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Samsung Gear VR (2016) Review

THE GOOD Affordable. Easy to attach. Great audio-visual quality for a phone-based VR accessory. A growing library of apps and games. This model is more comfortable than earlier versions, and you can charge the phone while using it.

THE BAD Only works with a specific collection of Samsung phones. Oculus PC game and app library isn’t cross-compatible with Android or Google Cardboard VR ecosystems. Lacks the positional awareness of PC-based VR rigs. Limited inputs mean it’s less immersive VR than you can get with larger, more-expensive PC-connected systems like the Rift.

THE BOTTOM LINE The latest Gear VR adds compatibility with Samsung’s latest phones and cements its position as the best mobile VR product right now.

And the Price : (99.99 $)

Samsung Gear VR Product Link For buy: http://www.samsung.com/us/explore/gear-vr/

I remember putting the Samsung Gear VR on my face and being blown away by the experiences it created. It was my first take-home doorway into virtual reality. That was December, 2014.

VR has since become a commodity everywhere: in high-end PC-connected systems like Oculus Rift and Vive, in cheap disposable phone accessories like Google Cardboard. There will be game console-ready stuff in PSVR, soon, too. But in the meantime, the Gear VR abides, a veteran in this fast-moving landscape.

The newest version, which connects to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and a handful of older Galaxy phones, is really pretty much the same. The connectors and a few finishing touches are different. (To be clear: if you’re happy with any one of the earlier Gear VR models, you’re fine — the changes are tweaks, not overhauls.)

I said “the same,” but that’s not really true at all. Oculus and Samsung — the headset is a joint venture — have steadily continued updating the software and app library in Gear VR. There are hundreds of apps and games, and so many types of streaming-video experiences via apps like Oculus Video, Within, Jaunt and others, that the amount of things to do seems inexhaustible.

There’s a small price to pay. Many apps cost anywhere from $1 to $10, and it’s hard to vet out the quality. Some games are well worth it (like Anshar Wars, Minecraft or Neverout); others feel buggy and low-quality. And your taste in VR games and apps might not be the same as mine. The aesthetics of virtual reality are still evolving and hard to figure out without trying some stuff. And — VR aficionados take note — just because Oculus helped design the Gear VR doesn’t mean that your PC-based Oculus Rift games will be playable here, and vice versa — there’s very little software crossover, although your Oculus account is the same and there are a growing set of intercommunicating functions…and a few apps like Minecraft that will play nicely together.

But, as a $100 accessory for your phone — provided you have a Samsung phone that works with it — Gear VR is still the best mobile way to dive into other worlds. And, for me, I still use it more than the obviously better, but harder to set up and share Vive or Oculus Rift.

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The same, with a few tweaks

Gear VR comes in a new blue-black design that looks more like the higher-end PC-connected Rift, but it’s the same concept as the white-and-black accessory it’s replacing. You slot your phone (a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ or Note 5,) in, strap it on your face, and put on headphones.

The new Gear VR has a slightly improved field of view: 101 degrees, versus 96 degrees. I couldn’t discern the difference. The focal wheel, which works with glasses or without, is easier to turn, and the headset fit more comfortably on my face. The side trackpad’s a bit larger, smoother, and is easier to find with your fingers. There’s also a new button above the trackpad that’s a direct Home button shortcut, sitting next to a “back” button that helps navigate the Gear VR menus and settings.

The new Gear VR exists because it now works with the USB-C connected Note 7, and other Samsung phones that may use it going forward. You also get an easy-to-attach adapter to plug in an older Micro-USB phone instead. There’s also a second USB-C port which Samsung says will work with future accessories. Right now, those don’t exist…but I’m intrigued. In the meantime, that port helps charge the Note 7 while it’s on your face. Using Gear VR burns through the phone’s battery.

FYI, the Note 7’s rear camera works better in passthrough mode, if you ever use it, to see around while still wearing the headset. I do this once in awhile when I’m lazy and want to grab something on my desk.

VR’s rising expectations

Gear VR is still, absolutely, the best VR you can get on the go or with a phone. But it’s so good that my expectations start to shift. Suddenly, I forget I’m using a phone. I think I could play games that are as good as the Oculus Rift. And I can’t. The graphics obviously aren’t as capable, but also there aren’t any good controller options. Gear VR has a side-mounted touchpad on its headset, or you could use a paired Bluetooth game controller. Neither are as good as using an Xbox controller with a Rift on a PC. Deeper games with more advanced controls feel jerky-jerky.

In AltSpace VR, for instance, which throws people using Gear VR, Rift and even Vive together to explore virtual spaces and chat, I found my limited controls frustrating. I found myself in a gaming parlor where a Vive-using avatar handed me a sword with one of his floating motion-controller game wands. I gladly took it…but all it did was float in front of my face when I pressed my controller’s button.

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And moving around the room wasn’t fluid, because unlike PC VR systems, the phone-based Gear VR doesn’t have positional tracking. In other words, if I lean forward or bend down, nothing happens. And to walk across the room, I need to move my game controller stick or use the trackpad on the side of my head. With games and apps tuned to Gear VR, especially basic 360-degree video players, that’s not a problem. But as games get more evolved, it feels like a drawback. It makes me want to dive back into using Vive and my gaming PC.

Of course, these are totally different experiences. Gear VR is a $100 accessory for a phone — that’s cheaper than a good pair of headphones. The Rift and Vive are $600 and $800…and that doesn’t even include the required high-end gaming PC.

The current Gold Standard for mobile VR

Again, now that other options are here, the Gear VR feels more like a VR Starter Pack. It’s an excellent on-the-go toy, and it’s the most finely tuned hardware in mobile. It has the best selection of high-quality mobile VR apps, too. It also just might be my favorite VR platform right now, because it’s so simple to set up and carry around. I can share it with others. I can take it to other rooms. It’s low-maintenance.

PC-based VR is far more impressive, and transformative. But most people still won’t be able to afford it — or need it. Until that level of VR drops down to a reasonable (and more polished) level, Gear VR still seems like the way to go.

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  • References

Cnet

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OCULUS RIFT: Welcome To The Future

Virtual reality: Fooling your senses into seeing something that’s not there. Making the unreal real.

The technology has been percolating in fits and starts for the past 20 years. Now, it’s not only here, it’s the next frontier, and companies from Facebook to Google to Microsoft know that VR is likely the next step up from phones, tablets and computer screens. They’re all jockeying to dominate the next big computing platform.(Check this post for more information)

Samsung’s Gear VR and Google Cardboard were just the start. The HTC Vive (coming soon) is the big competitor. And PlayStation VR, coming in October, may well be VR’s mass market breakthrough. But the real race begins here and now, with the Oculus Rift.

Close your eyes and step inside. Things are about to get weird.

Note: This isn’t your typical gadget review. VR is best told in two stories…the potential dream and the day-one reality. What you see here is our take on both, in parallel. Read on and follow along.

THE EYES

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My eyes aren’t here anymore. They’re somewhere else. Once the eyepiece is over my face, I’m gone. Like looking through a window into another world.

It’s a city that’s in front of me. Trees sway gently. I know they’re not real, but I look closely at them. I lift my head, I see sky. Blue like you’d rarely really see.

I look down. My legs are gone. I see wings. And a beak.

If I lean forward, the flower in front of me comes closer. I duck down towards it. I want to smell it.

It’s a world I’ve moved into like I’m wearing a magic scuba mask. It’s everywhere. And I hear a voice, too.

I turn around, and see the forest behind me. A cliff, rising up. A nest near the top, where my eggs are.

I’ve wanted to be other places, see other things. Now, at last, I feel like I’m really there.

It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a child, that I’ve read about in science fiction books. To cast myself somewhere else. To open a magic door. It’s the closest I’ve been to that dream.

As I spend more time here, I lose track of where the rest of my real body is.

I flap my wings and fly.

I place the Oculus Rift on my head, stretching its spring-loaded frame onto my skull. The visor slides down over my eyes. The lenses fill with light. It feels like I’m wearing a set of ski goggles attached to a baseball cap — the most advanced baseball cap in the world.

Reality

For $600, it had better be. Not counting the hundreds I spent to upgrade my computer.

Inside the fabric-covered contraption, I see a computer-generated room. It’s not very striking at first. It’s a little bit grainy, like I’m looking through a fine mesh. My field of view seems a little small. But when I move my head, the room is all around me. Whichever way I look, or lean, or even crouch down, my perspective shifts as if I were actually there.

This is not like having a tiny TV strapped to my face. Nothing like the Google Glass or Virtual Boy of yore. This feels like I’ve inserted my head into another world.

Admittedly, it’s a world where I’m wearing a big, black goggle-cap that keeps me from seeing as clearly as I’d like. At least the straps are fairly comfortable and you only have to adjust them once.

The visual artifacts don’t always bug me. Like the drops of water on my car’s windshield on a rainy day, I usually find myself ignoring the slightly blurry vision and the glowing halos that constantly appear around any bright object in the world. Other times, they’re all I can think about.

Sometimes, I want to take off the helmet. To feel the wind on my face. But as soon as I rip it off, I’m no longer a bird. I’m just a dude, sitting in his apartment, with sweat on my brow.

THE HANDS

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There’s something on the table. I lean forward; I can see it. And I can reach forward, and pick it up.

Each of my hands, somewhere, are encased in plastic, buttons. In this world, I’m pushing through, holding the cup in my hands. I now look for the pot, the one on the stove. I lift it. I pour everything into the cup. And now, ever so carefully, I put the cup down on a table that doesn’t exist.

My head pokes into this world, and I can pull back at these magic pieces. I grab the pot and throw it across the room.

I’m on a field. I lift my arm. The plays I’m meant to call are written across it. I touch one with my other hand. Then a ball lands in my hands, and I see my receiver. I raise my arm, and throw.

My hands are in front of me. I can see them, but they’re metal, like crab claws. They’re guns. They’re clown gloves. They’re dog paws. They’re whatever they need to be. They change. But I can lift them, move them. Or am I just pushing buttons? Am I moving, or dreaming I’m moving? It becomes so seamless I can’t tell.

I reach into my ear. I pull out a magic ball. I reach into my mouth. I pull out a flower.

Reality

I have no hands inside the Oculus Rift.

Not yet.

The headgear’s hidden sensors let me nod, lean in, even cock my head to one side, but there are no hands to reach out and touch things with.

My options are a wireless Xbox One gamepad, or a little pill-shaped remote control if I merely want to navigate menus and adjust the volume. Both come bundled with the Rift.

Usually, the gamepad makes sense. Joysticks are no substitute for hands, but a lot of early Oculus games don’t try to make you grab.

I’m in the cockpit of a starfighter now, where I’d have joysticks anyhow.

Or instead of looking through a video game character’s eyes, I’m controlling them from a distance — much like the Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto or Metal Gear games you’d play on an Xbox or PlayStation.

But after trying Oculus’ own excellent Touch controllers — coming this fall — the gamepad feels dated. Why can’t I just point where I want my character to go? Why can’t I just reach out and grab that virtual joystick in that virtual cockpit, instead of using real ones?

Without hands, the experience feels incomplete. So much so, that I’d say it’s OK to wait for the Oculus Touch controllers before buying a Rift.

THE ROOM

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There are no walls here. Space stretches on forever. And a pile of sticks lies in front of me. A wheel. A pole.

I walk over and pick up a stick, stretch it apart. I start joining it together with a wheel. I’m building something. I walk around it. I’m leaning down to fix it. I can lift it. I can carry it. At times, it feels like I’m really walking, step by step. Then, the room shrinks. Now I’m towering over it like a god. Space has changed again.

I hear the drummer behind me. My bandmates are getting ready to perform. I see the crowd in front of me. I step forward; I walk to the microphone and I yell out to the crowd. Suddenly I wonder, can I walk into the audience? Can I walk offstage? How far can I go?

I see another space. I no longer feel my old world. Now I’m in an astronaut suit, floating, trapped. I can’t get up — feel like I’m suffocating. I don’t know how to escape. Which exits can I run through? Can I go through the hatch and float away forever? I want to keep going. But I don’t know if I can.

I feel the pull of a cord.

Reality

With the Oculus Rift, my head might be in another world — but the rest of my body is stuck inside these walls. I can’t shake the feeling I’m being pulled between the real and the virtual.

In my real living room, a tether runs down the back of my skull. I’m jacked into the Matrix with a 13-foot cable that leads to a powerful desktop computer. I sit, or stand, in front of a camera that tracks my head’s every move. Built-in headphones pipe in 3D audio and I can tell where the shots are coming from, even if I turn.

But if I move too far, or if something blocks the sensor, my real and virtual movements won’t match up. If the game turns me a direction my real body isn’t turned, subconscious alarm bells go off. I start to sweat. I get nauseous for hours if I don’t stop.

So I sit or stand, instead of walking around.

In my real living room, the Rift isn’t a nuisance. The single cable leading to the headset lies flat on the floor. I haven’t tripped once. It’s easy to wrap up, or even remove for easy storage.

Initial setup isn’t so easy, though, especially when upgrading an older PC. Even though my 5-year-old processor was up to the task, my USB ports and graphics card didn’t work. It turns out many don’t.

Virtual reality is a complex illusion, and an easy one to break right now.

THE DOORS

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Dozens of dreams. A bookshelf full of experiences. I’m halfway through trying to save my friend from missile fire. I’m taking a break in a forest, watching allosaurus hunt. Now I’m finishing my strange transparent car project. And now I’m watching real people, war veterans, telling stories. But they can’t see me.

Sometimes I want to stay in one place. Sometimes I want to leave. Sometimes I want to talk to people. Sometimes I don’t want to be seen.

Dozens of theater performances. Or games. Or films. Or experiences. Or dreams. One at a time, like experiential channel-surfing. How many doors can I go through before I feel like I should take a break?

I’m staying here. It’s a living room — not my living room. A space between spaces. I look at all the doors. I’m trying to decide which one I need next.

Reality

In books and movies, virtual reality is often a single shared world, a metaverse where people meet, work, hang out. Right now, the Rift is more like a game console.

The moment I place it on my head, I’m all alone in a Zen garden of a living room — little rivers, a stepping stone path, a bonsai tree, the whole nine yards. But there’s nothing to interact with save for a floating menu of 42 different titles, nearly all of them games.

Some of them are mind-blowing. I lost myself in BlazeRush, a hilariously unpredictable game where you fling a tiny Micro Machines-sized car around a racetrack while sending competitors to a fiery death. I was a kid playing with my toys again — toys that came to life. It was 2 a.m. when I finally remembered to take off the visor.

I can say the same for Chronos, an adventure that had me literally looking around every corner before I dared let my hero venture out.

But most Oculus games are fairly shallow, at least compared to the hottest titles on Xbox and PlayStation. I wouldn’t spend more than a few hours trying them out.

For every EVE: Valkyrie — which thrusts me into the cockpit of a starfighter in the midst of a frenetic multiplayer dogfight and keeps me coming back for more — there are two ho-hum titles that I wouldn’t have spent money on.

Still, we’ve seen that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo can sell millions of game consoles on the backs of a few games. It doesn’t take 42 great experiences — just a couple of the right ones.

THE FUTURE

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Hi, Mom. It’s me. I’m here. I’m somewhere else right now. Come join me. Right around the corner.

I’m outside. It comes with me. I can take these worlds around, now. It knows where I’m going, where my hands are, where my body is. I can be here, and be elsewhere. I can do two things at once. As I walk here, I’m walking somewhere else. I could be in an another body. I’ve “switched” with people, for an hour or two. I don’t like more than that.

In these glasses. Just glasses. I can open them up, or close them down. Let the real world in, or close it out. Allow the dreams to creep in just a bit, or all the way.

In virtual reality, you can’t see the wires. So why do they have to exist at all? In the real world, it can all disappear. Eventually, even the real world will seem like a dream. A blend, of the real world and the other.

I can’t even see the tech anymore.

There are so many places to go, things to pick from. More experiences than stars in the sky. I’ll never try them all. Just like regular life. But at least it knows what I like.

A small flick of my fingers, a blink of my eyes, and I’m gone.

Reality

The exciting and frustrating thing about the Oculus Rift: It’s easy to see how much better it can get.

Easy, because Rift rival HTC Vive has already shown us what it’s like when you can add your hands and feet to virtual reality — not just your head.

You can reach out and grab things with the HTC Vive’s motion controllers and walk around a room. But the discrepancy won’t last long: Oculus will let you do those things with the Oculus Touch motion controllers, coming this fall.

And there are other holes in the experience that Oculus will clearly fill. Like social interaction that goes beyond seeing which games my friends are playing. Movies to watch, concerts and basketball games to attend, with those friends in the same virtual room.

The ability to explore faraway places without ever being there physically. Or to learn to empathize with people of a different race, gender or economic situation by standing in their shoes for a day. To seamlessly blend virtual reality with the real world, instead of trying to block it out.

These are not just dreams, developers are working on all these things. They’re just not here yet.

You simply must try the Oculus Rift. It’s breathtaking. I just wouldn’t buy one right now — and there’s no reason you should feel the need to, either (especially with its archrival, the HTC Vive, also just days away). The longer you wait to buy, the better it will get. This is just day one for Oculus — and for the future of virtual reality.

  • References

Cnet

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HTC Vive Review

THE GOOD The HTC Vive offers a flat-out amazing virtual reality experience with sharp visuals, great motion controls and full-room sensing to walk around in virtual space. Vive hardware can help indicate where your walls are, and an in-helmet camera can be used to see your space with the headset on.

THE BAD It requires a high-end PC to run. Long wires and lots of equipment take time and space to set up. Steam VR offers a lot of software but it isn’t always beginner-friendly.

THE BOTTOM LINE Vive is the best virtual-reality experience you can have right now, thanks to its motion controls and room-scale tracking. It’s the closest thing to having a holodeck in your home.

And the Price : ($799.00 $

HTC Vive Store Link For buy: http://www.htcvive.com/us/

I realize I’m not sure where I am, literally speaking.

I know where I am virtually. A miniature golf course? The bottom of the ocean? A demented office filled with robots. My little home office became all these things in the middle of the night. I walked through these worlds with my feet. I pulled at things with my hands. And, many times, like when I was looking at a school of luminescent fish in the darkness of the ocean bottom, I’d see a glowing blue grid. A wall. My wall. HTC Vive was warning me of where my simulation would end. I lift the helmet. I’ve turned myself around. I’m huddling next to the closet, cords tangling under me.

Time for an eye break.

You remember the holodeck from “Star Trek”? Or, maybe, the Ray Bradbury story “The Veldt.” Virtual reality is one thing, but a whole room that can come alive and be your space is a different type of spatial magic. And right now, the HTC Vive deals in that magic exclusively.

Much like the Oculus Rift — the best known virtual reality system out there — HTC Vive runs on high-end gaming PCs. It’s tethered with long cables that run to that PC. But Vive also adds the hardware to interact with spaces with your hands, and to walk around too. A pair of motion controllers and two light-emitting boxes turn a space of your own into a mapped grid.

You’re not just entering VR. A chunk of your home is, too.

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What it offers that Oculus Rift doesn’t (yet)

Virtual reality on a PC, which both this and Oculus Rift hook up with in many very similar ways, is about pushing the limits of graphics and power. The downside is that you need a big, pretty powerful Windows PC to make it work (read about what you’ll need — odds are, your PC will need an upgrade), plus it needs to be tethered with cables.

Vive adds the ability to not only use your eyes and head, but your hands and body in virtual reality.

For $800 (£689 in the UK and around AU$1,340 including shipping to Australia), the HTC Vive offers a complete motion-tracking headset, two wireless motion controllers, and two small, whirring, laser-emitting boxes that scan your room and create the bounds of your motion-tracking virtual play space. Plus earbuds, mounting brackets for the laser boxes, power adapters, and lots and lots of cables.

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Oculus Rift costs less ($600), but only comes with a headset, a single motion sensor, a remote control and an Xbox One game controller. Oculus will get its own motion controllers too, called Oculus Touch, but they’re not arriving until later this year. And at an unknown price.

Vive is a collaboration between electronics company HTC and PC game software publisher Valve. Valve’s Steam PC store and platform is what drives Vive. Valve offers a good handful of SteamVR games at launch, and many of these games aren’t available anywhere else yet (but will be, later on this year). The Vive comes with a few free games, and they’re all excellent: Job Simulator, The Lab and Fantastic Contraption.

Gearing up

Every time I had tried the Vive since my first demo last year, I’d been in controlled spaces, with attendants helping me goggle in. Now I’m using this VR equipment on my own. I’ve set it up and gotten it running many times, on multiple PCs, both at the CNET office and in my home.

What it offers is unparalleled. It’s the best virtual reality experience you can have right now, and it’s also one of the most amazing tech experiences, period.

But it’s a lot of gear.

I connect it with a massive Clevo laptop running a desktop-level graphics card. This already feels like a cyberpunk novel from the ’90s.

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Vive’s headset is huge and bulbous, and it looks like a spider head. It fits comfortably, even over my glasses, though sometimes the lenses fog up. Thick straps stretch over my head and are held in place via velcro, like a bathing cap. Cables run down my back: a thick tether of three cords that plug into a breakaway box. A headphone jack dangles in the back, where you can connect your own headphones or use the buds that come included. The Vive’s tether is very, very long: about 15 feet (4.5 meters). You’re meant to wander in it.

It tangles around my shoes as I walk across my office.

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The Vive’s controller-wands are very good, and a little oddly shaped. A ring-shaped disc of plastic at the top, a hand grip, several front and side buttons, a trigger and a large concave clickable disc that’s like a giant trackpad. They have haptic vibrations and rechargeable batteries.

Gripping the wands and pulling the triggers, it starts to feel like I’m grabbing things and picking them up. I can see the controllers in VR, and they transform. In painting apps like Google’s Tilt Brush, they become spinning palettes and brushes. In the game Job Simulator, they become disembodied white-glove cartoon hands. In plenty of other games, they become weapons.

The Vive’s neatest trick is its room-sensing magic, which happens via the two light boxes I mentioned above, which connect to AC plugs, but not to your computer. They emit light to help position your head, hands and feet properly.

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Room-scale VR, and the cage of reality

Vive can work while standing still or sitting as with the Oculus Rift, if you wish, but the Vive can also expand out to allow full-room VR. And hey, “room-scale” VR is why you’d want to buy the HTC Vive in the first place. But you’ll need at least 6.5 by 5 feet (2 by 1.5 meters) of space to work with, up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) diagonally between the light boxes…which need to be set up in line of sight from each other, preferably high in the air. I ended up using camera tripods, or balancing them carefully on bookshelves and stacks of boxes.

Setting all this up feels like specialists’ work. Sometimes it feels like fetish gear. It’s definitely not for those who find an Xbox Kinect intimidating. At least the Vive has easy-to-follow instructions. I downloaded software, wired my boxes, calibrated my floor, and attached my headset in half an hour.

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I’m going to the length of describing this because you should know that, if you want something easy, don’t get the Vive. This is enthusiast-level VR, trading out simplicity for bleeding-edge quality.

Once the Vive scans my room and I put the headset on, I’m in a Valve-created tutorial that guides me through the boundaries of my new space. A white floor spreads around me. A broken TV buzzes in the corner. I look down and can see the Vive controllers floating in front of me.

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A robotic eye floats around, telling me to press the buttons on my controllers. I blow up balloon animals, shoot lasers. I walk to the edges of my world, and when I reach the walls, a grid of glowing blue lines appears. That’s how you know you’ve reached the edge of your (real) world.

Every step I take in the real world becomes a step in my virtual one. I’m on a mountain top in Valve’s free collection of mini-games, The Lab, tossing sticks to a robot dog. I step toward the ledge. But before I get there, glowing blue lines appear. My reality cage. I want to go further, but if I did I’d hit my invisible but very real closet door. Most games have ways of “teleporting” around by aiming a controller and zapping through space, but it’s not the same as taking real footsteps.

The bigger you can make your virtual room, the better. The minimum space for room-scale VR, which my home office is by just a hair, is passable but cramped. In the real world it looks like a lot, maybe, but in VR it feels like a tiny shark cage limiting your freedom. Expand out, like I did in a larger space at work, and you start to forget the walls are there. Suddenly I was walking across the ocean floor, aiming my flashlight at fish, and I felt scared. I walked through an amazing graphic recreation of a real-world church in the app Realities.io and started to feel like I could breathe the musty air. The sense of distance becomes vast.

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Chaperone: Your seeing eye

Does wandering a room with an opaque headset blinding you to the real world make you nervous? The Vive helmet has its own camera to help me see, and it activates whenever I get near a boundary of the virtual box I’ve painted. Suddenly I can see furniture, and outlines of my computer, my desk, my hands and feet, in an X-ray-vision type of heat map.

But Vive can’t sense furniture that might be in my way, or pets, or kids. And if I turn off Chaperone, which I can, I’m blind again. If I near a glowing grid-wall, I don’t really know which wall that is in my real world. If I punch out with my controller, will I accidentally punch a wall? I almost punched my TV when I drew my home boundary space a bit too close to my desk.

Chaperone is, however, what virtual reality needs once you can go wandering: it’s the first attempt at an eye to keep watch on the real world.

Glitches in the matrix

Getting my space set up right wasn’t always easy, and sometimes in VR I’d find a controller wandering off, slipping from its tracking.

I found that, once in awhile, one of the wireless controllers or one of the two light boxes popped in and out of sensor range, throwing some games off a bit. Occasionally, the floor seemed like it was over my head. (I had to re-launch the room setup and walk through the steps again.)

Maybe this is Day Zero jitters. Mostly, the Vive feels incredible, lag-free, vivid, seamless. But small tracking errors or hiccups, or a moment where a light box loses its connection — even briefly — can ruin the illusion or create a lot of disorientation. Things corrected themselves. I just want to give you a heads-up that with this many pieces, Vive feels like what it is: astounding but still early hardware.

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Steam VR, and what’s to come

There are already over 100 experiences and games for Vive, and I played as many as I could during the last week. Some are spectacular efforts, like the ultrarealistic Cloudlands VR Minigolf. Others feel like extended demos, like the cool-looking undersea experience TheBlu. Some are a little awkward. Other games on SteamVR don’t even work with the included Vive controllers: they require a game controller (I plugged in one from an Xbox One) or mouse and keyboard. Some work on both Vive and Oculus Rift.

That’s what’s so fascinating about Valve’s approach to VR and its app store: It’s open, and not necessarily specific to the Vive hardware. Unlike Oculus, which has a dedicated app store all its own, it doesn’t feel like SteamVR is all about serving my Vive VR experience. Because it’s not. You might like that, or hate it.

Most of what Vive does involves games, but there are already full-scale painting (Tilt Brush) and sculpting (SculptrVR) apps. There’s an interactive documentary on Apollo 11. Give anyone these apps and they’re astounded.

I let my 7-and-a-half-year-old try Vive, with my supervision. I gave him SculptVR. He suddenly became absorbed in building his own art. He understood the controls, the virtual space. He leaned down to work on a fine detail. It just works.

This is what’s amazing about VR.
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Your holodeck awaits

I got used to setting up VR, and to the equipment. It started to melt away. Then, I fell in love with the experiences.

Maybe you don’t want to invest in all this equipment right now. I don’t blame you. There’s always nearly free Google Cardboard and very cheap Samsung Gear VR, something simple for your phone. You can take baby steps.

But this is a completely different level. To have this technology in my home, right now, is the stuff of science fiction; pure magic. Magic with caveats. This tech will keep evolving, getting wireless and lighter. Vive won’t be the only game in town. But right now, it’s your best ticket to the holodeck — if you want a holodeck. It’s got all the pieces, if you can live with the wires and the high-end PC.

If you want the very best VR, the Vive offers motion controllers and an entire room-tracking system in a package the Oculus Rift can’t match. Yet. But you trade convenience and compactness for a stellar room-scale VR experience, if you have the room for it.

I don’t know if I’d want all this tech in my life right now if I wasn’t reviewing it. It’s complex, bulky, full of wires and parts to sync. But I’d want to be near it. Very near it. And I can’t wait to see the apps and games that come next.

Incredible things are on their way.

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Virtual Reality

So what is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that lets you experience a different reality. A VR headset fits around your head and over your eyes, and visually separates you from whatever space you’re physically occupying. Images are fed to your eyes from two small lenses. Through VR you can virtually hike the Grand Canyon, tour the Louvre, experience a movie as if you are part of it, and immerse yourself in a video game without leaving your couch.

Your five best options for VR

VR comes in a few different forms. There’s the cheap headset that works with your phone and there’s the much more expensive option that requires a powerful PC or gaming console and some space to move around. Whichever path you choose, here are your best options.

Google Cardboard

The easiest and cheapest way to try virtual reality, Google Cardboard is just a piece of folded cardboard with some cheap embedded lenses. When you stick your phone inside and press it up to your face, you can feel like you’re in another world.

Samsung Gear VR

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The best smartphone-based VR headset (for now), Samsung’s Gear VR costs just $99 (£80, AU$159) — assuming you already have a recent Samsung phone. It has more sophisticated sensors than Google Cardboard and is relatively comfortable to wear. Plus it’s got a decent library of purpose-built apps and games.

Oculus Rift

The $599 Oculus Rift (£499, AU$649) is far more immersive than strapping a phone to your face. It tracks your head in all directions, so you can lean in and get right up close to virtual objects. The catch: It requires a powerful gaming PC to generate its graphics, along with a tether leading up to your head.

HTC Vive

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The ultimate VR experience — for now — the $799 (£689) HTC Vive lets you reach out and grab objects in virtual reality, and even walk around a room. Again, you are tethered to a powerful gaming PC, plus you need to clear your living-room-furniture and plug in loads of cables to fulfill your holodeck dreams.

Sony PlayStation VR

The affordable alternative to an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the $399 Sony PlayStation VR (£349, AU$550) will let you grab things in VR without requiring a pricy gaming PC as intermediary. Instead, it works with the PlayStation 4 console that you might already own. Just know you’ll need to add controllers, and you shouldn’t expect the graphics to be quite as good as those of the Oculus or Vive.

Here are the ways you’ll be able to use VR

Virtual reality isn’t just a viewmaster for your video games. It’s an entirely new medium whose true purpose is slowly being realized. Here are a few of the ways VR will be used over the next few years.

Entertainment

From films made by Hollywood to live-streamed concerts and theatrical experiences, VR has become a place to view videos that surround you. New cameras are being created to capture these VR stories, and tools to upload and livestream them are growing in number. Soon, these experiences might not even seem like films at all.

Artistry & design

Imagine building a real home with virtual tools, or designing parts for a new car as if it already existed in the real world. Imagine painting a 3D masterpiece while collaborating with friends around the globe. Apps and wand-like controllers are already making VR an amazing playground. Soon enough, these tools could become indispensable for a new generation of 3D design.

Gaming

Obviously, video games are one of the main applications for virtual reality as of today. But VR will give game designers the freedom to take games to incredible new places. They can also find new audiences now that players can just reach out and touch things, and turn their head to look, instead of mastering a complex controller covered with joysticks and buttons. (You can visit How to build a VR-ready PC Post)

Education & simulation

Medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy: VR can model the world in an incredibly visual way. And, it can also allow those worlds to be expanded and shrunk, played with and entered. Students could take a class trip to ancient Egypt, or try an open-heart surgery without any risks: VR simulations can offer practice runs at techniques, designs and ideas.

Tourism & exploration

Virtual tourism is the next best thing to being there. You could visit Paris, Mars, or the bottom of the ocean. Whether you’re watching a 360-degree video someone shot, or a computationally generated 3D simulation, you can shut out the real world and replace it with your destination of choice. One day, you may be able to explore your own memories as well — imagine recording them with a 360-degree camera, then looking around to see what you missed in the moment.

Psychology & meditation

VR can become a private space for your mind — a place to relax and think. Or it can be a place to explore something uncomfortable in a protective simulation. Virtual worlds can be very removed from the real world, or be labs to explore human behavior. Studies have shown that VR is so distracting, it can be a surprisingly effective painkiller compared with traditional medicine.

Real estate & shopping

Imagine being able to tour a prospective home from miles away, walking right through the property as if you were there. Imagine placing life-size models of your own furniture into that house, to see if they fit. Now imagine walking into a virtual clothing store with infinite shelf space, where you can see and try any shirt, blouse or pair of shoes on sale. Shopping will never be the same.

Social & telepresence

Just because you’re inside a headset doesn’t mean you’re alone. You could jump into a video game avatar to chat and play, or commute to work by inhabiting a telepresence robot with cameras mounted on its body. Can we connect and meaningfully communicate across distances that way? It’s not clear, but developers are already experimenting with the possibilities.

Google Territory

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2016 was a big year for VR, and it’s about to get bigger. Google will be launching its Daydream VR platform in a matter of weeks, Bloomberg reports.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is said to be investing big money on content for the platform. Much of this is going toward development of video games and apps, licensing sports leagues and shooting 360-degree videos, many of which include YouTube stars, according to the publication.

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Daydream is being built into the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system, which launched this week. It said back in May that Samsung, HTC, ZTE, Huawei, Xiaomi, Alcatel, Asus and LG had agreed to make “Daydream ready” smartphones.

The idea of the platform is to be the Android of VR. Google will provide a VR platform for other companies to build hardware around, like how it provides an operating system, Android, for companies like Samsung and HTC to build smartphones around.

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However, we’ve not yet seen any headsets designed specifically for the platform.

Google was contacted for comment but did not immediately respond.

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