Yesterday, I was whizzing through space in search of other planets containing an inhabitable life-sustaining environment. I tried, and failed to escape giant beasts as I ran through temple halls and jumped over obstacles that only seemed to want to slow me down. Today, I'm back in my home in the Northwest sitting in front of my computer screen. This is all possible because of Samsung's Gear VR headset. When Samsung announced they would be partnering with now Facebook-owned Oculus to create a product, many thought it might end up expensive and otherwise out of reach for consumers who weren't developers. That isn't the case, as Samsung Gear VR can now be purchased through Samsung's own website and a handful of other major retailers like Amazon, AT&T, and Best Buy. Over the last week, we spent some time with Samsung's Gear VR Innovator Edition to see how far VR tech has come, and it's actually quite impressive.
- Sensors - Accelerator, Gyrometer, Geomagnetic, Proximity
- Motion to Photon Latency - <20ms
- Optical Lens - 96 degree field of view
- Focal Adjustment - Covers Nearsighted and Farsighted eyes
- Interpupillary Distance Coverage - 55 ~ 71 mm
- Physical User Interface - Touch Pad, Back Button, Volume Keys
- Connection/Battery - MicroUSB connection to the Galaxy Note 4 for battery
- Dimensions (Headset) - 198(W) x 116(L) x 90(H)mm
To get any use out of Gear VR you have to have a Galaxy Note 4, at least for now, as it's the only compatible device that works with it. If you fit into this category then placing your phone inside of the front mantle on the Gear VR will open up a small world of content that is really an experience you have to see for yourself to believe. Using Gear VR is pretty simple, as you just place your Galaxy Note 4 inside the front of the headset and connect it into place with the microUSB port, then lock it in and re-fit the faceplate. Once this is done you can attach the head strap and put on the headset and you're ready to go, although the experience is immensely more enjoyable if you're wearing a set of headphones, wired or Bluetooth, it doesn't matter, as long as you set yourself up to be completely immersed. This essentially locks you out and separates you from the rest of the world, as you'll now be off in your own little universe, but trust me, it's worth it. What may take some getting used to for people is becoming familiar with the placement of the physical user interface. Since you can't see anything outside of your virtual world when the Gear VR is on, finding the volume button, the touch pad and the back button is somewhat of a small learning process. After a short time though you start to memorize where these things are and finding them every time you need to use them from then on gets much easier.
The Gear VR features optical lenses that have a 96 degree field of view, so you can turn you head to the left and right slightly and almost feel surrounded by the experience. The first thing you're asked to do when putting on the headset is configure the Gear VR experience which means downloading the applicable Oculus apps onto your Galaxy Note 4 if you haven't already done so, then making sure everything looks in focus by using the focal adjustment dial on the top of the headset. Gear VR accommodates both nearsighted and farsighted individuals so just about everyone should be able to wear it and find a focal setting that's right for them. As stated yesterday in our unboxing of the headset, the Gear VR features no battery, and it draws its power from the battery on the Galaxy Note 4. During my first initial use I found that the battery was draining rather quickly, dropping from 100% to about 88% in just 20-25 minutes, but after some tinkering I realized this was likely due to the fact that I wasn't on WiFi and the Galaxy Note 4 was using LTE, I had the Bluetooth headset connected, and GPS radios were on searching for my location all while the Gear VR was sucking power from the phone while I was streaming one of the pre-loaded short films. After using the headset a couple of days later with WiFi instead of LTE, using the Samsung Level On headphones which are wired, and GPS location off, I found the battery life to be quite considerably better and was able to use it for about an hour.
Where battery really started to deplete was during gameplay which required use of a connected Bluetooth gamepad. Battery life on the Gear VR can actually be quite good since all the battery life comes from the Note 4, but having multiple connected Bluetooth devices while also powering a virtual reality headset and using the phones various radios seems to be a quick killer, of course this is really only if yo plan on extended use, and in most cases you probably won't be sitting down for a three hour session on your Gear VR before you come back to the real world.
When it comes to content, there's a little more selection than there was just a few months ago, but there's still a long way to go before there's loads of stuff to choose from. At current there is still only a handful of games available in the Oculus Store, some of which are demos, others which are full games like Temple Run VR, an FPS called Protocol Zero which is slightly reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid VR Missions, and some others including a 3D action/adventure rpg called Herobound. You can also find Oculus 360 photo and video apps which are aimed at allowing the user to view their own video and photo content, and Oculus Cinema which contains a collection of short films and movie trailers. This was one of the cooler experiences as it places you inside of a theater of your choosing, of which there are four types, ( I chose Cinema) and it's really quite an amazing experience as you actually feel like you're watching a film in theaters.
Using the headset for some extended periods of time didn't seem to cause any discomfort, although during a short session of Temple Run VR I did feel some slight dizziness at first due to the fast paced motion of the game. Wearing the headset for extended periods of time was also not uncomfortable, and in fact the only issue in regards to wearing the headset that came up was a problem with the lenses fogging up from time to time. I suspect this is partially why Samsung included a nice sized micro fiber cloth in the package. Still, this is an easily fixable problem. Just take off the headset, give the lenses a quick wipe and you're good to go.
Software wise the interface is minimal. Everything is displayed in front of you with a series of wide panels for all the content like your library of installed apps and games, the Oculus Store, etc., it felt similar to Steam's Big Picture to me personally. Navigation around the menus is easy enough thanks to the head tracking technology, just look at the particular app or menu you want to open up or enter and tap on the touch pad. Once you're actually in one of the apps, you use the touch pad to scroll through stuff. Finding your way back to the Oculus Home Menu is as simple as tapping the back button and confirming by tapping the touch pad. Once you get used to controlling things this way, which shouldn't take more than a few minutes, you'll be flying around the menus with ease and be eager to dive deep into content and explore everything there is to see.
All in all, Samsung's Gear VR Innovator Edition is a pretty cool product for anyone that is highly interested in new cutting edge tech, but without a vast library of content available and limited compatibility, it's still not something that most consumers will likely care to purchase. It certainly isn't anything I'd recommend people spending a couple of hundred bucks on unless they absolutely love the prospect of virtual reality. Even less so if they would have to purchase the Galaxy Note 4 before they could even consider buying the headset. Aty current time, Samsung's Gear VR is not something customers should rush out to buy. It is cool however, and much of the content inside is extremely enjoyable. The short films and movie trailers in particular would most certainly be a really cool experience for anyone that puts on the headset. Everything else however, like the apps and games, will probably only interest a small niche group of enthusiasts and developers who want to build for the platform. Since this is the Innovator Edition of the Samsung Gear VR, this is OK, because that's exactly what it's meant for. Enthusiasts and developers. If you have a chance to check out the Gear VR Innovator Edition though, it's worth your time to at least experience what it has to offer.