All About the Samsung Gear VR

Provided You Have a Compatible Phone, This Gadget Delivers VR on the Cheap.

Samsung

If you've turned on the TV lately, you may have seen LeBron James lip-syncing in a commercial for Samsung's virtual reality headset, the Gear VR. With so many other worthwhile tech products on the market — even plenty others in the virtual-reality space — no one could blame you if you draw a blank when it comes to this product. Still, considering that, at $100, this device is one of the most affordable VR headsets on the market, it's worth taking a quick look at what it does.

Gear VR: The Basics

If you have a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6+ edge, Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S6 edge smartphone, the concept is pretty simple: Insert your handset into the dock of the Gear VR, and you can enjoy games and content before your eyes. Unlike other non-phone based virtual-reality devices like the Oculus Rift, the Samsung Gear VR doesn't connect to a PC, so you can enjoy a completely wireless experience. (This is definitely a plus considering you won't be able to see the real world around you when you're wearing the Gear VR, but it still might be smart to sit down when you first you use it.) The downside to this device compared to other more robust, more expensive VR gadgets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (neither of which is commercially available for consumers, not developers) is that the visuals aren't as lifelike. But for just $100, that's what you get.

Applications

So far, the main use case for the Samsung Gear VR is gaming.

Once you have your compatible Samsung phone docked into the device, an Oculus app will load and display a variety of game and content options. You can buy a gamepad separately to improve the gaming experience, and a headset is also key to making the environment seem more enveloping.

You can also watch content such as movies with the Gear VR.

Samsung recently released a short film with LeBron called "Striving for Greatness," for example. You can even watch Netflix on the Gear VR, with an app that puts a virtual living room and a huge virtual TV before your eyes.

The Bottom Line

Given the fact that you need one of just a handful of smartphones (all Samsung, of course) and that the experience isn't as refined as what's available from more expensive heavy-duty hardware, the Samsung Gear VR is more or less what you'd call an ​early adopter device. If you like gaming and are intrigued by the notion of experiencing 360-degree worlds simply by strapping on a headset, this could be worth the $100. 

As CES, the international Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, approaches, Samsung has been dropping hints about its exhibits at the show. Among them is a concept for a hands-free controller called rink, which works with the Gear VR to let users interact with the virtual world before their eyes. Though the company emphasized that this is merely a concept, it's evidence that the Gear VR device is still top of mind, and there's hope that the interface and the technology could improve significantly in 2016 and years to come.