Review: Samsung’s Gear VR Shows the Promise of VR

Samsung [made] history of a sort by launching the first major consumer-oriented virtual-reality headset. (It comes with an asterisk; prototypes and other not-quite-mass-market versions have been available for a while.) And its Gear VR headset is pretty impressive as first-generation devices go.

The biggest surprise after using the new Gear VR for a few days: There's a lot of stuff to watch and play in the virtual worlds the headset opens up. Granted, some of that material is gimmicky or amateurish. But the best of it hints at some of the mind-expanding experiences VR can make possible.

The Gear VR is relatively cheap, too, at just $100. You do need your own headphones, preferably wireless, plus a recent Samsung phone -- the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus or Note 5. If you don't already have one, the package could set you back nearly $1,000. (Other VR systems will also need companion devices, such as high-end personal computers.)

Samsung developed the Gear VR with the virtual-reality startup Oculus (now part of Facebook). It supplants the $200 "innovator edition" Samsung has sold for a year. That earlier prototype was mainly intended to build enthusiasm for VR and to help developers start producing games and apps for it. Samsung bills the new model as its first consumer VR product, although it still requires some savvy on the consumer's part to use.

About the Device

Your phone attaches to the front of the Gear VR headset, just in front of the lens for your eyes. Put the headset on, and your surroundings disappear as the phone screen opens a window into an unreal, three-dimensional world. As you turn your head, the image shifts accordingly to give the sense of being there in real life. You can even turn all the way around to see what's behind you....

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