For those of us who follow politics here in America, Tuesday night was the first democratic debate. Usually that isn't the kind of post you'd see here, but it was available on NextVR to be viewed through the Samsung Gear VR. This meant anyone with a Gear VR had the ability to check out the debates in 3D from your living room, where the user was in control of camera angles and attention spans.
I gave it a shot so you didn't have to. You're welcome.
The Democratic Debate was hosted by CNN, and even in VR terms it was a pretty huge event. The promotional marker had been hanging out in the main Oculus menu for the last several days. Outside of this being a fairly new concept, my previous experiences with movies in VR left me curious enough to give it a shot..
There were several camera angles that you could switch between, each with their own fully 360 view. This included up and behind the candidates which let you see the lights that were supposed to act as timers, as well as from the stage to the right where you could get a good look at how the audience and Anderson Cooper behaved when the camera was not on them. Some of them worked quite well, but others were far enough out that it made it hard to see all of the candidates clearly. Before the debates started there was even one at the far back of the room, letting you look around as people filled in and got settled before the debates got going.
Once I got the sound set, and my eyes adjusted to not wearing my glasses, it was a very cool experience.
I wound up bailing on the Gear VR after about an hour, but it definitely wasn't the worst thing ever. The inability to wear my glasses made everybody look pretty fuzzy, and no amount of tweaking the focus managed to help. Initially I was having issues with audio, but managed to get it fixed in just a few minutes. Once I got the sound set, and my eyes adjusted to not wearing my glasses, it was a very cool experience. Depending on the camera angle I could even see the actual reactions — or lack thereof, of the audience at the debates. It was also interesting to see in a "behind the scenes" sort of way how Anderson Cooper tried to control the conversation with hand gestures to signify he was ready to speak again, though anyone who watch the debate knows that wasn't always particularly successful.
After about forty minutes I could definitely feel the strain in my eyes, and if I hadn't been lounged on the couch I'm sure my neck would have been complaining as well. Watching the debates through the VR gave me a much better idea of how big that stage actually is, and there were some pretty cool features that were utilized to emphasize the 3D aspects of the Gear VR, but this was clearly not an experience I was prepared to enjoy for multiple hours.
That of course begs the question, was watching the Democratic debates on the Samsung Gear VR worth it? I'd say it would only be worth it if you didn't have access to the debates via television, and that's for a few reasons. To begin with, the quality of video wasn't amazing — although I will admit it might be because I wasn't able to wear my glasses. The VR version of the debates was running on a 15-20 second delay, which isn't generally a big deal unless you enjoy a live social commentary these sorts of events tend to encourage. Obviously you aren't able to live tweet with the headset on, so your only focus becomes the debates. This isn't an entirely bad thing, mind you.
I also actually missed the bottom scroll with bits of information that CNN is so notorious for, with whatever random bits of information could be added to the experience. This was clearly meant to be a loose reproduction of what it would feel like to be there in person, and it turned out all I really wanted was the assembled experience CNN was offering, as strange as that is to say out loud.
I was glad that I had cable as a backup plan.
I was glad that I had cable as a backup plan. An hour into the Debates my video started cutting out. First it would just freeze, and later it started to jump and skip. I had to back out of the app twice in about ten minutes, and it continued to glitch out regularly until I called it quits and flipped over to CNN on the television. This could have been a connection error, or it could have been the Gear VR starting to overheat due to the length of time it had been active. It was a bit frustrating because I would have liked to see how long I could have lasted, but the quality on TV was honestly just superior in every way.
Being able to watch the Democratic Debates on the Samsung Gear VR was pretty awesome. It didn't make me want to claw my eyes out, which is honestly what I was worried about. I did have a few issues that eventually made me abandon ship, but that's to be expected with new tech as it finds footing. I'd say that the Debates were only really worth watching in VR if you didn't already have access via television. While political conversations may not be a staple of VR experiences in the future, there's absolutely a place for experiencing a live event through this format.