When we started out on 360 Snapshots four years ago, we were driven by the excitement that this technology can transplant users to a whole different place, thousands of miles away, in unforgiving terrain or extraordinary circumstances. Even more importantly, it is a fantastic documentary tool that captures scenes in their totality.
And for the past four years, our 360° works have been viewed first on desktop screens, then mobile screens with touch interfaces slowly but surely became the dominant viewing platform for the past two years… and now for eight months we’ve been experimenting with what we think is the future – virtual reality headsets.
We currently have been testing in house the Oculus Rift DK2 and the Samsung Gear VR (Note 4) headsets, and it’s been loads of fun dragging out some of our old 360° photos and loading them on the headsets to view. We’ve been working to integrate our virtual tours with the Oculus platform and will be ready in a few months time too. Not to mention we’ve been trying out some virtual reality games… and they are AWESOME fun!
Will be bringing the Gear VR headsets at least for some of our client meetings as a preview of how it works in the future.
Just a quick review of the two headsets:
OCULUS RIFT DK2
This is a development platform and to be honest, getting it to work is not easy. The computer has to have enough grunt and you need to know how to configure it well for the best experience possible. But because it taps on the power of a full fledge computer – unlike the Gear VR which uses the Samsung Note 4 – the possibilities are almost limitless. We have loaded some 4K 360° video on it (on that note GoPro has sent us one of their spherical mounts for testing – running out to buy a few more GoPro 4 Black Editions now) and the experience is quite breathtaking. Played Elite: Dangerous, a space-shooter simulation and we just didn’t want to take the headset off and get back to our editing work!
However, for now it is still not consumer ready. The processing computer required to run this is not your average run-of-the-mill laptop (luckily for us we have some seriously high-powered editing platforms that does double-duty as VR stations), and the various VR apps and games are still raw and needs further development. However, by the time the consumer version of the Oculus Rift launches, we are quite sure things will be sorted on the software side and consumers will be better educated on the hardware requirements.
Summary: The Oculus Rift DK2 needs some serious computing horsepower and patience to configure and troubleshoot. However when done right the you will be rewarded with a range of virtual reality experiences that is unmatched on any other hardware or platforms.
SAMSUNG GEAR VR INNOVATOR’S EDITION (FOR SAMSUNG NOTE 4)
Okay we have to admit – we got two of these puppies imported (along with two locally purchased Samsung Galaxy Note 4s). After we tried on the first one, we decided this will be the baseline virtual reality experience hardware we’ll prototype on. This is the closest you can get to a consumer version of a virtual reality experience currently, and the software works seamlessly. The range of apps and games is not as full fledged as the PC version via the Oculus Rift DK2, but it still has plenty of good stuff. Best of all, no configuration needed. It’s a plug-and-play experience. The higher resolution screen of the Note 4 helps a fair bit too in viewing fidelity (2560×1440 compared to the DK2’s 1920×1080).
The problems with the Gear VR is tied closely to the power of the Samsung Note 4. The Note 4 is not capable of running some intensive tasks such as playing 4k 360° videos – it will stutter, and the Note 4 gets warm after awhile, eventually prompting you to stop after about 20~30 min in Singapore’s hot and humid weather. And the price isn’t exactly cheap, at about SGD$400.00 per headset that does not include the required Note 4 phablet to match.
Summary: If you own a Galaxy Note 4, and want the most trouble-free virtual reality experience now, this is a no-brainer. Get the Gear VR. Be warned though that this hardware cannot scale as it is limited to the Note 4 processing power (unless Samsung releases the Note 5 that can fit into this as well), however the range of apps and games, with more released each day, will keep you entertained plenty enough.
Over the next few months our main knowledge expansion will be on 360° video and focusing on bringing our experiences over to the virtual reality platforms, along with the crafting new and better interfaces for our various services. And of course, a little bit of virtual reality gaming does keeps our spirits up as well!