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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.

It's so easy. DK2 apparently has a bit of this functionality — tapping the side of the headset will shake the sensor in a specific manner and trigger a "confirm" response, but it's far from having full control. As a result, I played maybe ten or fifteen demos on Gear VR without ever taking the headset off or even using the gamepad. That's the future.

But what about the demos themselves?

Content is king

I'm a games writer and I went to the Gear VR demo to play games, but surprisingly the thing that stuck with me most was Oculus Cinema. And by stuck with me most I mean "has probably killed movie theaters for me." I've used other movie apps for the DK1 and DK2 and VR Cinema in particular is fantastic. Oculus Cinema takes it to a whole new level.

I didn't watch a full film on the device, if only because there were no full films loaded, but I did watch a dozen or so trailers. You can watch films in a standard cinema experience, a home theater, or on the friggin' moon with Earth circling above. All feature dynamic lighting reflections, so you get a sense of these settings being realistic from the way light bounces off the seats or lunar rocks.

But standard cinema, even in fantastical environments, is just a start. Other demos allowed me to watch films in super-widescreen, as if I were watching a movie stretched across three computer monitors. Another set of demos let me watch films on a full IMAX screen, and because of the Oculus's built-in 3D capabilities I was even able to watch Hubble 3D (which I've seen in a real IMAX theater multiple times) with all its 3D effects preserved.

And I did it for free. Now, who knows what business model Oculus Cinema will launch with, and how you'll be able to purchase IMAX-quality films, but the Gear VR's 1440 resolution and light weight made it so watching a full film with that device strapped to my face no longer seemed like a fool's errand. I'm excited for a future where I can load up Netflix in my Rift or Gear VR and watch a film like it's in a private movie theater on the moon.

Further reading: Q&A: Gaming legend and Oculus CTO John Carmack talks VR gaming's past, present, and future

That's not to say the rest of the Gear VR demos were bad though. Far from it. Oculus also showed off a repository of 360 degree videos and photos, such as one where I watched a guy play music in his home studio or a brief clip of a circus performance. The latter made me jump when I turned to the left and saw a guy in weird makeup staring right into the camera and waving at me. One demo even put me in the pilot seat of a Pacific Rim Jaeger, where I duked it out with a Kaiju. This. I want to see more of this.

 

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