I started 2016 with writing a couple of posts about virtual reality (VR), and the Oculus Rift. It’s only apt, then, that I leave the year with a piece about another VR headset, the Samsung Gear VR.
My romance with the Oculus Rift DK1 back in January was short. It turned out that the headset wasn’t compatible with my 6 year old gaming rig, and my life-long dream of flying through space looking like a complete idiot had a near-terminal blow. The dream was completely shattered when Oculus announced the retail price of their first consumer version of their Rift headset. The device was made available for pre-order at $599, which was quite a lot more than the company had previously hinted at. There was no way I could muster the money for both a new gaming PC and a VR headset.
Now, that an advanced VR headset is ridiculously expensive shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. After all, they are packed with quite a lot of science fiction-esque technology. It is possible, though, to get a VR experience of sorts on a very low budget. Google’s Cardboard is a $15 cardboard box you put your cell phone in. I haven’t tried the box myself, but I’ve got a hunch it’s not exactly spectacular.
Bridging the gap
Yesterday I somewhat spontaneously bought a Samsung Gear VR headset. The headset is developed in corporation with Oculus, and can be placed in between the cardboard box and the high-end headsets in terms of features. Like the cardboard box, it harvests the computing power of a mobile phone. And, like the high-end headset, it contains a very sensitive IMU.
Unlike the cardboard box, however, the Samsung Galaxy VR is compatible with a very limited range of phones. Samsung’s own Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S7, S7 Edge and Note 5 are the only models that will work. The headset used to support the Galaxy Note 7 as well, but when Samsung’s flagship phablet started exploding, support was discontinued. What’s worse than your mobile phone exploding in your pocket? Your mobile phone exploding in your face!
Getting the Samsung Gear VR configured required quite a bit of fiddling. That might be because I’m getting old, and new technology scares me. Or, and this is just me theorizing, it might be because it just wasn’t an amazingly user friendly experience. But finally, after having inserted and removed my S7 from the headset about half a dozen times, made sure the phone was unlocked when inserted, disabled automatic power saving, created an Oculus account (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with a Samsung branded product), and adjusted the head straps about a hundred times, I was ready for my first proper virtual reality experience!
Who needs reality anyway?
So, does the Samsung Gear VR bridge the gap between the cheap cardboard box and the annoyingly expensive high-end solutions? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. The Samsung Gear VR is the only virtual reality gadget I’ve ever tried, which makes it impossible for me to compare. What I can do, however, is to answer what you’re all wondering: “Should I buy a VR headset, and never go outside again?”
No. You shouldn’t. That would be silly. The first time you try on a VR headset, your reaction will be “WOW!” But there’s a good chance your enthusiasm will decrease rather quickly. At least that was the case for me personally. I should mention that I didn’t throw any money at the Oculus store. Neither did I try any advanced games. You need a compatible game pad for that, and they are – surprise, surprise, sold separately. So I have only tinkering with the free stuff yet, but I honestly doubt that I’ll find something in the store that will be go “WOW!” in the same way again.
So what is it good for?
One of the most fascinating things I did was to watch a teaser for a 3D movie, Asteroids!. 3D on TV and in cinemas is one of the dumbest technology ideas ever, but watching a 3D movie using a VR headset was brilliant. I’m not sure why, but it might be because the headset takes up your entire field of view. In front of a TV and the silver screen, on the other hand, your eyes can still pick up a lot of noise from the environment. My guess is that the noise ruins some of the illusion.
But 3D movies won’t be the VR headset’s killer feature. I’m not sure if anything will ever be. Maybe virtual reality will continue to be something for a particular few. A VR headset is a great vanity gadget, though, so if you’re looking to impress your friends – or make fun of them when they are using the headset – the $99.99 Samsung Gear VR is a viable option.