As a kid, I was so psyched for the 2000s to roll around because it meant one thing: Future tech. Movies and comic books had built up a super-high expectation for the years to come with the promise of awesome things like robots, hover-boards and, the holy grail of my childlike wonder, Virtual Reality. Whether it was like Tron, Lawnmower Man or that petrifying scene in Ghost in the Machine, I frickin’ wanted it!
Time passed and we tried. Tried and failed. There was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, those sensor based arcade cabs like Cop 911 and more recently, the tumorous growths attached to the last gen consoles- yeah I’m looking at you Kinect and PlayStation Eye! None of it lived up to what the 80’s promised me. None! I was all but ready to take my dreams out back and re-enact Old Yeller but then they came. Oculus. And with them a bold, disorienting future!
You may instantly jump to the Rift when you hear the name Oculus – I know I did – but I implore (and I don’t bust that verb out very often) you to check out the co-production they have going with Samsung on a nifty bit of tech called the Gear VR.
Much like the Rift, the Gear VR is a head-mounted VR unit that utilizes your Samsung device (Note 4 in my case) to deliver a variety of fully immersive experiences. Whoa, hold on. Experiences? Like plural? That’s right! The Gear is not solely a gaming peripheral (although it has the capacity) but more of a jack of all trades – albeit a master at what I got to see when I tried it out.
Once the unit was over my eyes and sound dampening headphones fixed over my ears, I was enveloped in complete sensory deprivation (which was cool in itself) and then the demo started. That, my friends, was when the cool level surpassed Shaft and flew off the God damn scale.
I was watching a movie. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Simplicity flew off the scale along with the cool. The impersonal camera had been replaced by MY eyes! They were now the camera and I had complete 360 degree control of the view!
The demo film started me off as a disembodied head floating through space, which was surreal and awe inspiring, but then quickly moved to more familiar settings (at least conceptually). I attended an Inuit evening meal, I was a circus performer watching my friends train and I was a person chilling on the beach watching the sun set. These experiences were so insanely visceral due, in part, to the ridiculously crisp HD display but more so from the pure feeling of organic reality it created. I knew this wasn’t real but my brain still struggled to comprehend that.
Case in point: There was a part where I was sitting in a museum. I started looking everywhere (because I responded to the whole thing like an amazed child) noting cool little details like I was casting a shadow behind me and more so the sheer fact that there were actually things behind me. Upon turning back I saw a man walking towards me, he then sat down next to me and started talking. It took active thought not to act on my initial response and talk back. He then moved his hand towards me, in a friendly gesture my I add, and I flinched. I flinched! My mind and body were finding it difficult to discern what was real anymore and it was insanely awesome!
Apart from the applications in VR (gaming, therapeutic or weird dystopian sci-fi debauchery) this little device has so much potential. Long flight? Kick back with a movie on a screen the size of an IMAX! Long distance relationship? Skype in VR! Too lazy to angle your head towards the TV? Strap the TV to your face!
Every now and then, if you’re lucky, you get to experience something that you know will change the future somehow. I can happily say, with Gear VR, I have now had that moment.