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May 13

Be In The Center Of The Action With Samsung’s Gear VR Headset Powered by Oculus
Samsung Gear VR Headset Powered by Oculus and Galaxy Note 4

The kit looks futuristic with a wide field of view, foam that conforms to the face and an over-head strap system that is interesting to attach. Once I got over the awkwardness of the kit, Samsung’s Note 4 with its Quad HD Super AMOLED screen, cover and Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic noise cancelling headphones worked together seamlessly to put me into an immersive experience.

Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition Powered by Oculus
Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition Powered by Oculus

Where did I go? The first places I went virtually were to orbit the Earth, then to China and Hong Kong. I traveled up and down streets, flew in a helicopter over Manhattan and dove off of a cliff. I rode around on sand dunes with a few Red Bull sponsored athletes and experienced my first roller coaster in VR. I moved my head left, right, up and down for a different perspective and a truly personal experience.

That was on the first evening after I received the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition kit from AT&T. They loaned it to me for a few days so that I could see what everyone was talking about.

Samsung Gear VR Headset & Galaxy Note 4 Unboxing

Disclaimer: I was loaned the Samsung Gear VR, Galaxy Note 4 and Bose headphones for a few days to experience virtual reality. I was not compensated to talk about my experience. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Screen shots are courtesy of NextVR, the Kentucky Derby and NBC Sports.

Google Cardboard Virtual Reality Headset

I tapped my way through the various Samsung and Oculus apps already installed on the Galaxy Note 4. This smartphone has much better screen resolution and brightness for viewing virtual reality than the Note 3 screen I tried with a pre-release Oculus headset two years ago during CTIA or with Google Cardboard.

Samsung Gear VR Oculus Store
Samsung Gear VR Oculus Store

The Note 4 has jumped from the previous Note 3’s 1080p HD to quad HD with a resolution of 2,650 x 1,440 and Super AMOLED screen technology with 515 ppi. For comparison, the iPhone 6 Plus has a 1080p HD screen with a resolution of 1,920 x 1080 and 401 ppi.

I briefly visited Samsung’s activation in Los Angeles, early last year where they had a room of three Galaxy Gear VR headsets available to test. I spent about ten minutes watching various movie trailers, which were a little underwhelming. But the technology and content has come a long way since.

NextVR Kentucky Derby Live Badge
NextVR Kentucky Derby Live

I see now why people are so excited for virtual reality. While I was scrolling around on various sub-menu screens in Samsung’s virtual media environment, I saw a “live” badge on a graphic for the 142nd Kentucky Derby broadcast by NBC Sports. I tapped on it and a few moments after it finished buffering some video, I was nearly live at the races!

I had been to many horse races as a kid, but this time it felt different. Sure, I was not there in person, but going to the Kentucky Derby was out of reach for me this year. Or so I thought.

NBC was showing content through the virtual reality environment that was not shown on the TV broadcast. I immediately saw a race that was happening and the producer behind the scenes switched cameras as the horses made their way around the track.

The producer then switched to the finish line camera, which was about 20 feet from the attendees. I saw the horses cross the line and the excitement from the crowd. I could also see a few people enjoying the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, the famous mint julep across the sea of famous Derby Day hats.

Lady Antebellum began to sing and I was in the front row yet again because of where the VR cameras were setup. It started to rain and they showed all of the people running into the clubhouse nearby. I was virtually in multiple places at once because of Samsung’s VR broadcast technology.

NextVR Live View Kentucky Derby
NextVR Live View Kentucky Derby

I had never been to a Kentucky Derby before in real life, but today it felt like I was there with a VIP badge. The NBC broadcast would appear above the view I had of the track every so often to show me what was happening on TV.

NextVR Kentucy Derby Finish Line
NextVR Kentucy Derby Finish Line

As the announcer said “Riders Up” at the Kentucky Derby, I had a view from the beginning to the end of the quickest two minutes in sports of all of the horses and jockeys making moves to be first. It was great to see the finish line again, where Nyquist kept its lead in the final stretch, where nearly 170,000 were in attendance.

Samsung’s Gear VR has a few quirks. I noticed that using the Galaxy Note 4 with a cellular connection and the Gear VR system needed WiFi for a more seamless experience. Some apps refused to connect sans WiFi. So I connected it to a fast WiFi hotspot. It is important to note that I turned off all other wireless connections to save power.

By turning off Bluetooth, NFC and the cellular connection, the length of time that the smartphone can be used for VR is increased. After watching nearly an hour of streaming VR from the Kentucky Derby, the smartphone had about 40% of power left.

During one of the commercial breaks, my Gear VR headset reminded me that the smartphone was getting too hot and it needed to cool down. So I took off the headset and let it rest for a few minutes.

After waiting, I put the VR headset back on and it worked fine until the end of the broadcast. It seems that by streaming VR content for about a half hour over WiFi is when it will need a cool down. This is a big limitation to immersing one’s self into virtual reality for an extended period of time.

Samsung does not include a secondary battery inside of the Gear VR headset, which makes sense for a few reasons. The first being weight on the face. The headset feels comfortable, but after about an hour of use, I noticed a red line around my eyes and cheeks. It went away quickly, but this is something to be aware of. A second reason is that users do not want to have to charge yet another gadget.

Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise Cancelling Headphones Case
Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise Cancelling Headphones Case

The virtual reality kit I received included a Bose active noise-cancelling headset. Turning on the active noise-cancelling feature was the final piece to my immersion into virtual reality. It blocked out sounds from the TV and most everything else too.

Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones
Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones

Unfortunately, the Samsung Gear VR and Bose headphones were loaners and I had to send them back. Going behind the scenes at Vandenberg Air Force Base to see a rocket launch was my latest favorite short immersive video clip. I would love to immerse myself into the Olympics and other large events via VR. A virtual screen floating above background video is the way I would like to enjoy watching all future events.

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