Newport, KY Aquarium in 360 Degrees

In celebrating 20 years since their grand opening, this video showcases some of the most attractive exhibits of the Newport Aquarium in 360 degrees. This gives viewers an idea of what they might see upon visiting while also telling the story of how the exhibits and creatures that inhabit them have changed over the years.

The Newport Aquarium is an aquarium located in Newport, Kentucky; it showcases thousands of animals from around the world in roughly 1 million gallons of water. The aquarium has 70 exhibits and 14 galleries, including five seamless acrylic tunnels totaling over 200 feet in length. Newport is home to the world’s first shark ray breeding program and the aquarium is currently in contention for a spot on USA Today’s top 10 aquariums in the nation.

Marshall From Detroit: VR Story Review

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Image from Felix and Paul Studios

As a longtime fan of the Rap music genre, I decided to take a look at a VR documentary on world-renowned rapper Marshall Mathers, professionally known as Eminem. Eminem is a multiple time Grammy Award-winning artist and one of music’s most influential and prolific individuals; according to Rolling Stone, he’s even regarded as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time.

Image result for felix and paul
Image from Felix and Paul Studios

This piece was curated by the great minds of Felix & Paul Studios. Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël are filmmakers and visual artist. Before teaming up, Felix worked as a director of film, commercials, and immersive-video installations where Paul’s passions lied with cinematic storytelling, visual effects, and technology; together they’ve developed multiple award-winning stereoscopic 3-D films and large-scale multimedia installations. The pair collaborated with film editor and director Caleb Swain to help bring Eminem’s story to life.

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Image from Flickr

Marshall from Detroit is a full 21-minute VR experience. The short film originally premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibition but shortly after became available on Oculus platforms. This experience takes the viewer on a winter’s night ride around Detroit alongside Eminem and journalist/interviewer Sway Calloway. Throughout the ride, you are taken to scenes whithin the city while Sway and Em discucuss significant events and changes to eminem and Detroit as time has gone by.

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Image from VRScout

If you take this documentary at face value, you see the biggest appeal with this story being the chance to feel as though you are in a car with Eminem; you’d be pleasantly surprised to find out that the details of this story go beyond a one-dimensional immersive experience.

The story uses the same narrative structure throughout. Sway is asking Eminem a series of interview questions about Detroit and about Eminem’s life as they cruise through the streets of Detroit. As the viewer, you are provided shots within and on top of the vehicle, and a select few special scenes that truly need to be witnessed within VR to be fully appreciated. One element of production that adds to the immersive feel is the use of 3D audio. When you turn your head in the car to look out the window you hear Eminem talking beside you; when you turn to look directly at him or Sway it feels like you personally are right back in the conversation.

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Image from VRFocus
Image from VRFocus

The most compelling thing about this documentary was not any particular segment, but just how well the entire project was put together. Video quality is stellar; it really feels like the subjects are in the room with you with details being as sharp as can be for consumer VR. The story was not only appropriate for VR, but it became exposed as a story that needed VR to best be told. Seeing the scenery of Detroit coupled with the accompanying sounds make the viewer feel like they are more so a part of the story than being told one. The emotional impact of Eminem’s responses was enhanced by the images and sounds provided along with them. The flow was heavily driven by both the location and the story which is something that all experiences strive for but don’t always achieve. In conclusion, I have to recommend this film for reasons that go beyond the story itself. The use of VR techniques alone and the premium storytelling elements make this a worthwhile time investment. This serves as a great example of a VR story done well.

Samsung Gear VR (2018 Model): The Optimal Phone/VR Experience

Gear VR (SM-R325NZVAXAR) & Controller next to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 & S-Pen. (image retrieved from Samsung.com)

Since November of 2015, Samsung has released a plethora of mobile flagships all increasingly more advanced than the previous iteration. Consequently, Samsung’s mobile VR experience has gone through an overhaul with its latest model of the Gear VR, including plenty of new hardware & software features worth mentioning. Even though not much has changed from the original design, the Gear VR still remains (in my opinion) the best mobile VR experience even almost 4 years following its first release. Here’s a look at the latest version of the Gear VR and why you, as a potential Galaxy phone owner, should look no further in the world of mobile VR.

Unbox Therapy revieing the Gear VR (retrieved from youtube.com)

Availability/Compatibility

The first thing to note is that the Gear VR is in fact only compatible with a select few Samsung mobile devices; that being said, this allows for Samsung to deliver the most value at a more than reasonable price point considering other competing VR products. If you are currently the owner of a compatible Samsung device, I suggest heading to Amazon.com since they generally offer the most competitive pricing for a brand new headset (although Best Buy and Samsung both sell the headset online for its suggested retail of $129.99).

What does it do?

The Gear VR does as advertised; it provides a premium VR experience at a low price point. Being able to utilize software developed by Oculus as well as the processing power and screen resolution of a flagship Samsung mobile device is a recipe for a desirable VR experience.

This is a depiction of the home menu inside the Oculus software on the Gear VR (image retrieved from uploadvr.com)

The Oculus software acts as somewhat of a main hub where you access all of your VR apps, games, etc. The hub emulates a well designed artistic living space with real looking 3D images of books, chairs, trees, and other homey objects. Within this hub, you can download more apps to feed your interests, but you are also given a bunch of options to adjust your complete VR experience. You can interact with images on screen by swiping and clicking on the headset itself or by connecting the included Bluetooth remote which has both swipe navigation and a point and click option

One seemingly needless feature that I for some reason love is the passthrough camera built into the menu. This toggle allows you to see what is in front of your using your phone’s camera to project images in the menu screen.

This is a demo of the passthrough camera on the Gear VR. Here you see what the subject sees when looking through the lenses of the headset while using the passthrough camera feature. (CLICK HERE for the full demonstration video).

Pros: The King of Features

Samsung is notorious for creating feature-packed devices that leave nothing else to be desired when stacked against the competition. As previously mentioned, the Gear VR is the best budget option for someone interested in a premium feeling headset at a low cost, but why is this the case? Let’s give you an idea by going over some of the features that separate it from the crowd.

  • Dedicated Software developed by from a notable VR technology company, Oculus.
  • Foam cushioning that molds to users face and adjustable elastic strap both designed for a snug fit and maximum comfort
  • Advanced controller included in the box
  • Navigation and operational controls located on both the headset itself and the included controller
  • Gyro/Proximity Sensors

Unlike most mobile VR headsets, the Gear VR comes equipped with several buttons and toggles that allow you to navigate and interact within your VR experience. The Gear VR controller adds a completely different level of interaction that simply doesn’t exist with low end alternatives. Although looks and comfort are subjective, it’s fair to say that Samsung pours considerable effort into these aspects of the design as well.

(Retrieved fromstatic1.i4u.com)

Cons

The Gear VR is an astounding device but it is not without its faults. One of my biggest issues with using this headset is simply connecting my phone. Considering that this headset requires you to remove any type of casing you might have on your phone I would expect it to attach to the headset seamlessly, but that is almost never the case for me. I have a glass screen protector on my phone which slightly alters the width of the device, but despite this, there is actually plenty of space for the phone to fit as needed; unfortunately, it just isn’t easy to get the phone into that perfect spot where the additional width is no longer a factor. I tested this headset with a completely naked Galaxy S7 edge and seemed to have consistently better results docking the device; this suggests that either larger devices are more difficult to dock or that having additional accessories makes it hard to achieve the proper fit.

(retrieved fromvrheads.com)

Another thing that’s very important about the Gear VR is that you will get a vastly different experience depending on the mobile device you are using. You will generally only see shocking differences between some of the newest and oldest compatible Galaxy phones, but these differences are night and day. For instance, in use with the Galaxy S6 and even S7 Edge I encountered frequent overheating and issues with the phone operating noticeably slow and laggy. No such issues were present on my Note 8, but you’ll want to be aware that older devices may not work quite as well.

Lastly, Samsung does not allow you to disable Oculus when using the Gear VR headset by default. In other words, you cannot use the Gear VR as a standalone headset (i.e. without the Oculus software) unless you install a Package Disabler from the Google Play Store.

(retrieved fromjabil.com)

Closing remarks

In conclusion, whether or not this device is suitable for you is going to depend on how you intend to use your VR headset. If you’re occasionally watching videos in 360 just for fun or for a particular experience, you can get away with most cheap low-end headsets such as Google Cardboard. Alternatively, if you’re looking for an entry model next level headset that gives you premium features at arguably the lowest price point considering the return on investments, I’d say you really can’t go wrong with the Gear VR. The main reasons for this come down to 3 central factors

  1. Proprietary software that is otherwise inaccessible
  2. Advanced and intuitive controller integration
  3. Attention to detail regarding the look and feel of the hardware and software components, especially when compared to competing lower-end products.

These points alone serve to show why the Gear VR is the perfect choice for Galaxy phone users.

Looking for more?

Click here to receive an in-depth unboxing and look at the Gear VR and some of its functions from one of my favorite YouTube techies, TK Bay.

(Please keep in mind that since the time of this video there have been adjustments to the Oculus software, therefore some aspects of the interface may be potentially outdated or simply displayed differently in newer more recent updates).