If there’s an iconic image to have come out of this year’s MWC in Barcelona, it’s the one of Mark Zuckerberg and his appearance at Samsung Galaxy S7 launch. You can see Zuckerberg walking in, his familiar grey t-shirt and blue jeans, while the entire audience has Gear VR headsets on, presumably unaware that the Facebook CEO has just walked in. Some have rightly called it an apt metaphor for our future, perhaps a dystopic one where humans are glued to their virtual reality sets. Fears of a warped future aside, VR was the big highlight of the conference, as we have seen and noted in some our earlier articles.
The Gear VR headset by Samsung and powered by Facebook-owned Oculus is just one tool for making this VR-obsessed future a reality. Samsung has introduced the headset in India at a price of R8,200, and it’s compatible with all the top-end Galaxy phones, from S6 onwards including the Note 5.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has himself admitted that the future of VR is mobile, mostly because it is not as cumbersome as PC-based VR with its burden of wires, etc. So is the Gear VR experience worth it? We have tried the Gear VR for sometime now, and here is what we thought.
Set-up, ease of use
For starters, this is meant (only) for those who have a high-end Galaxy smartphone. So if you don’t have a
compatible phone, don’t even consider buying. Before getting ready to take the virtual plunge, download the Oculus VR app on your smartphone, set up an Oculus account and download some apps, videos, etc. In my case, I found the Netflix app, a Jurassic World Video, Cirque De Soleil. There are quite a few paid apps; after all shooting and creating VR style content is not cheap, so expect more of that. There are also Oculus 360 videos, photos, some of which are truly stunning.
Once you are set-up with the app, put the smartphone inside the Gear VR headset. Make sure the device is unlocked when plugging it in and once the headset is on, you are ready to go.
What’s the experience like
Sure it’s awe-inspiring, and a little freaky at the same time. I have seen the Cirque De Soleil, in fact the exact show that’s on the VR headset in real-life. When you watch it in VR, it’s a whole new view. For starters, you are right there, not in the seats where the audience is supposed to be, but in the middle of the action. You have to look to watch the acrobats performing, the clowns are right next to you and it’s fascinating, but also a little unnerving.
The Netflix app took sometime to work, but once it did, it worked just fine without any hiccups. The 360 VR photos are truly stunning and worth-watching.
There are also shots of imagined VR worlds, and they make for a terrifying experience. Terrifying, not because it scared me, but because it shows the power of VR, to create something that doesn’t really exist, and yet make you feel that it is really.
So is it all perfect?
Of course not. You can’t wear the headset for long periods, and yes it does give a headache. For the videos, you need high speed Internet access. There were times when the images and videos would take time to load, or it would fail and yes at one point, the device wasn’t reflecting anything. And yes there were times, when I took out the phone to find it had heated up. But honestly, these were what I call minor hiccups. Once the VR show is on, nothing else matters. In the middle of the dinosaur video, I decided to start moving around, because well I wanted to avoid the dinosaur. Found myself right next to the door, two feet away from bed. So yeah, if you get too immersed into the whole virtual scene, you might just find yourself getting hurt in real life.
Worth a buy?
As a device, the Gear VR is pretty perfect. And Oculus has some truly stunning VR-related content to offer. Of course, whether you should buy this depends a lot on whether you see any use for VR in your life.
A lot of us will ask: How important will VR be in the future? Tech companies argue immensely so, and perhaps they are right. It is surreal experience, capable of transcending the mundane, boring world that is our existence. VR, I would say, is better than being stuck to that dull smartphone screen. It’s a means to escape, at the end of the day and that’s exactly what the Gear VR offers.
** Estimated street price: Rs 8,200