I’ve always thought virtual reality is something for teenage boys, and gamers. The appeal to a middle aged woman like me has been limited up to now. But thanks to Samsung, I’m starting to see the promise of virtual reality and how it can be expanded from gaming to real life applications.
Coldplay concert in virtual reality
I had a chance this week to attend a concert in Chicago, but I never left my house. I got to watch it with a glass of my favourite wine, on my favourite chair, and with no pushing, shoving crowds.
Coldplay’s show at Soldier Field in Chicago Thursday August 17th, was being broadcast in VR and I got to watch it live via Samsung’s virtual reality hook up.
How to watch virtual reality concerts
How can you do the same? You’ll need a virtual reality headset — in my case the Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus, and a Samsung smartphone; I have the Samsung Galaxy S8+. Because this was a Samsung special event, that meant it was only available to Samsung technology owners (sorry dedicated Oculus customers).
Samsung’s Gear VR headset (about $149CAD) uses a Samsung Smartphone like my Galaxy S8+ (phones between 5.1″ to 6.2” will fit this headset) as well as a special app to generate the video experience. The phone connects to a small clip in the front of the headset and snaps into place horizontally. It then automatically accesses the VR app, and transports you into the virtual reality world. The headset is powered by the phone’s battery, but there’s also an option to connect a power cable to the headset for long sessions.
Samsung Gear VR headset
The Gear VR headset uses Oculus VR technology, one of the pioneers in this space. The headset has 2560 x 1440 resolution, a 101 degree field of view, and a 60Hz refresh rate. You can adjust the focus of the image using a small focus wheel on the top brow of the goggles.
I did experience a few instances where the connection appeared to get hung up and I had to exit the concert and re-enter it to get things started again. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Getting to the concert was easy. I put on my headset 15 minutes prior to showtime and headed to the Samsung VR lounge, a virtual waiting room. Once there I could see the countdown clock to showtime.
Not surprisingly, the band was late.
I amused myself looking at nature videos, riding a virtual roller coaster and nearly wet myself doing a VR skydive. I was also able to look around at the crowd; the woman constantly texting on her phone, the couple taking selfies, and people mainly wandering around aimlessly waiting for the show to start.
I kept taking the headset off and putting it back on to check if the show had begun, but eventually, about 45 minutes after scheduled start time, the band took the stage.
With headphones plugged in for maximum sound quality (otherwise the sound comes out through your phone’s tiny speaker) and goggles firmly in place I kicked back and watched.
Video quality/VR concert experience
Since this was my first true VR experience, and definitely my first concert in VR I have nothing to compare it to. The video quality was pretty good overall, though it is possible to see tiny pixels making up the picture.
I wish there was a good way for me to show you what I could see. I tried taking some photos and video of the inside of the goggles, but every time I removed the headset, the feed shut off. Sadly, I couldn’t get a camera lens inside the headset while I was wearing it. Boo. I’ll have to see how VR experts can share what they’re seeing for next time.
The 360 degree view is pretty cool. Moving your head around let you see all over the venue, and since it’s a live feed it’s constantly changing, just like real life.
I’d call the video slightly blurry, particularly long distance shots. The edges of humans in the video weren’t solid and it’s almost like the concert had a certain dreamlike quality to it. I’d say that it didn’t look like I was right there, but more like I was watching via someone else’s smartphone feed, if that makes sense.
I noticed very little ghosting, or motion blur in the picture. The 60hz refresh rate is good (the same as Apple TV or Google Chromecast devices, for example), but I imagine a combination of Wi-Fi lag, and the fact this was playing out over a smartphone contributed to it being just slightly less than crisp.
The sound quality was true to the outdoor concert experience. It sounded realistic for the venue and not overly produced or enhanced.
Overall thoughts on Samsung virtual reality Gear VR
Overall it was a pretty fun experience being able to attend a huge event so far away, and to share that collective experience. It’s making me re-think my stance on VR as a gamer’s domain.
I’m sure the quality of video will continue to improve, but even with what this video was lacking in absolute crispness and clarity, it made up for in overall experience. The drain on the battery didn’t seem excessive. I watched about an hour of the show and my phone battery still had juice in it when I powered off. I can see though that hours of use would be a significant drain. I popped on the headset the next day for a quick tour and after about 5 minutes of video watching my phone (with about 36% battery) died.
Attending concerts is a great use of this technology, as is taking virtual tours of museums or galleries, lavish tropical resorts, or using VR to house hunt in a distant city. While you can spend a lot of money on a dedicated VR set up, I think the option of using the Samsung smartphone you may already have and just adding a headset to it is smart and lets more people access this technology.