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Samsung Gear VR headset hands-on: Better than the Oculus Rift (in some ways)

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 23, 2014
Apologies to Samsung. I've talked a lot of smack about its Gear VR headset, from the day we first heard the rumor that "Samsung is getting into virtual reality." It seemed like a disaster in the making--a desperate cash grab that was going to poison the VR well before Oculus even made it to market. Back at E3 I even asked Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell whether they were worried at all about Samsung, which seems especially ironic in retrospect considering the two companies are partnering up for Gear VR.

Apologies to Samsung. I've talked a lot of smack about its Gear VR headset, from the day we first heard the rumor that "Samsung is getting into virtual reality." It seemed like a disaster in the making — a desperate cash grab that was going to poison the VR well before Oculus even made it to market. Back at E3 I even asked Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell whether they were worried at all about Samsung, which seems especially ironic in retrospect considering the two companies are partnering up for Gear VR.

Samsung has a tendency to be first, you see, regardless of whether or not the implementation is right, and with a nascent technology like virtual reality that could be the difference between "This technology changes everyone's lives" and "Virtual reality goes the same way it did back in the nineties."

And then I used Gear VR and my concerns melted away. Most of them, at least.

Mobile reality

At Oculus Connect this past weekend I spent about ten minutes using Gear VR during a late-night reception, testing out a few demos. Then I was so impressed I asked Oculus PR to take me back to Gear VR the next day, where I sat and messed around with the headset for another forty minutes.

If you've used either of the two Rift development kits (affectionately termedDK1 and DK2), you already know that's a fairly impressive figure. If Samsung's implementation of VR were wrong, I would've lasted five to ten minutes at most before being hit with nausea.

Further reading: Oculus open-sources original Rift developer kit

It helps that Gear VR is incredibly lightweight. It's basically just a plastic headband with a Galaxy Note 4 phablet strapped to the front, so it feels a lot less cumbersome than the DK2 (though the lighter-feeling Crescent Bay prototype comes close).

The Note 4 clicks into the casing with a simple push, and from there it's the same old Rift tradition: Put on Rift, put on headphones, put controller on your lap so you can find it later.

That last part is important because Gear VR has one huge feature that I now desperately hope makes it into the consumer Rift model — basic controls mounted on the headset. Using the DK2 Rift is still a cumbersome process. Every time you want to do anything outside the Rift (like launch a new demo), you're forced to pull the headset off and mess around on your PC monitor.

Gear VR also gives us our first glimpse of the integrated Oculus storefront, here called Oculus Home. It's a bunch of live tiles, similar to Microsoft's Xbox One interface. There's a touchpad integrated into the side of Gear VR, and navigation is as simple as swiping left and right on the touchpad, aiming your head at the demo you want to play, and tapping to enter. There's also a button to go back and a rocker for volume controls.

 

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