The Samsung Gear VR is an excellent way for Galaxy phone owners to get a comparatively cheap dose of virtual reality. It offers a decent visual experience, good immersion, is comfortable and looks futuristic and sort of sexy. Add in the new Gear 360 camera and you have your own little VR movie shootng and viewing suite.
LG's 360 VR is the brand behind the excellent G5's stab at a rival product. It appears to be a drastic misfire that fails to match the strengths of Samsung's effort.
We got hands on with 360 VR at MWC so let's accept that testing conditions weren't ideal. The lights are bright, people are jostling around you, and LG had afixed the device to a desk by a weirdly short cable.
All that being said, I'm used to trying things out under such arduous circumstances and even making allowances for them, 360 VR appears to be really poor. In fact I'd go as far as to say that it's as bad a product as I've seen from a major manufacturer, for quite some time.
In a way, as a reviewer, this is almost a good thing. We get so used to big-name tech products being reliably good-to-excellent that it can all start to feel a bit bland. By being ugly, ill-conceived and… just - what can I say? - a bit cack, 360 VR could almost be seen as edgy and out there. Almost.
Light on weight… and appeal
Specs-wise, what we know (which isn't much, admittedly) is quite impressive, and you can see what LG is trying to do, here. Rather than holding your phone over your eyes and using that as a screen, you plug in your LG G5 via USB-C and it does the processing, as with the Gear VR, but pings the visuals to screens in the headset.
This gives a 639ppi image that "simulates a 130-inch HD TV viewed from two metres away." WTF? As it's almost impossible to imagine what that might look like, I tried the headset on. You put it on just like a pair of glasses. Really ugly, uncomfortable, poorly made glasses.
Now first up, because it's not got the weight of your spanking new LG G5 afixed to your eyes, 360 VR is very light - just 118g, apparently. So that's a good start. In fact, I think LG has gone all out to make this as light and portable as possible, which, as Goblin VR shows, is no bad thing. These buttons are nice, too. Note that OK is concave and escape is convex.
However, that aside, this just thing feels cheap and awful, and it really struggles to block out light. It's very hard to use with your own glasses, as well, unlike Gear VR.
As a result, the viewable image appears washed out, has a poor field of view, and even seemed to lack resolution on the MWC demos.
It's also ugly both as a device - what is going on with that NHS hearing aid plastic? - and as a wearable. Yeah, I know you can't see what you look like when it's on, but you really don't want to. Just look at that face!
Worse than reality
Another issue with the 360 VR at MWC was that the demos on offer were not stellar, by any stretch of the imagination. A basic flight sim made use of the fact that, because your phone is in your hands and not on your face, you can use it as a controller. However, not only was it uninspiring as a game, it also made it abundantly clear that a controller that you cannot see, and which has no buttons on it, is not actually all that awesome a controller.
Other demos included your usual mountain top vistas and rollercoasters, and an awkwardly voyeurish experience where you were standing in a room with a load of teenage South Korean boys. I assume they were some sort of top-end, K-pop superstars, but the experience was a bit lost on me.
None of the demos were inspiring, none felt immersive - which is possibly why LG is comparing 360 VR to a massive telly, a few metres away, rather than a truly altered reality - and all suffered from the same washed-out visuals. And then the nose pads fell off the glasses.
T3 Early Verdict
I'm generally pretty blasé about VR at this point, but I'd tried HTC Vive the day before and was genuinely blown away.
Samsung's Gear VR at least makes a concerted effort to be as near to that kind of experience as is practical with the reduced processing, graphical and optical powers at its disposal.
LG's 360, by contrast, doesn't appear to even be trying. Comparing it to Oculus Rift or Vive is like comparing taking off in a space ship to sitting in a chair while someone gooes "Whoosh" really loudly in your ear whilst flapping a blue curtain in front of you. It's ugly, no fun to use, and is compatible with even fewer phones than Gear - the grand total of one so far, although the USB-C connection might eventually give it wider compatibility.
LG also had its equivalent of the Gear 360 camera at MWC, logically-but-nonetheless-confusingly called LG 360 Camera. Again, it seems lighter and simpler to use than Samsung's equivalent, not that Gear 360 is complex or hefty. However, it lacks a tripod mount and shoots in a much lower, 2K resolution, suggesting it's essentially for taking 360-degree selfies.
No pricing info is available at present but I have to assume these products will be at much less of a premium than Samsung's. And the reason I'm have to assume that is because, from what I've seen, LG would be literally taking the mick if they weren't notably cheaper.
T3.com Hands On Reviews are based on our first impressions after having used the tech in question for a short period of time. A full review will follow soon.