VERDICT ON THE FIRST VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSET
Warning: After time behind Samsung’s virtual reality glasses, real life may seem a little mundane.
With these goggles on your face, you can sail through the solar system, swim with whales, throw hoops over rockets, and stand beside Paul McCartney while he plays Live and Let Die.
It’s all an illusion, of course, but it’s such a realistic illusion that your enjoyment is bound to be genuine.
Samsung’s Gear VR is the first commercially available virtual reality headset, outside Google’s Cardboard experiment, and it arrives in Australian stores this month.
The chunky, but lightweight headset uses a Galaxy Note 4 phone as a screen to deliver 360-degree videos that feel strangely lifelike, as well as immersive, interactive animations.
Users clip the smartphone into the front of the Gear VR goggles, and fit the kit to their heads with two elasticated straps.
The Gear VR’s passive frame is made of plastic, with a touchpad and back button powered by the phone, and two curved glass lenses looking out on to the phone’s 5.7-inch screen.
Users are prompted to install the Samsung Oculus app on first use, and create an account. Once installed, the Oculus app store delivers access to a host of virtual reality videos and games, most of which are free.
Despite its recent arrival, there is plenty of virtual reality content available, including a Cirque du Soleil performance, and Coldplay and Paul McCartney concerts, plus a host of interactive video games, many set in orbit.
Titans of Space sends you on a course through the Milky Way, for example, stopping for a look at each planet, while TheBluVR lets you swim beside whales, fish and sharks.
The headset’s lenses deliver a 96-degree viewing angle for an immersive experience, and many VR apps let you turn your head up, down and around to watch video from all angles. The whale, for instance, swims behind you.
It’s not hard to get lost in the experience, forgetting your real-world surroundings and moving your head about with abandon. From the outside, the experience looks strange, but bystanders to our tests were quickly silenced and converted with a brief trial.
Sound is delivered from the phone’s speaker, though users can connect Bluetooth headphones to completely cut out the external world.
Because you can’t wear spectacles beneath the headset, a dioptric adjustment wheel lets near-sighted and farsighted users pull its vision into focus (an addition that works remarkably well). A sensor on the headset’s face also detects whether you’re watching it or it should pause play.
Naturally, there are some limitations to this virtual reality experience. Samsung recommends users sit down to use it, for obvious reasons, but also that it should not be used by children under 13, or the pregnant, epileptic, or those with binocular vision abnormalities. The worst malady this reviewer suffered was moderately tired eyes after too much time behind the glass.
The real limitations of the Gear VR are twofold. First, it can only be used with the Galaxy Note 4 phone, and second, it doesn’t play all Oculus content but a selection modified for the Gear. While that includes 25 games, five apps and nine video “experiences”, how fast it grows will depend on developers.
The Samsung Gear VR is a rare technological gem, however, in that it delivers a genuinely new experience capable of delighting everyone from Luddites to jaded geeks. Its modest entry price, ease of use and immersive content should see many people disappear into virtual reality worlds.
$249 / SAMSUNG.COM/AU
“It’s such a realistic illusion that your enjoyment is bound to be genuine”
Samsung’s Gear VR arrives in Australian stores this month.