With the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge available to pre-order from Vodafone UK now, we've been talking to the mobile giant about all things Gear VR and the future of virtual reality...
Samsung has just announced the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge. Both handsets pack powerful Octa Core processors, Dual Pixel 12 MP cameras, stunning 5.1 and 5.5-inch AMOLED displays and huge 3,000 and 3,600 mAh batteries, respectively. And they’re both available to pre-order from Vodafone right now.
But the full story here isn’t just about the handsets. With both devices slotting neatly into the Gear VR headset – which is available at no extra cost on Vodafone Red and Red Value pre-orders – it’s clear that virtual reality technology is going to be a huge focus for 2016 and beyond.
What does Gear VR do? And what kind of things can you actually get up to with modern VR? We’ve chatting with Samsung’s Jason Lovell to find out…
The Galaxy S7’s secret superpower
So what’s the deal with Samsung’s Gear VR headset? Specifically: how does it work?
“It’s incredibly easy,” Jason says. “You simply get a compatible device like the Galaxy S6 or S7, slide the phone into the Gear VR headset, and it’ll automatically guide you through the install process. Within five minutes you’ll have the Oculus Store on your phone, which acts as your portal to all the VR apps. Then you simply download one, click ‘run’ and the phone will ask you to insert the phone into Gear VR. Then you’re away.”
“The screen of the phone acts as the main hub,” he adds. “The phone itself will display the picture, but the Gear VR adds sensors which allow for head movement tracking, as well as the lenses which make the image stereoscopic to match how you see the real world. [More on that sciency stuff here]. So whilst the phone brings the brains, the headset itself plays a big part. It’s all about being comfortable and light, whilst packing in the necessary technology.”
Anyone who’s paid attention to tech news over the last few years will have recognised an important word in that last paragraph: Oculus. Oculus famously rounded up millions in funding on Kickstarter in 2012 for its own virtual reality headset, ‘Rift’, set to launch this year. But in-between honing its own product, Oculus has worked alongside Samsung for the Gear VR, lending its indispensable know how to the cause:
“It’s been a really close collaboration,’ says Jason. “There’s a lot of work being done at Samsung’s global HQ and together we’re striving to really bring VR to the masses. It’s all about combining our great technologies and producing amazing experiences that everyone will want to use.”
A whole new world
Ok; so that’s how Gear VR works, and how the new Galaxy S7 family and Oculus all fit in alongside it. Now for the fun stuff: what can you actually do with virtual reality in 2016?
“So you’ve got four basic categories,” Jason explains. “Games, experiences, apps and videos. Then within each of those there’s loads of great stuff, both free and paid. What I particularly love is the gaming side of things, which is a field that will grow and grow this year.
“There’s a game called Land’s End, for instance, which is phenomenal. It’s built by the guys who made mobile smash hit Monument Valley and it’s a fantastic experience. You jump into this amazingly stylised world, move around and solve puzzles. It’s a great illustration of what VR can do.”
“There are immersive stories available from news outlets like the New York Times too, each of which takes you through a 10 or 15 minute short story by placing you in someone else’s shoes. And that’s so much more powerful than just looking at it on a screen.
“One example is called The Body VR, which takes you along the blood stream, into the organs, and educates you about the human body in an innovative way. Another one, called House of Languages, is a new method of teaching children foreign languages. There’s even one called Speech Center, which puts you in front of an auditorium full of people, and gives you tips on how to present yourself better. It’s really, really clever.”
“On top of all that, there’s our new internet browser, where you can go to YouTube or surf the web in an immersive environment.”
The demos above are undoubtedly cool, but from where we’re sitting the great thing is that these kinds of experiences seem to be only the tip of an enormous iceberg: one that Jason believes will only get bigger throughout 2016.
‘Stories can now be told
in a much more immersive way…’
“What’s really exciting is that a lot of developers, film and game makers who are used to telling stories on traditional media are starting to work out that these stories can now be told in a much more immersive way.
“I’ve seen so many developers excited about creating great new things with VR, because I think it’s like a blank canvas for them – anyone can take the technology and think up new ways to entertain, educate and move people. Because of that, developers are coming up with new content all the time, and as a result there are new experiences becoming available on the store every week.”
The future of VR
Sounding good? The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge are available to pre-order now from Vodafone UK, and your pre-order will land you a Gear VR (worth £79.99) at no extra cost when brought with a Red or Red Value Bundle. But what does the future hold in store for this amazing new tech?
“The sky’s the limit, in my opinion” Jason tells us. “Once people start learning more about VR, learning what it can do, and experience more and more innovative and unique content, I think you’ll see it really fly. It’s just about increasing awareness and desire to experience it again and again.”
But because of the nature of the beast, that can be a tough sell. After all, how do you know how good VR is unless you give it a go yourself? That’s a challenge that Jason and Samsung are keenly aware of.
“The challenge for everyone is that it’s not a product that you can stick on the shelf or online and expect people to understand – you really have to get people to put it on their heads and try it. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how great it is, but it isn’t until people actually try it that people agree. Most of us are just getting our heads around 360 degree videos on YouTube and Facebook, but then to put that content into a VR world is a whole different experience again. So it’s really important that we encourage people to try VR for themselves and fall in love with it.
“I think that every big device you’ll see this year will have a part to play in VR’s evolution. But what separates Gear VR is that it’s such an easy thing for customers to experience. There are approximately 1.7 million people in the UK with a compatible handset already.”
“The bulk of the processing power lies in the phone, which means that we’ve always got the scope to continually upgrade the whole experience moving forward. And because it’s powered by your Samsung device, it’s such a simple thing: you access all the content you want on your phone, pop it into the Gear VR headset and you’re instantly transported to another world.”
Samsung Galaxy S7… You can pre-order your Galaxy S7 or S7 edge here. Stay tuned for first impressions from the web’s tech press.
By Adam Bunker