Delivered via a US forwarding address, my Samsung Gear VR arrived in Melbourne yesterday. With great anticipation, I flashed my Telstra Note 4 with Virgin’s firmware and proceeded to get lost in unfamiliar worlds for the afternoon.
So, was it the virtual reality experience I envisioned would be one day possible, after first trying an Oculus Rift? Could it begin to profoundly shift philosophy, the economy and our society in ways we can’t even begin to dream of? No, not even close. But, I knew that already.
Much like the Oculus developer kits, the Gear VR is merely a glimpse into a technology that WIRED say will “change gaming, movies, TV, music, design, medicine, sex, sports, art, travel, social networking, education, and reality.” It’s a grandiose statement that I agree with, but for now I won’t use it for much more than a personal 400 inch travelling movie screen. At times I might even send friends on a jaw-dropping tour of the solar system without needing to sit them down next to my computer.
So, why my heightened anticipation for the Gear VR? Virtual reality hasn’t progressed far with this iteration, but finally, it’s being made available for the general public’s consumption. Despite the label of “Innovators Edition”, you don’t have to be an innovator to try it in retail stores or see it plastered across Melbourne billboards and bus stops.
That promotion of presence is a big deal for virtual reality, so as a designer and strategist I wanted to dive in and see what the Gear VR would mean for today’s market.
It’s expensive and undercooked
The Gear VR isn’t actually any more affordable than previous Oculus offerings. It requires an investment of about $1300, once you’ve included the Samsung Note 4 smartphone. With the money spent on Gear VR, enthusiasts could build a gaming PC and buy a DK2 for far higher fidelity immersion. Pairing it with a racing wheel and leaning into apexes as you speed around a nearly photo realistic Silverstone circuit just isn’t possible with the power of the Samsung Note 4, nor lack of positional tracking with the Gear VR.
Demonstrating positional tracking with an Oculus Rift DK2
However, a key point of difference using the Gear VR is that you can put yourself inside of a virtual world as far away from a traditional computer as you like. Sitting on a virtual beach with a real breeze at your back and real sun on your face is infinitely more believable than if you’re seated in a computer room.
For anyone expecting that the Gear VR’s 1440p screen would yeild vast improvements, bettering the DK2's 1080p, the resolution benefit is unfortunately undermined by other factors. A slightly reduced field-of-vision, 15Hz lower refresh rate and a difference in optics is where it falls down. The result is more peripheral vision blurriness than I’d had hoped for and slightly more flicker.
There’s not much to do with it
Beyond the barrier of price, if you don’t care for playing games or using it to consume media on your lonesome, there’s the question of what you would even do in virtual reality. Let alone if it you could step in from anywhere.
You should be excited to know that in the near future NextVR plans to offer virtual seats at live music and sporting events. Here in Australia, Realestate.com.au is building a way to let home buyers walk through houses of interest with it as well. Unfortunately there is nothing as compelling as any of that for the Gear VR right this minute.
Be excited anyway
Samsung’s Gear VR won’t be the device that lands virtual reality in the homes of average consumers in high volumes, or a catalyst for reinventing industries. It is however a landmark device for virtual reality. Not because of how good or bad it actually is, but because for many people it’s the first virtual reality experience that is real.
This newfound exposure and availability is of unprecedented importance for virtual reality, along with those who hope to change the world with it. The future is up for grabs, by those who can imagine it.