I remember when I was a kid in the ’90s going to the newly opened Dave & Buster’s and trying on a virtual reality headset. It was underwhelmingly mind blowing, if that’s possible. I had never played anything so immersive yet so simple. It was then that I learned that I didn’t want to remain immersed in a world consisting entirely of colorful blocks. Good thing really, that game cost me half my tokens. Later, I watched the original Toy Story and couldn’t help but make a connection. What if Pixar’s quality of 3D animation was available in virtual reality? The future is now and the VR of my dreams is shaping up to be the next big thing. Let’s see if my first modern VR experience with Samsung’s Gear VR fulfills my hopes from the 90s.
I’ve been using the Gear VR headset with the new Samsung S7 Edge. The two new S7 models are the best way to experience the Gear VR, however it also works with the S6 models and the latest Galaxy Note. The set-up is simple: plug in the phone, fold it into the headset, and put it on. I was up and running…almost. I had a couple of updates to run and games to download. By the time the app was ready, my eyeballs were too warm with excitement and fogged up the lenses. A first world problem if there ever was one.
The first must-try experience is a short proof-of-concept from a major entertainment franchise. In ‘Jurassic Park: Apatosaurus’ you find yourself in front of a resting dinosaur. If you don’t know what an apatosaurus is, think of a brontosaurus. If you don’t know what a brontosaurus is, Google it. I’m going to spoil what happens, but, honestly, not much happens. It’s an experience, not a story, and my words don’t capture it. The dino wakes up, looks around, moves a bit closer to sniff me, then settles back in. It’s like watching a 3D movie that takes up my entire field of vision. If I look around in any direction it’s forest with a parked Jurassic Park Jeep. That’s just atmosphere, the action is the apatosaurus.
Even more immersive is yet another proof-of-concept from a major entertainment franchise. In ‘Battle for Avengers Tower’ I start off in Iron Man’s armor, which is about as good as it gets for this Marvel fanboy. The heads-up display turns on and it feels like I am in the suit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last as my perspective is ejected forward taking me on a slow-motion recreation of the first appearance of Ultron in the second Avenger’s film. I look behind me and Thor is tossing his hammer which follows my path. I look to my side and Cap is decapitating an Ultron drone with his shield. I pass by Hulk smashing. It’s an awesome and, again, short experience.
These are basically trailers for great VR. The games and movies available feel like more complete experiences. I played a game in which a space ship flies according to the position of my head and I watched a film about a bunny thwarting aliens. The most outright fun I had wearing the headset was blasting metal balls toward targets and obstacles in the game Smash Hit. The headset is gamepad compatible, but I went without and fired using the small control pad near my temple. To sum up, I was blasting things out of my eyes by touching the side of the visor while traveling through a danger room. I felt just like Cyclops and now desperately want a VR X-Men game.
The competition in virtual reality comes in the form of headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive which use a high-end computers to do the processing. These allow for body movement tracking and hand-held sensors to allow for a more holodecky feel. While tempting, I just don’t think we are technologically far enough along to justify devoting a room of my house to an expensive VR hobby. Home entertainment thus far has been about sitting, after all, Wii bowling aside. Sitting in my spinning office chair and checking out 3D words is a perfect transition from watching a screen to whatever lies in our future. I recommend it.
Steven is a relativistically-locked time-traveler. Follow him on Twitter for insights from the present.