Back in the day virtual reality was bigger than huge thanks to William Gibson’s gritty cyberpunk novels, however the tech of the time hadn’t caught up with the hype, and the whole VR thing quietly faded away. Meanwhile back to the present, slim displays, ultra fast and energy efficient CPUs plus a bunch of other tech has meant that the hype has finally met reality with players like Oculus, Sony and Samsung all launching VR headsets.
I was lucky enough to be able to spend some quality time with Samsung's Galaxy Gear S6 VR headset. Here’s my first impressions.
The Gear VR uses a Samsung Galaxy S6 as its brains to provide the display, audio and head-tracking. The S6 slots into the front of the Gear headset, hooking into a small micro USB port so the Gear VR’s side controls can be used for navigation.
The headset uses magnifying lenses. This meant some pixilation was noticeable. This said, it was quickly forgotten as I swam with whales or flew over a herd of wild Icelandic ponies. Stereoscopic 3D video combines with seamless head movement tracking, which helps makes things so utterly immersive.
The lack of any clearly defined user interface standards also made getting about in VR environments sometimes confusing, but Samsung have simplified things thanks to a joy-pad control mounted on the right side of the Gear VR.
The Gear VR straps fastened around the back of my noggin and a second strap fastened over the top of my head. With extended use it proved surprisingly comfy.
After donning the headset and powering it up, the first order of the day is adjusting focus – This is done using a small dial on the top of the Gear.
Navigating the VR interface was more often than not a matter of moving my head and/or using the side controls. One of the standout apps of the Gear VR was a 360 tourism promo video of Iceland while it wasn’t exactly HD, it was still stunning. I reckon the NZ tourism board folks need to commission something similar from WETA studios.
The video starts with a herd of wild horses charged over a plain, as I flew above them. Looking up revealed a helicopter rotor, but I was able to look around at the entire environment. It may have been oversaturated with a few panorama and video compression artifacts, but it was still like an out-of body experience.
There’s also a bunch of apps all powered by software from Face book’s Oculus VR store. This means there's a growing body of free and paid apps. Paid apps range from $3 through to $15 (depending on how the pacific Paso is faring).
With the earlier Note 4 edition, Extended use resulted in a few problems, namely the Note 4’s battery conking out and perspiration causing the lenses to fog up. Samsung have managed these issues by installing a small fan that maintains airflow through the Gear’s optics as well as a microUSB cable that can keep the s6 alive while you pootle about in virtual worlds.
It’s still early days for VR, and as mentioned earlier, some pixilation was noticeable. Given the gear VR sells for a pocket pleasing $299 (plus a Galaxy S6), it’s still an acceptable compromise given the amount of fun possible. Once you’re caught up in the whole VR experience, a little Pixilation isn’t an issue.
Making use of the Oculus ecosystem is also a wise move, and is likely to result in a growing number of apps, extending the Gear VR’s usefulness.
The bottom line (assuming you’re the lucky owner of an S6 and are looking for a killer app) is this: the Gear VR adds a cool new twist to Samsungs latest flagship Smartphone. For others looking for smartphone as well as a fun and affordable means of dipping their heels into the virtual pond, the sear VR is definitely a good bet.