I am fifty feet below the surface, miles and miles and miles of water beneath me. When I look down, my stomach drops, but returning my eyes to the light at the surface reminds me that I'm relatively safe. The only sounds I hear are the sudden rushes of air moving from my oxygen tank to my lungs and the bubbles I create with my exhale. Something large is in the distance and it is moving towards me as small schools of colorful fish swim back and forth and around me. But I am not in the ocean. I am far from it. In fact, I’m in a desert at Samsung’s exhibit in Las Vegas at the CTIA conference wearing the new Samsung Gear VR.
Waiting in line was the only unenjoyable part of the experience. I couldn’t understand how the headset could possibly keep people entertained for 15 minutes at a time. The demo wasn't showing movies or letting you play video games. I mean, honestly, it’s just a screen with a few images, right?
Oh, but it’s so much more than that. After slipping the headset on (functionally looking like a robot, I’m sure), the exhibitor showed me how to use the basic controls mounted on the headset to manage focus, sound, image, and so much more without ever having to touch a separate control. The first scene I demoed landed me, as previously mentioned, in the middle of an ocean. An enormous humpback whale swam straight toward me, veering to my left at the last minute. I watched its tail pass me, and wanting to see the whale’s head again, I turned my head as naturally as I would if I were physically there and I watched as the tail, then body, then head reappeared in my line of sight. I had a full 360° view of the ocean, whether looking up, down, left, right, behind, or ahead. I was so caught up in the ocean virtual-reality that I never made it to any of the other scenes (remember that whole “what is taking these people 15 minutes?!” thing?), but the capabilities and uses for the Gear VR span widely. It’s easy to use, lightweight, and doesn’t require a cord connection, making it an incredibly mobile experience. You can watch a movie on the moon, explore a city from a hotel rooftop, become the character in a video game, or experience a live concert.
Despite a few technical glitches, Samsung’s Gear VR is a robust, interactive, smart piece of technology that will easily rival its competitors. And yes, I would like to watch my next movie on the moon.