Samsung Gear VR: My Critical View Of It And VR

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had about an hour of time on the Gear VR thanks to Samsung’s swank new showcase store in NYC.

I saw the full VR of the stereoscopic Cirque du Soleil Kurios.

Something that looked like a trailer for an Avengers game set at Tony Stark’s penthouse(?).

360-degree photos of Christmas settings from around the world.

A frozen introductory screen for Oculus Arcade (it wouldn’t do anything unless a game controller was connected).

A Jurassic Park dinosaur.

I have to dial back my excitement for VR.

The demo area could seat about eight-to-ten people (I didn’t count damn chairs, stupid me). What was interesting — and somewhat distressing — is that no one had the “Holy shit!” reaction I did when first trying it. No one did 360-degree swivels in their chairs (which could rotate) to take in the entire view. Few people even bothered to look up or down! Most sat and just looked straight ahead.

Huh? What?

If that’s the reaction of everyday people to VR, then everyone who’s been excited about it had better stop and think about what the hell that means.

Because when each person was finished, I didn’t see a single one who looked like they wanted to rush out to buy a Gear VR for more VR.

As for me, I think I scared the shit out of the Samsung staff. I was the only person eventually singled out with a “Time’s up” interruption (granted, I did have a lot of time, but the staff member commented about me really “being into it”).

I was looking at everything. I did full circles with the chair, I looked straight up and down. I took in the 360 of everything.

And I was disappointed.

Despite what Samsung shirts told me at Best Buy, the Kurios teaser demo for the Gear VR is the same resolution as the full VR. It’s just not good enough at all. I don’t know the diameter of the circular stage, but it couldn’t have been more than twenty feet. People twenty feet away had their faces turn to nothing. The woman who stood next to me, her face lacked detail. Hell, everyone’s face lacked detail. The screen door effect —

ScreendoorEffect

— was prominent and frustrated me.

And here’s something I just don’t understand. Why is the screen door so noticeable in that Kurios VR but not in other VRs I’ve seen? Does anyone have an answer?

The Avengers demo was very interesting. It began with me getting the kind of heads-up display Tony Stark gets in his Iron Man helmet. I didn’t think that display would be possible in real life — I was shocked that it is, at least in VR. Everything was CGI, with Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk battling golden Iron Man opponents. I think once such CGI is put to stories, no kid will ever watch flat cartoons on a TV or a tablet ever again.

The 360-degree photos were very disappointing. Rarely did I feel like I was elsewhere. The resolution of the photos bugged me. They didn’t seem sharp at all. They were all flat. I deliberately chose Christmas settings because I knew they’d have the most interesting and challenging stuff to capture.

The Oculus Arcade introductory screen looked interesting. It was 3D, but I couldn’t do anything except look at it.

The dinosaur was mostly impressive. But I had a feeling the VR scale was off. When it put its face “near” me to sniff, It seemed to be either too far away or the size of it felt off. I was interrupted during this, so can’t say more about it. Here’s a video clip of that:

My overall reaction — now that I’ve experienced Gear VR several times — and especially after seeing the full Kurios VR — is that VR desperately needs 4K resolution screens for Mobile VR.

The guy who wrote this: — Why My Samsung Gear VR Virtual Reality Headset Is Gathering Dust — is correct about several things, the first of which is:

The biggest problem is what is called the “screen door effect,” where one can easily see individual pixels that build up an image. It’s like looking at something through a screen door. A Quad HD resolution screen may look beautiful on a smartphone from a foot away, but when that screen is magnified in front of your eyes, things are different.

Yes. It ruins Kurios.

I also got the dark side of Mobile VR. When my demo was supposed to begin, all I saw were the words, “No WiFi Connection.” I had to remove the Gear and tell a staff member.

During the Kurios VR, several times I had an overlay that said the Galaxy (it was an S6 Edge; I asked) was too hot and must cool down. The VR froze. And I had to tap the touchpad to continue. Over and over and over again.

The lenses fogged up. I never had that happen before, but quoting the above post, it seems to be a regular thing:

The most annoying problem with the Gear VR (and this includes every version that has been released so far) is that the lenses fog up really easily. Sometimes, it gets so annoying that you just want to take the Gear VR off your head and throw it across the room.

I also had to position the Gear just so in order to get a non-blurry image. And yes, I did also adjust with the Focus Wheel. This could be a peculiarity of my eyes, each of which has a different astigmatism. But I think it tells me headsets should have lenses that can be independently focused.

Maybe it was because of the noisy environment I was in, but with Volume at max (15 on the scale), I didn’t feel immersed by the audio. It seemed too low. (I even got a warning about setting the Volume too high!)

As for 4K resolution, that post agrees with me:

Perhaps, a 4K screen would take care of the screen door effect, but a 4K smartphone screen eats up a lot of battery life and isn’t necessary for 95 percent of smartphone users. Still, this is needed to make what’s supposed to be an immersive experience more immerse.

On the other hand, over at Phone Arena, they had this — Have you ever tried VR (Virtual Reality)? — to say about the Xperia 4K screen with VR:

Quad HD panels have one redeeming quality, however, and one that our readers are always happy to bring up: Virtual Reality, or VR for short. Indeed, when you have your phone slapped right on top of your nose, and it has to provide enough information for both your eyes, the more pixels, the better. In fact, even Quad HD is far from ideal for VR, and after testing out the Xperia Z4 Premium’s 4K display at MWC 2016 just a week ago, we’ve got to say that even that’s not detailed enough.

But we have to keep in mind that the Premium displays only some things at full 4K. VR — and VR apps — might not fall into that category.

4K is needed, however. @stroughtonsmith pointed me to an Oculus Rift online demo. There’s a huge difference between the shipping Consumer Version and a mythical future version with a 4K screen:

2K:
Rift2Ka
Click = big

4K:
Rift4Ka
Click = big

And my instinct to avoid HD phones after trying the Gear VR was correct. 1920 x 1080 screens are even worse:

RiftHD
Click = big

Look, I really have to hammer home this issue of resolution. In the 1960s, televisions could do between 200-400 lines of resolution. But even that was better than the Gear VR with a Galaxy S6 Edge! And I can prove it.

This is from a newspaper magazine supplement about the 1960s Thunderbirds TV series, which used marionettes:

“Frankly, wire is a terrific problem for us,” explains Reg Hill. “A puppet weighs seven or eight pounds, and has to be moved, and although it is possible to use steel wire only 0.003″ dia for arms, the main wires which take the weight need to be at least 0.005” dia. Now this is much thicker than a human hair (around 0.002), and of course on a good domestic TV receiver it is frequently possible to distinguish a hair standing out.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

In the Kurios VR, I wouldn’t have been able to see a single human hair. This makes 2016 VR resolution even worse than 1960 TV!

Look:

SupercarStrings

That’s a still frame from a 35mm print from a 1961 TV series, Supercar. Can you see the strings? Yep. Anyone could on a crappy monochrome 1960 TV. Could you see them in 2016 VR? No. As I wrote above, the face of the woman standing next to me in the Kurios VR lacked detail. And a guy probably twenty feet away basically had no face.

Despite the excitement surrounding VR, I think it’s too early to expect to make money from it. Any startups out there with visions of making a killing selling games or stories better have their fundraising roadshows ready to go out again.

With headsets like the Rift and Hive, I think we’re at the stage of the introduction of the Apple II+. But still back in these days of Apple …

AppleWoodCase

… when it comes to Cardboard-like VR.

The Apple II+ didn’t take off until the “killer app” appeared for it: VisiCalc.

I’m not sure there’s yet such a thing for VR. At least not something that can make a fortune. The expensive headsets will be limited to an affluent few. Cardboard — which VR filmmaker Sam Macaroni says is worse than Gear VR(!) — might be seen as a plaything by ordinary people. It’ll be tried a few times and then put aside in disappointment or frustration.

But 2016 being the year “VR Gets Real”? Well, not exactly.

Mark Zuckerberg is probably right:

We are betting that Virtual Reality is going to be an important technology. I am pretty confident about this. And now is the time to invest. We just announced this week that there have already been one million hours of 360 video consumed in Gear VR and we just started shipping that with Samsung. So this is really encouraging.

I honestly don’t know is how long it will take to build this ecosystem. It could be 5 years, it could be 10 years, it could be 15 or 20. My guess is that it will be at least 10. It took 10 years to go from building the initial Smartphone to reaching the mass market. BlackBerry came out in 2003 and it didn’t get to about a billion units until 2013. So I can’t imagine it would be much faster for VR.

And it could very well turn out that the “killer app” for VR is the same “killer app” that raked in the dough for CompuServe, for Prodigy, and makes Facebook worth billions: Communications — AKA “social.”

Zuckerberg again:

We are betting on two trends. First that people will always want more immersive ways to express themselves. So if you go back ten years ago on the internet, most of what people shared and consumed was text. Now a lot of it is photos. I think, going forward, a lot of it is going to be videos, getting richer and richer.

But that is not the end. In the future, I think you are going to want to capture a whole scene, a room, to be able to transport to that. To be able to stream what you are doing live and have people be able to interact in that space.

As for me, I still want the Alcatel Idol 4s for its Cardboard-like VR headset. I’d still like to see as much stuff as possible. It wouldn’t be the first time I was an Early Adopter. Hell, I knew about free MP3s well before there was a Napster. And back in the early 1980s, I was talking about being online to deaf ears (who are now all online).

One last note: Get to that Samsung store when you’re in NYC. Not only can you get longer VR than at a Best Buy, but they also have “4D” seats. Two rows of four seats that shake and move while people watch a one-minute roller coaster VR. That excited people, with screams and squeals from those who did it. I haven’t tried it yet. The Gear VR time I had was enough for the day.

Previously here:

Virtual Reality category

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4 Responses to Samsung Gear VR: My Critical View Of It And VR

  1. I too also have noticed I had to tell people to look around, behind, look up, look down, when I shared my Google Cardboard with friends. Otherwise they look straight ahead.

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  2. Robb Conn says:

    ” Why is the screen door so noticeable in that Kurios VR but not in other VRs I’ve seen? Does anyone have an answer?” I have an answer…it is because it was filmed with lower grade equipment compared to other content out there. If you were not dazzled by Kurios than I dont know what to tell you. Yes there is a screen door effect but where else in your life did you experience the sensation of being able to reach out and touch the performers of a recorded show? If you were not amazed, you are dead inside. This is the dawn of brand new experiences and of coarse the first things you see will be flawed. Are you that ignorant to think it would be crystal clear and exactly life-like from a $99. VR viewer (which was probably your first VR experience)? Come on…grow up.

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