Kinks aside, a VR sight for sore eyes

Kinks aside, a VR sight for sore eyes
The Samsung Gear VR.

We've still got a while to go before we can experience ultra-realistic Matrix-like virtual reality (VR) worlds, but Samsung is giving consumers here a taste of what's to come.

The South Korean electronics giant said on Wednesday that its VR headset, the Gear VR Innovator Edition for S6, will be available in Singapore from next Thursday for $298.

First announced at the Mobile World Congress Barcelona trade show in March, the headset is a follow-up to last year's model, and was developed with Facebook's Oculus VR firm.

Samsung said the new headset, which weighs 271g, is 15 per cent lighter than the original.

But the latest goggles need either Samsung's new Galaxy S6 or S6 edge smartphones to be attached to work, which adds an extra 130g to 140g to the set-up.

Also, the Gear VR is aimed at developers and early adopters, so improvements are still in the works, according to tech news sites CNet and Gizmag.

To control the VR action, there is a touchpad on the headset's right, along with volume controls and a back button. Alternatively, a Bluetooth gamepad that works with Android can be used.

Wearing the headset, the images from the attached smartphone are delivered to your eyes in such a way as to create the illusion that you are in a virtual environment.

This means you can move your head to look up, down, sideways and behind you.

The device also works when you turn your body or turn on a swivel chair.

For games like first-person shooter Omega Agent, turning in a chair means your character also turns in the same direction in-game. The game has a "Swivel Chair" option which is supposed to reduce motion sickness. But Engadget said dizziness still set in.

You will also want to make sure you have enough space to spin around, so that you do not knock into things.

Besides games, other VR offerings for the headset include panoramic videos and images. Gizmag said the app selection (not all are free) is "in pretty good shape", but "just limited enough" to be in the "early adopter territory".

For those wearing glasses, you will have to remove them to use the Gear VR. But there is an option to help those who are myopic adjust the clarity of images. Even so, Samsung advises consumers to try the headset out first.

Using the headset for long is not a good idea as an overheating message pops up after an hour of use, unless you have a fan blowing at you. But this is much better than the original headset's 20 minutes, said Gizmag.

This is due to the new device's built-in fan which is not noticeable. The fan is supposed to help prevent the goggles from fogging too but Gizmag said this still happens, so anti-fogging products might be needed.

If you can overcome overheating with the goggles, the battery of an attached S6 edge phone may go flat after four to five hours of use. Hooking up the headset to a power point would help, said CNet.

The Gear VR is not recommended for kids below under the age of 13. Pregnant women, senior citizens and those with heart, epileptic or other medical conditions should also consult a doctor before using the goggles.

TechRadar said the headset is still bulky and can be a bit uncomfortable to wear, although CNet said it can be comfy to don after 30 minutes of "adjusting and readjusting the goggles".

Despite the Gear VR's drawbacks, Gizmag's writer said the "virtual reality experience itself is terrific", while CNet's writer said "this was by far the most fun I've had with virtual reality".

The new Gear VR for S6 will be sold on online stores such as those of the three telcos and major electronics retailers from Thursday. Consumers can also try out and buy the headset at select Samsung Experience Stores, including the ones at Paragon, Westgate, AMK Hub and Bedok Mall. They can give the goggles a spin at booth 6005 and buy them at booth 5028 at The PC Show from June 4 to 7 at the Singapore Expo.rts on the go, check out the "MyPaper" iOS and Android apps.

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