use your PC or an accessory.
For both headsets, you'll want to use a controller for any serious gaming. Any controller that works with your PC should work with the Rift, while many Android-compatible Bluetooth controllers will work just fine with the Gear.
The Gear VR headset itself doesn't have any speakers, but if you aren't wearing headphones, you'll hear audio played through the Note 4. For the best experience, though, you'll want to plug in some headphones or earbuds.
The biggest reason that the Rift lags behind the Gear in display resolution is that it's an older product. Oculus still hasn't announced a launch date for the consumer Oculus Rift, but many believe that will happen sometime this year.
At US$200, the Gear VR is cheaper, but of course you'll need to have a Note 4 (typically $700 full retail, $300 on-contract) to use with it. And, in case we didn't already stress it enough, the Oculus Rift DK2's pricing is mostly irrelevant to anyone that isn't a developer. At most, maybe it could be hinting at what the consumer version will eventually cost.