Watching movies with the Samsung Gear VR
There was a time when the idea of being able to watch a movie on a VR headset in your living room was either a fantasy or something to laugh at. Well, that time is definitely behind us with the Samsung Gear VR. With access to apps like Netflix now and Hulu in November, you can transport yourself to the perfect place to watch a movie. It's a uniquely immersive experience that everyone should definitely give a shot for at least a few minutes.
Let's take a look.
The Samsung Gear VR, like Google Cardboard, uses your phone to project through a headset. What sets the two apart is Samsung's partnership with Oculus and design to be worn for more than a few minutes. Watching movies and television through the Gear VR, while a little silly sounding at first, is a full blown immersive experience in the best way. Instead of just a screen, the Netflix app puts you in a full blown cabin with photos on the wall, a couch you are sitting on, and a coffee table in front of a massive screen.
The experience is surreal to say the least. It really felt like I was sitting in a cabin watching television — which got weird when I was sitting on a couch with a table in front of me in both the real world — with interactive parts all around me. The window to my left was constantly changing, and as the video played on the screen in front of me the "light" from the screen would play off of the magazine and cup on the table. The video quality for movies was good enough to feel like a decent screen at a distance, and thankfully I could adjust the focus by dialing back and forth on the headset. Being able to see my surroundings other than the video was also nice. With my headphones on, it felt like being in a personal theater, which is great if you're looking for a distraction on long plane rides or something.
The headset isn't particularly bulky, and it adjusts well but I ran into a few minor problems pretty quickly. It was nearly impossible to find a comfortable fit while wearing my glasses, so I wound up ditching them entirely. Even then, the headset had a tendency of digging into the bridge of my nose, and it took me a bit to get it really adjusted. The Gear was also fairly heavy, since all of the weight was at the front of my face without any kind of counter balance.
The biggest issue I ran into was how tired my eyes got. I watched an episode of Steven Universe, and had to take the Gear VR off to let my eyes readjust to the real world. This could have easily been because I wasn't able to comfortably wear my glasses. It only took a few minutes for the strain to pass, but it was noticeable. Between how heavy the headset started to get after 20-30 minutes, and the strain in my eyes I can only stand about an hour at a time. It did get easier to watch as I went, so my eyes might just need some time to get used to how close everything is in VR. Based on some conversations other editors have had with doctors on the subject, it may just be that 30 minutes is my limit for these experiences.
My roommate was more than just a little bit confused when he walked in to me watching a movie through the headset with earbuds in, but after I explained what was happening he wanted to give it a shot as well. Although the Gear VR looks weird, it's an interesting enough premise to draw people in and everyone I've shown this to so far has loved the experience. Since the audio is coming through your phone I'd only suggest using it without headphones or earbuds if you're alone, or want to be aware of your surroundings. That might be a little bit difficult with the top strap, but it really does enhance the experience.
So the real question is why watch movies on the headset, rather than just using your phone to watch them normally? One of the big draws for me is the feeling that you have your own personal theater. Unlike just watching on your phone, when you use the Gear VR the screen seems much, much, larger. That means getting the big screen feel that doesn't feel fake thanks to the high resolution screen being used to draw the images. It's not a 4K home theater by any stretch, but it's also only $100 to create this experience wherever you are. It also has the feeling of getting away, whether that's from roommates or a crowded bus or plane. Watching movies and television with Gear VR is an experience, and that experience is what keeps drawing me back in to watch. Even if you're stuck in the house, by using this tech you can feel like you are elsewhere, which can be good.
Overall catching up on your movies or television shows on the Gear VR is walking a fine line. If you're comfortable in the get up, and it doesn't bother your eyes too much, it's a fantastic way to use this technology. It was great to be able to sit in the real world, and feel like I was completely somewhere else — even if I was just binge watching my favorite shows. Even with the minor issues that I ran into, I enjoyed watching movies on the Gear VR and I'd recommend giving it a try.
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Jen is a staff writer who spends her time researching the products you didn't know you needed. She's also a fantasy novelist and has a serious Civ VI addiction. You can follow her on Twitter.