The Samsung Gear VR is a groovy little way to turn your compatible Galaxy smartphone into a very creditable VR headset. Now, the Gear 360 turns it into a full-on VR movie production studio.
As such, it's a niche accessory for a niche accessory (admittedly Samsung Galaxy owners constitute a fairly sizeable niche), but from what we've seen of it at MWC 2016, the Gear 360 might be worth a look. Or at least it is, if you happen to have a spare $400 sloshing around - UK pricing is TBC but you KNOW it'll be about 350 quid.
The Gear 360 is essentially a sphere housing two cameras with fish-eye lenses, facing in opposite directions, shooting to a single image sensor that knits together 360-degree, 3840x1920 videos and 30-megapixel stills, suitable for viewing on a VR headset.
Easy to shoot
As you can see, the experience of being filmed by the Gear 360 has caused this woman to become paralysed with shock, but as you can also see from the onscreen playback, in strong light conditions it shoots very good footage. The lenses are f2, which helps give brighter footage.
Filming is no more complex than with any camera app, and you can easily do basic editing of your footage once you're done.
Admittedly, the fact that the lenses are also fish-eye, to give an extra wide field of view, means you do get that familiar fish-eye distortion. This can be summed up as, "Oooh, small and far away… Oh! Now near, and big!"
However, this doesn't seem to present much of a problem with subjects that are more than a metre or so from the camera. The other approach would be to add a third or even fourth camera to the Gear 360, which would push up the already high price even further.
Incidentally, although the Gear 360 comes with this, basic tripod attached, it screws out so you can fit it to any standard camera mount, be that a tripod, handlebar- or helmet-cam.
It's also splash and dust resistant to a certified, IP53 standard.
Easy to watch
Once you've shot your extreme sports video/hip-hop promo/footage of your family having a row over breakfast, you can upload it to Samsung's own VR channel, or Youtube, or view it on your Galaxy phone, moving the image around with a touchscreen swipe.
The real fun, obviously, is when you bring in the Gear VR headset and watch your creations as virtual reality movies or stills. The latter gives a rather more weird, bullet-time/druggy effect, with the fish-eye lens distortion being more noticeable. It's a bit like a scene from a David Lynch film, when something extra odd or horrid is happening. With video, the fact that everything's moving makes the effect less jarring.
From what we saw at MWC, the results are great: very watchable, detailed, shareable footage. It made us think of these, much more expensively-shot clips, in fact.
T3 Early Verdict
Mmm, strong look.
So, yes, we're dead impressed by Gear 360 as a piece of tech. As a consumer essential? Well… No. Clearly most people won't want to splash 400 bucks to shoot VR footage that not many people (at this time, at any rate) will view.
We do give full marks to Samsung for continuing to push VR in more affordable directions, though.
We can also see this gaining traction with certain groups. Extreme sports enthusiasts, of course. And perhaps helmet-cam-toting urban cyclists will now be sharing footage of their high-tension interactions with burly taxi and van drivers in full, 360-degree VR, which I think we can all agree will be a lot of fun.
Where this might really take off is in the area of low-cost advertising, though. Estate and letting agencies and those renting holiday accomodation already do photos of rooms; now they can give you a full VR tour. That's not very cool, maybe, but it is a genuine, non-gaming use for VR.
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.