First off, let me assure you that, questionable as my purchasing decisions sometimes are, I did not plunk down the cash it would have taken to buy a real VR headset. The books sell well, but not that well. Nope, this came about because a few months ago my phone was refusing to hold a charge through a day, even with minimal use and a battery pack. Getting sick of living near a cord, I opted to upgrade, and the Samsung Edge 7 was touted as having amazing battery life, so that was what I went with. Little did I know at the time, but pre-orders automatically qualified for one of those fancy “stick your phone inside” VR headsets.
Anyone who follows me on Snapchat (thunderpear) knows that it arrived earlier this week, inspiring today’s blog. While it would be disingenuous to say I put it through the paces, I did hit all of the major areas that I felt like I would use it for, so that will have to suffice for now. Without further ado, here are my findings:
Wow, no matter how high-def your screen might be when holding it in your hands, that shit gets pixelated up close. The focus tool helps keep it under control, but by no means should you expect a smooth viewing experience on this. I fired up Netflix to watch Parks and Rec, and while I could see everything fine, it was very much like experiencing a time travel situation. Suddenly, I was a child again, staring into the big colored dots that made up our tube-based television that weighed like it was made out of bricks and spite.
For video, this wasn’t such a big deal, but it made reading more of a chore than I expected. Thankfully, most apps seem to anticipate this and keep written words to a minimum, usually having audio play instead. Not a bad time to pair up some Bluetooth headphones and get an immersive experience.
Overall, for shoving my eyes right up to my phone’s screen, it was pretty decent. Way better luck than I’d have doing it on my own, for sure.
This a YMMY moment, since different folks have different phones. For me, having all the sound blast from one side wasn’t perfect, but it’s an easy enough solution to remedy with headphones. I mentioned Bluetooth above, because if there’s a way to run a chord to that phone while it’s in the headset then I haven’t seen it. Pretty sure low-tech is out on this one, which might be okay since we are talking about virtual reality.
The app store for the Oculus runs separately from the Google Play store, for reasons that have to do with corporations and agreements that I neither understand nor care about. However, that shop is pretty bare bones right now. My freebie came bundled with six games as part of the deal, and with that I think I caught up to half their inventory. Maybe there were more I didn’t see, but in terms of stuff that stood out, it was scarce. Obviously that’s a temporary issue, as the system grows in popularity more content will come, however it is something to keep in mind as far as expectations.
I will say, the games that did come with it were smooth and fun, with interesting concepts to use the mechanics of the system. I also tried video streaming, as mentioned earlier, and some web browsing to things like Youtube to make sure that loaded. There’s a function called 360 degree video which seems really interesting, except that the grand scenery they show you is a lot less thrilling when it’s all pixelated and blocky. Maybe this isn’t an issue for the real Oculus systems, but it’s a glaring one for the phone-pairing headsets.
There’s been enough stuff to keep me entertained for a few days, although I should point out that part of that comes from the fact that I can only play or watch anything for limited amounts of time. Which brings me to something you all might very well need to know before buying one of these.
The Motion Sickness
Now listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I am more prone to motion sickness than the average person. I always fly with Dramamine, and the last time I tried to skip it I had to fight hard not to redecorate the upholstery of the seat in front of me (though it couldn’t have made it worse). I might be able to drink a bar out of vodka, but if you spin me on my barstool I’m going down hard.
With that said, I had some pretty bad bouts of motion sickness while using the VR headset. Some programs were worse than others, but within an hour I had to take the thing off and lay down. Same thing happened the next time I used it, and the next. Not everyone is me, I totally get that, and you might have a brain that laughs at such ridiculous ideas as feeling dizzy from digital images. However, I know there are a lot of folks out there like me, and they should damn sure wait for a chance to take one of these for a test drive before sinking hard earned cash into it.
Better safe than lying on your bed, staring at the ceiling until your stomach stops churning.
While I don’t think I’d have been super happy if I’d dropped a hundred bucks on this, since it was free I can’t argue with the price. It’s a fun novelty, something I keep breaking out when I feel bored or want to try a new app I heard about. Really though, this is more representative of potential than anything else. With a little more refinement, a few more years of improving, and a fix for the screen situation, I think these things could be really awesome. We’re just not quite there.