The first consumer virtual reality headset is finally here. While the Gear VR may not be the Oculus Rift everyone’s really excited for, yet super pissed off about the pricing of, it is something to take notice. Both Samsung and Oculus have been working together for quite a few years to make this a reality. Many are quick to point out that this isn’t the first Gear VR, but keep in mind that those were merely developer iterations. This is their truly consumer release. So is virtual reality all that great? Is it everything we hoped for and more, or does it fair no better than the 90s we eagerly wish we could dismiss? Don’t worry, Tripp’s here to help.
As far as build, the Gear VR is definitely a consumer device. It’s extremely easy to understand where everything goes and how it fits together. While mostly plastic, the headset is reasonably durable and exceedingly light. Much of their cost cutting measures from the $200 developer edition were probably in material or amount of it, but it’s better off for it. Of course, the number one key when it comes to construction of something meant to go on one’s face is comfort, and the Gear VR has this in spades. I’m not sure if it’s because my only real experience with virtual reality prior to the Gear VR is with that of the lowly Google Cardboard or what, but the removable and washable padding, coupled with the light weight plastic, made for one hell of a comfortable experience. For me, just having straps is a nice feature (Google Cardboard and all).
The only major gripe I could find is that neither Samsung nor Oculus sell replacement pads. You can buy a cover for it thanks to a third party company, but replacement pads should be a given. This is something that goes on a person’s face, and the foam happily absorbs any and all of your germs. While washable, a replacement will be needed eventually.
The importance of a good user interface is extreme when leading consumers into a new medium. Getting this right is paramount to the success of VR, and I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by Samsung and Oculus’ take on the interface with the Gear VR. Reminiscent of Xbox’s Metro UI, there are tiles of images that represent each game and category. Adding to the floating selection menu, given you have a full 360 degrees of motion, is a nice background scene with a house I so wish I could afford. Selecting something from the menu is as easy as looking at it and tapping the pad mounted on the right side of the headset. The nice acoustics accompanying your selection bode very well to the overall feel of the experience. Just don’t forget to turn your volume up before you put your phone in the dock.
The controls are something really important that I want to touch on, and I believe it will be a huge hindrance for gamers on both the Rift platform, as well as Gear VR. Currently, the Gear VR has two methods of input: either using the headset (head movement or touchpad) or a controller, which is not included with the Gear VR. The main thing that truly separates virtual reality from regular gaming is the presence, but you completely destroy that presence if you can’t interact with it like you normally would. Things like the Rink controller for the Gear VR or the Oculus Touch for the Rift are being looked at as “accessories.” That’s like purchasing an Xbox One without the controller because it has a power and eject button. In my opinion, this is simply absurd, as it’s going to hinder the already small market even further. Now that Xbox One no longer comes with the Kinect, who develops it? No one.
While selection of games aren’t exactly numerous, the ones the games Gear VR does have put other platforms like Google Cardboard to shame. I guess it’s one of those scenarios where more users doesn’t necessarily mean more dollars for developers (ios and Android as an example). This is just an assumption, but most of the people who are serious about virtual reality, own a Gear VR and use it. Those who aren’t, don’t exactly want to spend money on Google Cardboard games, so they mostly only have demos. With that said, Gear VR is still quite lacking in this area, although this is a brand new, unproven platform, so developers are hesitant to go all in. This leads us to a catch 22: where developers are worried there aren’t enough users on the platform and users are waiting on more apps before they jump on. Who will take the risk first? One could argue that the first few games will pretty much be guaranteed success with the amount of users who are so thirsty for new content.
I was a little worried about purchasing Gear VR because I really wasn’t that impressed with Google Cardboard. Seeing as the device powering the headset is the same on each platform, I couldn’t see how it would make enough of a difference to change my mind. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised for two reasons.
The first is quite simple: bigger lenses. This made for a much wider field of view, and it felt far less like I was looking through binoculars. With that said, it still seems there is some work left before we can have our entire field of view covered with the virtual world (if that’s possible).
The second difference between the Gear VR and Cardboard is the massive improvement in input lag from turning your head. In fact, it was nearly non-existent. Whether it’s Oculus’ tech in the headset, the app’s use of the software or a mixture of both, movement on the Gear VR is buttery smooth. For anyone who gets sick easily on Google Cardboard, you may want to give this a try (I take no responsibility if you still get sick).
Overall, I love the headset. There are quite a bit of apps to enjoy for both movie and video game lovers alike. The construction is lightweight, easy to manage and the UI is very understandable. Gear VR definitely sets a bar when it comes to new virtual reality headsets, but is it enough to make me a believer?
As much as I love the headset, there are a few things that I didn’t care for. My main gripe, besides the field of view (which I believe is still great) is the lack of accessories included with the device. There should be a controller or better yet, a motion controller to allow for actual interaction with the world. Because most users don’t have one, many of the games are more of a “on rails” system. This gets boring pretty fast. There are some like Lands End that very well use this and others that require a controller, but Samsung and Oculus should have included one with it. I don’t care if it costs ten more dollars. It needs real input. The same goes for the Rift. I couldn’t believe that it didn’t come with Oculus Touch, but hopefully I’m wrong. I just don’t want those things to be an accessory. I believe they are vital to VR’s success.
Another complaint is the lack of positional tracking (though they seem to be working on it. This means it can’t detect your movement in 3d space, so anything other than turns or side to side movements aren’t detected. I purchased it knowing this was an issue, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t resolved with something. It’s definitely not anything you want to stand up and use because walking gets extremely tricky when in the virtual world, you’re essentially standing still.
The final issues I have are really with virtual reality in general. I love what HTC and Steam are doing with the Vive because I don’t like being forced in a swivel chair or having to turn all the way around on my couch. I truly believe until someone can come up with some really simple 360 degree treadmill type design that’s nothing but a mat and include it with motion controls, VR will just be a dream to the average consumer. It simply feels like you don’t have the full experience. Yeah, you’re in this world, but you can’t walk, grab things etc. All you can do is turn your head. Sure you can purchase a controller, but that completely takes you out of the main experience.
Either way, I must say that I am excited for the new Rift, Vive and Playstation VR. While the average consumer may not be willing to spend the money to get all the tech, I’m there. I just hope games are able to support what all I want to use (360 treadmill, etc.).