Samsung’s Gear VR shows the promise of VR - today
NEW YORK: Samsung made history of a sort on Friday by launching the first major consumeroriented virtual-reality headset. (It comes with an asterisk; prototypes and other not-quitemass-market versions have been available for a while.) And its Gear VR headset is pretty impressive as first-generation devices go.
The biggest surprise after using the new Gear VR for a few days: There’s a lot of stuff to watch and play in the virtual worlds the headset opens up. Granted, some of that material is gimmicky or amateurish. But the best of it hints at some of the mind-expanding experiences VR can make possible.
The Gear VR is relatively cheap, too, at just $100. You do need your own headphones, preferably wireless, plus a recent Samsung phone - the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus or Note 5. If you don’t already have one, the package could set you back nearly $1,000. (Other VR systems will also need companion devices, such as high-end personal computers.)
Samsung developed the Gear VR with the virtual-reality startup Oculus (now part of Facebook). It supplants the $200 “innovator edition” Samsung has sold for a year. That earlier prototype was mainly intended to build enthusiasm for VR and to help developers start producing games and apps for it. Samsung bills the new model as its first consumer VR product, although it still requires some savvy on the consumer’s part to use.
ABOUT THE DEVICE
Your phone attaches to the front of the Gear VR headset, just in front of the lens for your eyes. Put the headset on, and your surroundings disappear as the phone screen opens a window into an unreal, three-dimensional world. As you turn your head, the image shifts accordingly to give the sense of being there in real life. You can even turn all the way around to see what’s behind you. The screen projects slightly different perspectives to your left and right eyes to give the virtual world depth.
The Gear VR wasn’t easy to set up. I had trouble figuring out where all the Velcro straps and hooks were supposed to go. I couldn’t get the phone to snap into place. I needed the manual to find a lever I had to switch because I had a larger phone, the Note 5. Many consumers might need help from a tech-savvy friend or kid.
I also got frustrated having to wait for apps and video to download - a few minutes in some cases. The Gear VR can stream relatively few videos for instant playback.
WHAT TO DO WITH IT
Fortunately, it was worth the wait most of the time, even if many of the videos seemed like concepts intended to demonstrate the Future of Virtual Reality or are merely promotions for regular movies and TV shows. A lot of it is free, though some videos or apps will set you back $2 to $10. And some apps were surprisingly absorbing. The notion of the Netflix app, which streams video to a virtual TV in front of you, initially seemed silly. Why not watch a real TV? Well, the virtual TV is huge, much larger than what I could afford in real life. And VR also removes the distractions surrounding you such as Facebook. Repeat viewings sometimes turned up unexpected detail. Not until a second viewing of a Cirque du Soleil video did I notice performers to my left and right. In a horror video, I initially kept my eyes on a woman in distress; only later did I see scary creatures crawling out of a playground. You’re no longer stuck with whatever the director chooses for you.—AP WASHINGTON: An aviation industry task force is recommending that operators be required to register drones weighing as little as a half a pound, a threshold that could include some remote-controlled toys, industry officials said.
Federal Aviation Administration officials who convened the 25-member task force on drone registration have said they want to avoid requiring the registration of toys. But the consensus of the task force is that the weight threshold that triggers registration should be set at 250 grams or above, which is about a half-pound, said people familiar with its deliberations. The threshold is based on the potential impact a drone that size would have if it fell from the sky and struck a person or if it collided with a helicopter or plane, they said.
The recommendations were expected to be submitted to the FAA by Saturday. The FAA then can modify them, and hopes to issue the rules before Christmas to begin registering some of the thousands of drones expected to be purchased over the holidays. One industry official said the target date is Dec. 21.
Four people familiar with the advisory group’s deliberations described the conclusions to The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the FAA asked that the discussions be kept private. The registration requirement would apply to drone operators rather than individual drones to avoid requiring operators who own multiple drones to register more than once. The operator would receive a single registration number, which would then be affixed to the body of each drone.
People who already own drones weighing more than a half-pound would have to register them. Registration could be done through an FAA website where an operator can provide name, address, phone number and other contact information and receive a registration number. The Consumer Technology Association estimates 700,000 drones will be sold in the U.S. this year, including 400,000 in the last quarter.
‘Culture of accountability’
FAA officials said when they announced the formation of the task force last month that they hoped registration will help create a “culture of accountability” among drone operators and allow owners to be tracked down in the event of an accident. The FAA now receives about 100 reports a month from pilots who say they’ve seen drones flying near planes and airports, up dramatically from last year. So far there’ve been no accidents, but agency officials have said they’re concerned that even a small drone might cause serious damage if it is sucked into an engine, smashes into an airliner’s windshield or collides with a helicopter’s rotors.
Helicopters are the greatest concern because they frequently fly below 500 feet in the same airspace as small drones, said Jim Williams, the FAA’s former top drone official now at an international law firm with droneindustry clients. There are no studies on how much damage drones of different weight might cause to a helicopter or aircraft engine, he said. “I am not a fan of the weight limit because there’s no science behind it,” Williams said. The weight threshold for drone registration in Europe is about 2 pounds, while Canadian officials are leaning toward a threshold of about 1 pound, industry officials said.—AP
CORDOVA: This photo taken June 11, 2015, a hexacopter drone is flown during a demonstration in Cordova, Md. An aviation industry task force plans to recommend Friday that operators be required to register drones weighing as little as a half of a pound, a threshold that could capture some remote-controlled toys, industry officials said.— AP
SEOUL: This photo provided by Samsung shows Samsung Gear VR headset. There are the promises of virtual reality in the form of headsets that drop you into another world and offer 360-degree views that shift as you turn your head. — AP