Introducing The Samsung Gear VR
While many eyes have been on the Oculus Rift development throughout 2015, and to a slightly lesser extent pointed towards the coming Playstation VR, Samsung may have gained a significant first mover advantage with their Gear VR.
Set to sit firmly in the list of top rated VR headsets for some time, the Gear VR has been released at an affordable $100 price, and is the perfect entry level device for anyone wanting their first taste of virtual reality experiences.
When you get your hands on the Gear, there will be another surprise when you feel how light it is at around 320g. Of course that’s as a standalone device, and adding the phone pushes the weight upwards resulting in a significantly heavier feel when actually wearing the combined unit.
Comfort is important, and the unit scores strongly. The headset includes a foam cushion which is easily removed for cleaning.
The overall feel is of a strong, durable piece kit. It’s always good to feel that money is well spent, right.
With the main body made of white plastic, there’s a touch sensitive pad and reset button on the right hand side. On the inside of the device are the two lenses that you see through to the display, which provide a 96-degree field of view. Between the two lenses sits a sensor designed to detect when you put the headset near to your face, which turns the screen off while not in use and helps conserve battery life on the phone.
Interaction with a virtual environment is achieved mainly with head movements, technically enabled by an inbuilt accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer in the unit which make you feel like you’re looking around. Unlike the more technically complex headsets, the Gear cannot deliver the feeling of body motion. Using the device in a spinning office-type chair will help offset this limitation.
A side trackpad controls most interactions, unless you also have a Bluetooth game controller to pair with your phone. The trackpad in the S6-compatible Gear is now recessed so it can found more easily compared to the 2014 Note 4 version. The Gear VR uses the same type of optical technology as before, using magnified lenses to help bend a split stereoscopic display on your phone into an immersive experience that stretches around you. The field of view is still restricted to what you can see through the scuba mask-like goggles: it really does feel like viewing another world while deep-sea diving.
The Gear VR doesn’t work while wearing glasses, but a focus dial on top adjusts to allow even people with horrible vision like myself (-9) to see just fine.
The key point to note is that the Gear VR will only work with Samsung Smartphones, and then only with specific models Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+ or Note 5. Although this could be seen as a limitation, in fact it allows Samsung to very effectively design the device to integrate perfectly with those handsets which are of course the flagship mobiles in the range.
The headset itself contains some control functions for navigation purposes, specifically for navigating menus and the like, though these are useless when it comes to games. You’ll need a hand-held controller for effective gaming.
Resolution 2560 x 1440 pixels.
Optical Lens 96 degree Field of View
Sensor Accelerator, Gyrometer, Geomagnetic, Proximity
Motion to Photon Latency < 20ms
Focal Adjustment Covers Nearsighted / Farsighted Eyes
Interpupillary Distance Coverage 55 ~ 71 mm
Physical User Interface Touch Pad, Back Button, Volume Key
Connection microUSB connection
Dimensions 198(W) x 116(L) x 90(H)mm
VR content is available from the Gear VR Oculus Store, which offers dozens of Apps accessed via a hub app through the Samsung smartphone. These include a number of free or paid for Apps, some of which offer great experiences in varying degrees of quality.
In the Store, you’ll find that some of the apps are actually hubs themselves, leading you to an array of immersive video content laid out in collections of material. Hub app titles include Milk VR, VRSE, Oculus 360, and im360.
The Gear VR ships with a 16 GB SD card that carries a number of 360 degree videos and movie trailers designed to get any purchaser up and running quickly with VR experiences. This shows that the Gear is not designed just for games, in fact Samsung themselves launched a video content service known as Milk VR on to which new 360 content is published regularly.
Popular video titles include the first episode of GONE, the Martian trailer in VR, The Dive, and Dew VR Snow. Others include:
• Jurassic World demo
• Music videos
• Underwater exploration experiences
• Disneyland tour, including some exhilarating roller coaster rides
• GoPro Surfboard
If gaming is your passion, the Gear won’t disappoint. There are a whole raft of titles available, ranging from free, straightforward demo types to fully developed efforts that can keep you engaged for hours.
It’s hard to recommend any as must-play standouts, they’re all worth a look. The advice here is to work your way through any free demos, keep those you want, or pay for the full versions.
Titles such as the space combat game Anshar Wars 2 and secret agent action Omega Agent are proving popular with gamers, and others with their fair share of fans include:
Temple Run VR – based on the Temple Run game and giving a first person perspective in the gameplay
Smash Hit – a first person VR version of the popular Android/iOS title where you’re in a corridor and have to shoot balls at various objects
Land’s End – providing a puzzle type VR experience controlled purely visually
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes – you’ll be working to defuse a bomb in virtual reality with guidance from a partner
Eve Gunjack – a demo that cleverly shows what can be expected from the widely anticipated VR game Eve Valkyrie
VR Kart Sprint is – a basic and simple racer game similar to Mario Cart.
Ocean Rift – a very simple scuba diving simulator game where you can interact with various sea creatures
Esper 2 – a taxing first person puzzler
Dead Secret – solve a murder mystery puzzle
Dreadhalls – horror comes to the Gear with a vengeance
Drift – shooter where the bullets are controlled by head movements
You’ll find plenty of VR apps in the Oculus-powered app store, many of which will work with other VR headsets in future but have seen modifications made to get them working with the Gear.
Early availability of App content is proving that the partnership between Oculus and Samsung is working as it was intended, allowing developers to get test titles out with some regularity.
One app which you will want to try out is the chat application labelled as Vtime, which lets you interact with and chat to other players in virtual reality.
Samsung state that the Gear VR is only compatible with three hand-held controllers: the Samsung El-GP20 gamepad, the Moga Pro Power, and the Steel Series Android controller. However if you’re technically competent it may be possible to adapt other 3rd party controllers to work to reasonable effect.
Samsung have announced the name of their Gear VR controller – to be known as the Rink. Controllers are vital add-ons to VR setups, and the Rink will definitely enhance the user experience.
As of early 2016, it’s still in planning with no detail released. All we know is that it’s wireless connected. But until then you don’t necessarily need Samsung’s in house controller. The Gear will work with an Android-compatible Bluetooth gamepad or something like an Asus pad.
One of the areas where the desktop PC headsets have an advantage over their less powerful smartphone powered models is in their range of capabilities. Something that’s most noticeable in the motion tracking arena.
Smartphone headsets are able to track head movements of a user, but not full body movements. For the Gear, there’s now an answer. And it’s delivered by a firm known as Indotrack.
They’ve developed a system which combines the headset with a set of sensors to deliver a wireless tracking solution. This allows for tracking of body movements while immersed in the VR experience.
The Gear VR has been released at an affordable $100, a figure which affords a perfect entry level price for anyone wanting their first taste of virtual reality experiences. Don’t forget though that if you don’t already own one of the appropriate Samsung smartphones, you’ll need to factor that extra cost in too.
Here’s the link to Samsung’s official Gear VR site.
We already covered the coming Rink hand-held game controller, and there are potential developments for the Gear which would see integration with a wider range of smartphones. With different sizes of phones on the market, it’s clear though that any effort in this direction might materialise only with a new version, one that can be adapted for different phone models.
Overall the Gear is not as technically advanced as the destined-to-be-high-end headsets such as the Oculus Rift and the Playstation VR, but we’ve seen that smartphone-powered devices do have some benefits over those more powerful models.
The Gear VR is more easily portable, fully untethered with no wiring connection required, and really limited only by the power and battery life of the phone used.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Gear is that it’s powered by Oculus software, with Oculus of course intending to release a rival headset in 2016. While at first this might seem strange, in effect it would seem to be a clever move from Oculus given the head start the Samsung device has in the marketplace.
What this means is that Oculus have a ready made army of developers all working on getting VR content out into the open, content which ultimately may be able to be shared on different platforms. It would seem to be a good deal all round, with Samsung getting their hands on the early content to compliment their hardware first mover advantage.
As Oculus further grow their content availability, and Samsung continue development of the device to work with a wider range of phones and with performance improvements, we should see the Gear VRs position as one of the leading headsets cemented even more strongly.