We are fans of virtual reality at Endouble. We had one of the first Oculus Rift kits and we actually developed some prototypes for it. But until this moment VR was still in the early phases. Not that many people own a VR device. Moreover, it’s not very profitable for content producers to create VR content. That’s changing right now.
Cardboard VR glasses
A month ago the New York Times launched a documentary in VR. Every subscriber received a branded version of the Google Cardboard over the mail. The Google Cardboard is a really cheap way to get introduced to VR. You can order this cardboard yourself for around €10 or try one at the Endouble-office. Fold the cardboard, put in your Android phone and you can enjoy some VR content. As you can probably imagine, a cardboard is not a device you put on for longer than half an hour. Also the lenses are really cheap, and unable to make adjustments for your own needs (for instance if you have glasses).
Soon: new version of the Oculus Rift
On the other end of the spectrum is the new version of the Oculus Rift (bought by Facebook in 2014). It will be launched in first quarter of 2016. I haven’t seen it myself but all journalist that have, are really positive. However, there is a big price to pay. Literally. You need an extremely powerful pc and you need the Oculus hardware.
My experience with the Samsung Gear VR
Luckily now there is another option: the Samsung Gear VR. It’s a plastic built VR goggles where you have to put in your phone (at the moment only high-end Samsung phones are supported unfortunately). For €100 you have a device that gives you a near to premium VR experience. I was very curious to this device so I bought it. I own it for more than a week now. Time to describe my experience so far.
Let’s start with the device itself. Overall I like the design a lot. It’s very comfortable to wear for multiple hours in a row. It’s easy to configure and the touchpad on the side works very well. The quality of the lenses exceeded my expectations by a magnitude. The quality of the images you see are far better than the cardboard version. And this really makes a difference in the way you experience. Also it’s very responsive to your movements. While with the cardboard there is some input lag. The are also some issues with it. Sometimes there is a little fogging between your eyes and the lens. And because it’s so close to your eyes every small piece of dust or smudge is annoying. Also I noticed that after more than 2 hours your eyes hurt a little. It’s probably not that good to have that device so close to your eyes. The picture quality is not as sharp as some of the newest Retina screens. Sometimes you see some individual pixels. Still you really feel like you are inside the 3D/VR world instead of looking inside a carton peepshow. While the quality can certainly be improved it’s already very impressive and it never disturbed me to feel completely emerged.
Elephants leaning over
The content is also improving quickly at the moment. I’ve tried a lot of different content within the Gear VR app to get a better grasp of the possibilities. While the result differed quite a bit, some apps are really crappy while others were great. Some of the apps really stood out for me, and showed me that VR will have a big future.
First of all video. Nature documentaries are really impressive. An elephant that’s literally leaning over you is way more interesting than a regular documentary about wildlife for instance. The Cirque du Soleil VR experience let’s stand in the middle of the acts. It’s like they’ve put you on a chair in the middle of the stage. Even more impressive is the NYT documentary about displaced children. Even though the documentary is short, it puts you in the middle of the scene. And that gives a lot of extra body, that a normal documentary lacks. It’s a lot easier to feel sympathy for someone at the other side of the world when she’s standing in front of you.
Motion sick of VR?
I had to get used to the fact that you can now look in all directions. Naturally I want to look at the primary subjects, while there is a lot of other interesting stuff going on. You constantly have the feeling you’re missing things. Subtitles were another thing that are not solved yet. You have to look to a specific direction to be able to read them and this limits your freedom. You’ll notice that it’s new for content producers to produce for VR. For instance, a demo on soccer completely missed the point. I was unable to follow the game almost completely. Still you can see the potential. When they score a goal you’re able to see exactly what happens. The same goes for comedy. Yes, it feels like you are in the audience but I prefer to focus on the show, not on those around me.
At this moment there are not that many games available, but of the once that are: they provide a unique experience. I especially liked 'Land’s End' and 'Darknet' where you have to solve by moving your head and exploring the environment. Nausea was a frequent complaint but it seems that content is getting better in avoiding that. According to experts in the field it can be completely avoided by the developers, and that was my experience as well. Research suggests that there is a difference between men and women in get motion sick. As long as you control the movement yourself, by your head or joystick, to me it felt really natural. But as soon as the camera moved in one direction to fast while I was standing, even I got a little dizzy.
Future of VR
So where are we heading with VR? I think that 2016 will be a very important year for VR. The costs of making VR content are decreasing every month. You can already get a good VR camera for less than €500. Facebook and YouTube are supporting VR options now. Also for people that don’t own VR goggles.
Try it yourself and find yourself in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. Just drag the camera into the right position with a mouse click.
Almost every day new apps and content are announced. Netflix and HBO are already investing in VR content and expect the first content soon. Obviously there is a lot less content than in other media channels, but even so there is more than enough to explore. And the queue is only piling up with all the new content that’s being released. For me it’s not a question if recruitment will use the new found possibilities but when. Who will be the early adopters? And who will be the laggards? The first that takes his VR goggles and content to a stand is sure to get a lot of attention. The longer you wait the higher the bar will be. Our coffee bar is always open to discuss great VR ideas.