Whether you by into the hype or not, it’s impossible to deny that Virtual Reality (VR) is making its way into the mainstream.
Every company and its dog seems to be developing some kind of VR system.
Mobile VR is a fairly new concept to hit the market, with LG announcing its headset this year. But undoubtedly the grandfather of mobile VR is Samsung with its Gear VR goggles.
The system makes use of a Galaxy S6 smartphone that slots into the front of the headset, and through a dedicated app installed on the phone, it brings all the VR content right to your eyeballs.
The company has made some huge strides in that area, through partnerships with others like Oculus.
Oculus became synonymous with virtual reality when it announced its Rift headset back in 2012 and funded it through Kickstarter. Unlike mobile VR, Rift is a complete system that plugs into a PC to deliver content. So partnering with Samsung was a rather smart move, as it has both markets cornered now.
Oculus has been developing VR content exclusively for Samsung (and the latest Gear VR headset), and when the Galaxy S7 released this year, the Oculus VR app was exclusive to to the S7 – which naturally supports Gear VR.
And that has been the biggest marketing tool for Samsung, as an endorsement from Oculus (and its content) goes a long way in this industry.
I have nothing against VR technology, I’m just not sure, in its current form, if it is exactly for me.
I have spent some time with HTC’s Vive, which will be competing directly with Rift, and while that was great and all, it largely my opinion on it was largely based on the type of content that was available.
I had the opportunity to try out HTC’s VR device Vive at MWC earlier this year, and while nausea was a factor, I enjoyed the experience overall.
Deep diving on the Gear VR
With that in mind, I was confident that Samsung’s Gear VR would be a piece of cake. There would be no moving around (apart from moving your head), and controls would be tight. However, problems started as I placed the Gear VR on my head.
The Gear VR doesn’t sit properly on any size head. By normal human measurements, I have a small head, so one would assume that it should sit snugly after some adjustments. The biggest pain for me was the cushioning around the sides.
Without going into too much detail (as there are plenty of Gear VR reviews on the net), the touch-sensitive buttons on the side is also a bit iffy.
Is this the final version of the Gear VR? I hope not, as I really want to like the headset, and I think with a number of little tweaks the hardware can be actually comfortable to wear.
Once I strapped the Gear VR on, it worked pretty well for the most part. However, as is the case with the Vive, the quality of the content will ultimately sell the device and for the most part, the content on Gear VR left me cold.
The best content that that I viewed out of a whole heap of little apps definitely has to be Marvel’s The Battle for Avengers Tower simulation. In it, you get a first-hand (and in slow-mo) experience of the battle between all The Avengers’ characters and Ultron. It’s absolutely fascinating to see Thor’s hammer whizz by inches from your face, on a trajectory to one of Ultron’s minions.
A close second was a Jurassic World simulation which you’re drops you in the middle of a Redwood forest with a giant Apatosaurus right in front of you. The clip is rather short, as the huge creature stands up, gets right in your face and lies down again. That’s it.
Here is a quick video, found on YouTube:
Nonetheless, it was rather well done, and for a brief couple of minutes, I had hope for VR.
The Bad & The Ugly
But then there are app that were literally vomit-inducing. I don’t easily suffer from motion sickness, but like the Elite Dangerous experience I had with the Vive, I could feel my lunch making its way into my throat.
I was rather excited to take a helicopter flight around Iceland and see what the country has to offer, but the content just made me feel sick. The idea was fantastic, as you viewed the world from the underbelly of a helicopter, but the bad visuals caused me discomfort.
When viewing something in 360-degrees while flying at almost 200km/h, the smallest disturbance can be off-putting. That was exactly the case with the Iceland trip – and the UK trip, and the New York flight.
In order to view the flight, you have to download the content, but on 360-degrees, content in 720p simply just won’t do.
This is my biggest gripe – the majority of the content was in 720p, and (excuse the pun) it puts your whole world out of focus.
At first I thought that my eyes (and brain) just had to adjust to everything that was going on around me, but the more I used the system, the more I realised that things weren’t going to change.
To be honest, after my experiences with both the Vive and Gear VR, I have come to the conclusion that, in its current form, mobile VR is nothing more than an expensive gimmick.
It is by no means a must-have device at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I’m writing the technology off as a bad idea. It boasts heaps of potential.
It could really change the way in which students are taught across the world, transport people to countries where they will never go, or deliver one-of-a-kind experiences.
But until the mobile VR content has been sorted out and the technology proven itself, mobile virtual reality will it remain a gimmick to me.