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Gear VR- A World Changer or a Gimmick?

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Gear VR
A World Changer or A Gimmick?

With Virtual Reality becoming more than virtual, there is a race to the finish for many developers to get their bit of kit out there to the public and onto our faces, immersing us into a whole new experience in media and gaming.

The Oculus Rift is one of the most well-known upcoming VR units which had its humble beginning in a Kickstarter program. But along side this major leap in home based technology the mobile headset, Gear VR, has also been in the works. And for those who were fast enough to pre-order a Samsung Edge you’ll be one of the lucky few to already have your hands on this bit of kit.
Based on the same technology as Rift, the Gear VR headset has been born out of a joint Samsung/Oculus development and complements the latest releases of Samsung Galaxy phones around today, including the Note and Edge. The headset is designed to be lightweight and even with the phone docked into the front it will barely feel there at all. Especially once you see what it can do from the inside.

With a twin lens design, each eye will receive a slightly differing picture enabling a full and impressive 3D VR experience. Whilst there is only so much clarity and resolution gained from a mobile platform, the Gear VR is an excellent showcase of just what the possibilities of VR can be.

Built to encompass anything from games to Netflix and Facebook the headset allows you very broad and uninterrupted access all without removing the headset. With your phone loaded to the front port all navigation can be achieved with a simple D pad setup on one side featuring a touch sensitive “mouse” in the centre, and a simple move of the head. A touchpad controller can also be purchased which enables more complex controls. And a dial on top of the headset allows for simple and easy correction of focus, allowing you to achieve an optimum clarity.
So what kind of experience can you expect when you first use the Gear VR? During my test run I was able to sample several different modes and features. As the headset sits to your face the screen illuminates slowly in front of you showing a basic yet effective menu, much like Samsung’s main interface screens.

Moving from there Netflix provides you with a private theatre in which to view your movies and shows- you find yourself seated on a rich red couch in a log cabin-esque surroundings, the mountain range visible through the windows and the red curtains drawn in front of you. Selecting your movie to view sees the room dim just like a live theatre and immerses you completely into the screen.

The Gear VR exhibitions several underwater environments, each one different and impressive in its own way. From the surface level dolphins, swimming around you and barrel rolling playfully, to the sea snakes sliding their way eerily through the dark depths of the water, each experience will give you something new. The attention to detail was great with even tiny pieces of floating debris visible through the water, some I almost felt inclined to brush out of my face. The main thing to note here is just how surrounded you can feel. Creatures will duck out of your sight, and as you turn to follow them another will slide into view where you do not expect them to. It is this unexpected and varied movement which truly impressed me the most.

Temple Run is one of the many games available to play on Gear VR and is an exciting and trepidatious experience. Using the controls on the side of the headset you grab the idol and begin running for your life. As you weave and dodge your way along the pathway there is an ever looming beast on your tail, its shadow on the ground before you a constant reminder of just how close to death you might be.

There is also the ability to switch to your phone’s camera for a live view of the world around you. Besides giving you a slightly fish eyed perspective I saw little reason to use this feature at present. But I would like to think development will utilise this feature for a real world roaming gameplay experience.

Overall the graphics were not perfect but extremely good for the platform. I noticed some graininess to the underwater seascapes, but the colours are beautiful and bright and the blacks are most definitely black. I found myself too involved in what it could do to worry too much about what it couldn’t. And for something I dock my phone into, I’m certainly not complaining here.

One of the major concerns for people wary of VR is the motion sickness factor. As someone sensitive to this myself, I found the only motion sickness I remotely felt was during Temple Run, if I tried to look at my surroundings whilst the game pulled me forward. But in complete honesty, doing this was unnecessary as all focus was demanded in front of me. I can see how this might be of concern with future fast paced games that require more twisting and turning but this was not my experience.

So how much will a Gear VR set you back? Currently it retails for around $228 AUD but the biggest requirement is the need for a Samsung phone compatible with it, and that could set you back a significant amount if you don’t already have one.

Would I use it again? Absolutely. I would be very interested to see just what else this piece of kit can achieve, how much the graphics can upscale and just how diverse the gameplay will become.

Is it worth it? There’s no denying that the Gear VR is only a baby step in the new world of VR opening up to us in the next 12 months. But it’s an impressive baby step and one worth a try if you can get your hands on it.

For me? I’ll be waiting until VR is more established before I pour my dosh into it, but it’s pieces of tech like this that bring so much promise of what is to come and of many an exciting time looking more like an idiot playing games than I already do.

Bring it on…



(Image Source: Samsung.com)
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