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What's the Hype Around Virtual Reality?

March 2015

What's the Hype Around Virtual Reality?

For those of you who may have missed the hype over the past three months, Virtual Reality (VR) is here - again. VR made a splash in the 90s with game units such as Virtuality at some arcades as well as the Sega VR-1 and the Nintendo Virtual Boy. Units were oversized, had low graphics capability and were a bit daggy. Those poor early experiences put the concept of VR into a 20 year coma while technology and innovation caught up. A couple of years ago though, a company named Oculus Rift (recently purchased by Facebook) jolted VR back to full consciousness with the introduction of its first developer kit for the Oculus Rift VR headset. Since then it has been revising the technology to make it crisper, lighter and more responsive.  

The biggest development in making this technology consumer friendly came in 2014 when they partnered with Samsung to develop software and hardware which would work with the Galaxy Note 4 to turn it into a full VR headset – welcome the Samsung Gear VR. The device was released in the US over Christmas 2014 and the results have been nothing short of amazing.


I was fortunate enough to secure one of these headsets in January and have been sharing the experience with friends, clients and colleagues. People’s first reaction to the Samsung Gear VR really captures the immersive experience and I thought sharing some of these first words was a good way to help describe the product:

“Oh my god”
“This is awesome”
“Wow, I’m literally flying right now”
“Can you please take this off me; I have a fear of heights” 

Every person I have showed has been very impressed and has commented that it was far better than they had imagined. When you put it on you are really immersed in the experience that is playing. Experiences range from walking with a pride of lions in Africa to rocking on stage at a Cold Play mini concert. At the moment most content is short but there are a lot of demo experiences available. Some of my favourites include a 3D rendered experience under water with sharks and dolphins, sitting in a musicians New York loft while he composes a song and an up-close performance by Cirque de Solei. The games available include some popular mobile titles such as Temple Runner (which literally gives me motion sickness) and other first person shooters that still look a little chunky. 

One clever game is called Esper and is set in an alternate reality where people have telekinetic powers. It takes you through a series of challenges where you use your mind (actually your VR Headset) to move objects through a configuration of glass pipes. Sounds weird I know but it is surprisingly well done. Last but not least one of the most impressive applications that comes stock with the headset is a cinema app. It is preloaded with a selection of recent movie trailers but you can easily load your own content or even home movies as well. When you load it up you can choose from a selection of different cinemas, including an outdoor movie screen on the surface of the moon – complete with stars and moon rocks. The regular cinema is my preferred choice as it really does trick you into thinking you are watching a movie on the big screen. The experience looks crisp and has all the fine detail necessary to trick your brain into believing you are sitting down at the local theatre - complete with curtains, upholstery, lighting, speakers and even the glass booth at the rear of the cinema with light beaming out from the projector.

The hardware itself is quite comfortable and it consists of a set of goggles with straps and your Samsung Note 4 which clicks into place. While the glass on the inside of the goggles can fog up it can be easily fixed with some anti-fog spray.

The future of VR

While I’m impressed with Samsung Gear VR, I’m really excited to see where this technology and the commercial enterprise will take this. As resolutions improve and internet speeds increase there are going to be a whole range of virtual businesses that emerge; virtual tourism and virtual conferences to name a few. 

The bottom line

This unit is lots of fun and if you have a Samsung Note 4 or Samsung S6 already I would highly recommend spending 300 dollars on one when they become available in Australia. Most of the other tech companies are already working on or about to ship similar models to this, including LG and HTC so it won’t be long for most mobiles to have some kind of companion VR headset that you can buy.




Thursday, March 19, 2015