Saturday, 30 April 2016

VR Is Primitive as Heck... And It Still Rocks

It was July 13, 2015 when my Gear VR Innovator Edition for the Samsung Galaxy 6S arrived at work via Canada Post. This event has officially been marked as one of the most exciting days in my life, to date. Ever since learning about the Oculus Rift a couple years prior, I had been following the development of virtual-reality like a hawk watching its prey. Finally, an actual virtual-reality headset was within my grasp.

Now if VR is an unfamiliar concept for you, here's the gist of it. There are currently four main virtual-reality headsets on the market:
  1. Google Cardboard - the most affordable experience, but also the lowest quality headset available.
  2. Gear VR - a mid-range experience that's affordable and works with several Android smartphones, including the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge +, S7, S7 edge and Galaxy Note 5.
  3. Oculus Rift - A much higher-end headset that kicked-off the current VR revolution, developed by Palmer Luckey. It requires a very powerful computer to use. You're looking at approximately building a $1,000 - $1,500 CDN machine just to use the Rift.
  4. HTC Vive - currently regarded as the most powerful and expensive VR headset. It's the only headset that allows room-scale VR. This means you can literally walk around in VR. You also need a fairly clear space to use this to it's maximum potential.
Particularly on Reddit, you will find a lot of people with their favourite brand (HTC or Oculus), often bashing the other side. It's quite similar to the love-hate relationship of Android vs. Apple, Starbucks vs. Tim Hortons or AMD vs. NVIDIA,

There is some humour in these headset wars because really, everyone is on the side of pro-VR, regardless of their brand preferences. Developers are currently innovating and pushing the technology to its absolute limits. Of course, there's nothing wrong with some healthy competition either. It inspires the other brands to step-up their game and do better in the next round. Right now, it seems widely accepted that the HTC Vive is leading the pack by providing the best overall VR experience.

As for me, I'm a fan of all VR, refusing to take sides. However, I'm also not ready to shell out the roughly $2,500 - $3,000 CDN it would take to invest in both a VR ready computer and either the Oculus Rift and/or HTC Vive. The Gear VR, currently priced around $100.00 - $150.00 CDN from Amazon, is a much more affordable VR solution. The current consumer model is also a little cleaner looking than my innovator edition, which less than a year ago, was almost double the price, closer to $300.00 CDN.

VR Is Primitive and Still Totally Awesome

VR is extremely exciting. It's been interesting watching what is essentially the birth of a new industry while being an integrated user at the same time. There's a certain inexplicable feeling of awe looking at an app store that can be cycled through from start to finish in just a couple of minutes.

When I got my Gear VR headset last summer it had a rather limited number of uses. The app store was tiny, there was no Internet browser, no Netflix, and in order to use about half the apps, a Bluetooth controller was required. Well, that last part hasn't really changed.

Even so, the thrill of putting on a clunky VR headset for the first time and experiencing the wonders of being immersed in a totally virtual-world is a feeling difficult to describe. I can just imagine 50 years from now, showing my kids and grand-kids what my first virtual-reality headset was like and hearing their comments;

"Eww, you wore THAT?"

"But it's so big!"

"Didn't your head get tired?"

"Why didn't you just get a VR implant?"

"Yeah! Didn't they have VR contact lenses?"

Virtual-reality headsets as they are now feel both really neat and at the same time, a bit like old brick cellphones. I mean, the headsets are still really cool, but 50 years from now the current technology will undoubtedly be looked at like the way an old brick cellphone is looked at today. Did I say 50? It will probably happen a lot sooner than that.

VR's Potential Might Be the Best Part

I've already mentioned that upon receiving my Gear VR, it's actual uses were fairly limited. Over the course of the nine months I've owned my headset, its number of applications and possibilities available have already pretty much doubled in size. Here are a few of my favourite applications.

The VR Theatre (Oculus Cinema)
Here you can watch movies and/or videos downloaded onto your phone in a virtual movie-theatre that feels astonishingly like you're in a real one. You can also swap out the movie-theatre setting and watch from a home theatre, a soda can, or even put yourself on the moon with a drive-in-theatre-like-screen in front of you.

Netflix Theatre
This feature one came out a few months after purchasing my Gear VR and despite our limited Canadian selection, it's still really nifty. The Netflix theatre puts you into a simulated luxury home with a large screen TV where you can sit back and watch some Netflix and chill, by yourself.

I feel like the Netflix theatre is one of the best examples of how efficiently VR tricks our brains. Consider for a moment what it's like watching regular Netflix on your phone. You're looking at a small screen in your hand. It feels tiny because it is tiny.

In VR, the Netflix screen is even smaller because it's only taking up a fraction of space on your phone's screen. The other space is taken up by the virtual room environment you're sitting in. Yet, your brain interprets this as watching Netflix on a large screen TV and it feels larger. It is larger. Even though it technically isn't.

VR Games
There are a handful of games and a lot of them feel like demos of something bigger. Some hits from the regular Android store such as Temple Run and Smash Hit have been recreated in VR and feel wonderful. It's cool to play Temple Run in first person mode where you can turn around and watch the monster chase you. There are also a number of shooting games that can be played with the headset's touchpad, although you're basically just shooting at incoming enemies since you can't physically move yourself.

To get the most immersive experience from a Gear VR headset however, you need a controller. In Canada, these can be tricky to get but I just purchased the Moga Pro Power off of amazon.ca a couple days ago. It's easy to set up too. Simply charge the controller, set the bottom switch to "B" mode, scan for the controller via Bluetooth, connect and play. Redditor, danegeroust, even came up with an ingenious overheating solution using this controller, which is great because overheating is a major problem when using your Gear VR for an extended period of time. Here's another useful article recently linked on reddit for keeping your Gear VR cool.



The controller works well. It feels a lot like an X-Box controller and it can even hook directly into your phone and charge it while you play. Alternatively, keep in your bag and use the controller as a spare battery pack when you're on the go. Finally I was able to enjoy Herobound, a VR Platformer, which has been my best VR gaming experience yet. Although I haven't gotten very far, I'm vaguely reminded of my old N64 favourite, Banjo-Kazooie.

MOGA Pro Power
The MOGA Pro Controller for Gear VR
There are a few other games that require a controller I'm excited to try out. Dreadhalls is a popular first person horror game that leaves people screaming and Minecraft just came to Gear VR this past week. I've never been a Minecraft fan myself, but I'm definitely looking forward to trying it in virtual-reality with a controller in hand.

In my opinion, there does appear to be one major flaw with VR gaming in general. Simply put, because the technology is so new, developers are still working on figuring out how to create the perfect VR gaming experience. While the VR games that exist are definitely fun, a major VR breakthrough like Final Fantasy, Half-Life or World of Warcraft just doesn't exist yet.

The same can be said for VR films, there are plenty of shorts but no feature length movies available. Still, this is clearly something we can expect to see developed within the coming years. On one app called Milk VR you can watch a faithful recreation of the opening scene of The Martian in VR. I showed it to my dad and he was blown away. Hopefully the actual theatre industry can figure out a way to incorporate VR into movies because going to an actual theatre for a truly immersive VR experience is something worth looking forward to.

The potential is there and it's only a matter of time until truly groundbreaking games and movies do exist.

Everyone Who Tries VR Loves It

Hands down, my favourite part of the VR experience so far hasn't been using it myself, it's been letting others try on my Gear VR headset and watching their initial reactions as they experience virtual-reality for their first time.

The first two people to try my Gear VR headset other than myself were my parents. So far, they've been the guinea pigs for pretty much every new Gear VR app I ask people to try. It all started with Jurassic World, which is a simple simulation that runs for about a minute. It's great for giving anyone a quick peek at what a VR environment can be like, especially because it's downloaded to your phone and doesn't require an Internet connection to play back. In the simulation, you watch as an Apatosaurus gets up from a nap, strides directly up to your face, grabs food from a tree above you and then goes back to sleep.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I've watched as kids in my family reach out, trying to pet the dinosaur. I've seen adults lunge backwards and scream. For some, it's been too much too handle and they've had to take off the headset. For many others, they want to watch it again and then see what else the Gear VR can do.

Another super fun VR experience to show off its capabilities has been a horror app called 'Sisters.' In it, you sit on a couch and in a dark and scary mansion room and look around as a couple of dolls initially sitting on a shelf, aren't quite sitting there any more...

Nothing to see here, just a creepy doll of a little girl
I won't spoil what happens, but when I showed it off to my aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids at Easter, it was a huge hit. I thought the kids wouldn't want to go anywhere near this app, but they were begging to try it and then wanted to watch it again and again and again. Then they passed it on and got their parents to try it out. Virtually everyone screamed at some point while watching and a number of them started but couldn't finish.

I'm really excited for these kids. They are going to grow up with VR technology the same way my generation grew up with the birth of the Internet and gaming consoles like the Super NES and N64.

The Future of VR Is Exceptionally Bright

If you think VR is all about watching videos and playing games, well, that actually makes a lot of sense. I mean, that's pretty much the impression I've given you in this write-up. Nothing could be further from the truth though.

Honestly, the limitations of VR are virtually limitless. Yes, games, entertainment and of course, porn, are largely responsible for pushing the innovation and development of this technology, but it's uses - both current and potential - go so far beyond that in scope.

Already, VR is being used in surgery to give medical students an eye-witness account right into the heart of an operation. VR recently helped an amputee who suffered from phantom-limb pain experience relief after 48 years of suffering. DeepStream VR has a mission of promoting health and wellness, both physical and mental. VR has numerous uses in education. For instance, Google is already in the process of rolling out Expeditions, an app that will allow teachers to take their students on virtual field-trips around the world.

Have you seen videos like the one embedded below this paragraph that show off the scope of the observable universe? For VR users, an app called Titans of Space let's  you experience something similar to this on a VR scale. Imagine going on a tour through our very own solar system, witnessing the scope of the planets and our sun as they sit next to each other. In VR, you can do that.



This is where VR begins. Who knows where it will end? I predict that within 10 years, VR headsets will be as common as smartphones are today. Not only that, but I predict they will probably be no bigger than a pair of sunglasses, completely wireless, twice as powerful and only a percentage of the current price.

Think this is an exaggeration? What I'm describing is practically no different than what happened with the rise of cell phones and smartphones.

What Do You Think about VR?

Do you have a Gear VR headset or one of the other VR headsets yourself? Are you just dying to try out virtual-reality for your first time? Have you been debating getting a headset and has this article helped you decide?

I want to know!

Let me know in the comments what you think about VR so far, what your experience has been, or what you're most eager to try out.

If you've found this post helpful and are thinking about getting your own Gear VR headset, please consider purchasing one through my affiliate link. It adds no extra cost to your purchase and is an easy way of saying thank you if this information has been helpful to you in any capacity. You can also leave a comment below with any questions and I will do my best to answer them for you.

These products have my full endorsement: Here are the links:


Yes, we are living in a time when VR is in its infancy. VR is primitive as heck... and it still rocks.

No comments:

Post a Comment