Samsung’s Gear VR: An immersive review
What do you think of when you hear the term “Virtual Reality”? If you are old enough to remember the bulky virtual reality pods that populated arcades and movie theaters in the early 90’s, you’re going to want to forget everything you think you know about VR. The tech world has declared 2016 “the Year of Virtual Reality” with some of the industry’s biggest players all set to launch VR solutions this year. With this new generation of VR, technology has finally caught up to the promise of highly detailed and fully immersive experiences that have to be experienced to be believed. Perhaps the most incredible development that illustrates how far VR has come, is that one of the best VR experiences currently on the market is powered by a smart phone that you might already have in your pocket.
The Samsung Gear VR headset is about the size of a large pair of ski goggles and uses the screen of your Samsung smartphone (compatible with the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge as well as the Galaxy Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+ devices) to provide a high definition VR experience. Simply snapping your phone into the into the headset’s convenient dock aligns the screen with a pair of stereoscopic lenses that help create a 3D effect for many of the available VR experiences. The Gear VR headset is loaded with its own accelerometer, gyroscope and proximity-based sensors to compliment the hardware on your Samsung smartphone. That means that when you’re moving your head around to take in all the angles of a detailed 360° environment, the experience remains smooth and crisp. All of the controls that you need to select apps and interact with virtual environments are provided by the simple touchpad on the right side of the headset.
So you may be asking “What can I actually do with a Gear VR?” The good news is that the Samsung Oculus store is already full of amazing experiences that can be easily downloaded to your device ranging from 360° movies and immersive games to unique educational and social experiences. The Oculus GearVR app launches as soon as you plug in your phone, replacing your smartphone’s home screen with an intuitive menu combining your downloaded apps with recommendations from the Samsung Oculus Store.
One of the challenges of writing a review about VR experiences is that there is really no substitute for strapping on a headset and seeing it with your own eyes. Since I started using the Gear VR, I’ve tried to share the experience with as many people as I can so I can see their “First VR Experience Face”. My go-to experience for new VR users has been the Cirque du Soleil experience that places you right on the stage of the iconic circus’s Zarkana show. Surrounded by an audience of playful and talktative clowns, a pair of acrobatic rope dancers make their entrance. At this point you truly get a sense of the Gear VR’s head tracking capabilities as you follow the performers up and down their rope and turn to see your fellow spectators’ reactions. The Cirque du Soleil experience offers a glimpse of the potential for VR to give spectators the best seat in the house for a wider variety of live events, concerts and sports. While some experiences have to be downloaded to your phone’s storage, many more can be streamed in high quality on Canada’s fastest mobile network (as ranked by PC Mag).
For gamers, the resurgence of Virtual Reality in 2016 is the long delayed fulfillment of the immersive experience they have been promised by science fiction for the last few decades. While it’s not quite as realistic as The Matrix just yet, it is easy to get lost in some of the interactive VR experiences currently offered in the Samsung Oculus store. If you’ve played the popular Temple Run series on your smartphone, you’ll be amazed how Temple Run VR takes the action to the next level, putting you in the shoes of the runner as you dodge obstacles and look over your shoulder at the pursuing demon monkeys. Not surprisingly, First Person Shooter fans are going to be very happy with the selection of high quality titles including the multiplayer space shooter EVE: Gunjack. This game in particular is playable proof of the commitment that top game developers are pouring into the new VR platform.
If you’re not as inclined towards shooting aliens, another class of interactive experiences allows you to more passively explore beautiful environments like art museums, the ocean floor or even our solar system. Social experiences in VR are beginning to emerge with applications like VTime and AltspaceVRallowing you to design an avatar and interact with other users in a variety of highly detailed environments. With Facebook’s investment in the Oculus technology powering the GearVR, you can expect the technology to offer a lot more opportunities to share social experiences in virtual spaces.
At the risk of sounding repetitive I’ll say one more time that the GearVR has to be experienced to be believed. The good news is that you can try a free demo of the GearVR in participating Bell stores. If you’re thinking of activating one of Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge devices, the Gear VR is going to be a must have accessory.
Have you tried the Samsung Gear VR yet? Let us know what you think!