I guess I'm what they call an early adopter.
Hard to say if this is due to a serious Fear Of Missing Out, or I just like to have all the toys.
Maybe I figure if I try to keep as up to date with new gadgets as possible, I won't be first against the wall when the robots take over.
But when something is easy to use, is pretty cool and actually works, I feel like I should spread the good word...
With the new edition of the Gear 360, Samsung has finally brought the virtual world to the real world.
Early adopter I may be, but I'm the first to admit Virtual Reality hasn't exactly taken off. I think this is mostly due to the tech industry's run-before-you-can-walk approach. If you've put on a decent VR headset recently, you'll know it's a pretty mind-blowing experience. As fun as it is to float through space, instantly transport yourself to famous landmarks around the world or just blow the heads off a few rampaging zombies, VR still has a couple of massive problems.
ONE: It's not cheap. A quality VR experience really starts with a high-end ($1200+) phone like a Samsung Galaxy S8 or Google Pixel - then you need a decent headset on top of that. If it's just gaming you're after, there's the PS4 option. Again, at least $1300 for the console and VR gear. Those are just your entry-level choices. Oculus is the big name in VR of course. Great headset but you'll need an even greater PC to run it with. Think thousands. And it's not even widely available in New Zealand yet.
PROBLEM TWO: Content. Now Playstation's on board, VR gaming may become more widely accepted. But while TV, film and sports producers keep promising it, the floodgates haven't exactly opened when it comes to putting us virtually inside the action. I thought we were all supposed to be sitting courtside next to Jack Nicholson by now.
Time for us amateurs to take over.
Samsung's 2017 Gear 360 makes producing VR content as easy as pushing the record button. But this year's really significant upgrade is the ability to stream your 360 vids live.
I've been using the original Gear 360 for a while now and I've loved it. Not only has it been easy to use, I've been impressed with the quality produced by it's simple, dual-lens design. As opposed to other clumsy devices with many lenses pointing all over the place, the Gear 360 utilises just two fish-eye cameras and stitches it all together. The resulting pictures and videos aren't perfect, but they're certainly good enough. While you can record directly onto a memory card in the device itself, you can also fire everything off using a compatible Samsung device, saving the recording straight to your phone.
The main downside? Stitching the two feeds together into one 360 image or video takes time - the longer the video, the longer it takes.
The 2017 Gear 360 streamlines the process by allowing live-streaming. This is a game-changer because not only can you now give your Youtube or Facebook followers a live VR experience, the content is instantly accessible the moment you've finished broadcasting. The big practical example I like to use is the idea of an island wedding ceremony; now even people who couldn't make the trip can be sitting in the front row of the service, from anywhere in the world.
Outwardly, the 2017 device itself is quite different to last year's. It's smaller, but now has a handle configuration built in. While this is weighted so it will stand up on it own, a leash accessory is included which attaches by a rubber ring which can be used to provide more stability at the base. The whole thing can screw onto a standard tripod anyway... or a helmet... or handlebars... or whatever.
The key to the latest Gear 360's functionality seems to rely on how good your internet connection is. You can choose to live-stream to Youtube, Facebook or Samsung's own VR page. I tried all three and had most success with Youtube. I don't know why live-streaming is always so complicated, but I found I needed to wait a couple of seconds after the camera told me I was broadcasting to ensure I was definitely online. The same routine applied at the end of each broadcast and even then, sometimes when I went back to view my video, it was only a minute long when it should have been four. Whether this means only one minute actually streamed, I don't know, because I was always at the other end. I experienced these sorts of problems pretty much every time I posted to the Samsung site, fairly often when I posted to Facebook and hardly ever on my Youtube channel. I suspect this is all something to do with available bandwidth rather than anything to do with the camera itself. Roll on 4.5G.
Of course, there's nothing stopping you recording your video onto microSD and posting it later - but that's just so 2016. The only other major fault in the process seems to be a slight audio delay, meaning my motoring mouth doesn't quite match up with my audible utterings. No biggie if you're taking someone to the top of a mountain, or on a mountain bike ride, but a little disconcerting for a talking-head show like glennzb TV. It's a minor bug I'm willing to suffer for the convenience of being able to stream my madness from my studio in 360 degrees.
This is not IMAX cinema, but it's bloody fun, easy to use and for a few hundred bucks it's well worth it.