The Void: Disney Springs Review

For this blog post I have decided to review Disney Spring’s VR experience called The Void. I was recently in Orlando for a job interview and spent some time at Disney Springs. When I saw they had a VR experience, I had to check it out. The Void describe their business as a chance to experience “hyper-reality” a “whole-body fully immersive VR experience.” Tickets for each experience were $29.95 a person and I went in with a team of 3 other people.

What the Void does is blend actual reality with a virtual reality experience. When you walk into the building, you choose what story you want to experience, and an employee escorts you to that part of the building. The best way I could explain what comes next is if you blended laser tag, an escape room, and virtual reality. I chose to experience the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire story. They suited me up with a haptic vest, headset, and a fake blaster and sent me into the experience. This was different than anything I’ve ever remotely experienced in VR. The location you walk into is pretty much a blank environment that mirrors what you’re seeing in your headset. You can reach out and feel the walls, open doors, you can feel wind rushing past you, different temperatures, and even rumbles beneath the floor you’re standing on.

Star Wars: The Secrets of the Empirehttps://youtu.be/KfD28LYYwWM

Since you’re equipped with a haptic suit, you feel like you are truly immersed. In the Star Wars story, you are written into the story as an undercover agent for the Resistance disguised as a storm trooper. There are multiple rumble packs on the chest that vibrate when you’re being shot at or get pushed. The blaster I was given worked pretty much like a controller where I could pull a trigger and shoot down enemies as I made my way through the story. The headset can track your movement throughout the environment through motion sensors on the front of the eye piece. It can even see your hands and track where you place them in the area around you.

The headset itself is a modified version of the Oculus Rift. This is the starter they use for all of their headsets. However, these are customized for The Void and include the extra advancements that go along with what is needed to connect the environment to the scenes in the virtual world. 

Wired Review of The Void:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUs5qi_RFnM

This is where I see the future of VR being really successful. The Void is a third party that has partnered with Disney in both Anaheim and Orlando, but they’re centered outside of Salt Lake City. They also have an insane amount of locations in heavily tourist popular destinations like Santa Monica, Las Vegas, and Toronto. Based on the popularity of escape rooms, I can only see growth for this company as they have the ability to franchise in more and more cities. There is a limited amount of stories you can have in one location and some could consider that a drawback, but I see that as a better business move because as you phase older experiences out and newer experiences in, it brings returning customers back. The experience wasn’t perfect. There were moments where you felt a little like you were walking around blind because you had to find an interactive element in the room, but the headset could always keep you in the general area. Above all, this was something I have never experienced anything like and I’m excited to return again when I live in Orlando this Fall.

Buy tickets here: https://www.disneysprings.com/activities/the-void/

AR Experience

By: Anna McAndrew

Augmented reality (AR) is starting to change the way we are experiencing reality. AR is an interactive experience in a real-world environment. It allows the objects that are in the real-world to be amplified by computer-generated information. It can include visual, auditory, and more.

AR can be used in games and apps. For example, Pokémon Go allows users to use the AR experience. To do this, simply tap the AR toggle at the top right of the screen when you are trying to catch a Pokémon.

https://variety.com/2019/digital/news/usa-today-oscars-ar-experience-1203141590/

Not only is AR popular in gaming, it is starting to become popular in Hollywood with films and costumes specifically. USA Today announced that they were getting ready for the academy awards with AR. They did this by targeting costume designers of Oscar nominated films. The AR experience was available last month on the USA Today app. It allowed viewers with an IPhone or Android to experience the real-world environment by showing costumes from specific movies. The movies that costumes were shown included, “Mary Poppins Returns,” “The Favorite,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Black Panther.”

“We wanted to give our readers a different feel, a hands-on experience,” said USA Today Life managing editor Alison Maxwell in an interview with Variety. The experience allows readers to explore individual costumes in their own four walls, thanks to mobile AR technology.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vwiPm5RDdQ

One thing that I found interesting when reviewing USA Today’s AR experience was that it was not easy to find. They had directions that were not as clear as they should be. I was told to download the app and find it under the “Life” section. Unfortunately, it was not that simple. I had to click around many times to figure out how to get to the actual AR experience instead of just the written article. USA Today specially said that they wanted the AR experience to be in just one app to make it easier to access. For me, it was closer to being “scattered” than simply opening up the app and finding it.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/pr/2019/02/18/usa-today-launches-first-entertainment-augmented-reality-experience-ahead-oscars/2904442002/

Overall, I felt that the article in Variety by Janiko Roettgers, was a short article that got right to the point of what the experience offered and what it should accomplish. The AR experience offers a different type of storytelling that allows you to interact with these costumes. I believe that the intended audience was for anyone who loves to watch these award winning and nominated movies. It also is targeted to anyone who wants to learn more about what AR can do and experience it for themselves. When going to other articles on this specific AR experience, I felt as if they all offered the same information. The only one that I thought had possibly some more information was in the USA Today article that had all of the same information as Variety but at the end it briefly explained how to get to the AR experience. If I could change one thing with the article it would be to put a link that brings you directly to the AR experience. It was a confusing process to get to the actual spot to view the costumes in AR.

Insta 360 One X Camera Review

When being introduced into the Virtual Reality world, I was able to test many cameras with 360 capabilities. There are many great cameras for VR use in the market such as the Theta and the GoPro. However, the Insta 360 One X has given me the best camera experience for my VR endeavors. This is one of the newest cameras to date that has been released for 360 videos. The camera is made from the company Insta360. There are various styles of the camera such as the normal Insta360, the Nano, NanoS, the Air, and the One. The Insta 360 One X camera is an Action camera. The price runs close to 400 dollars from the site. Although, there are various carriers that sale the camera. The camera is available in many different sites with easy accessibility to purchase.

Insta 360 One X (Click here to view camera)

One major reason as to why this camera has been my favorite is the easy steps for shooting. The camera is very simple and easy to use. The camera includes 2 buttons on the front and a mini screen. These are used to turn on the camera, turn to a specific setting, shoot, and turn off. Compared to other 360 cameras, the settings on the Insta are the easiest to navigate. There is an app called Insta360 One X that you can download to your phone to pair via Bluetooth with the camera. From there, you can begin to shoot your video and watch the footage straight from your phone.

There are many pros to this camera that id like to point out. The first being, the simplicity of the camera. As mentioned earlier, there is not complication with navigating through the settings and trying to shoot. All of the steps are very simple and self explanatory. Another pro for this camera would be the pre stitched footage. With VR, stitching video is one of the most tedious tasks to complete. With the Insta 360, once you upload your footage to a desktop, the footage is already pre stitched. this saves VR filmmakers a tremendous amount of time. Another pro that the Insta 360 One X has is its bullet time feature. This camera is able to take literally bullet time shots by swinging the camera around a space. Click here to watch an impressive bullet time video with the Insta 360 One X camera. You’re able to actually slow this footage down while editing in the app. The App for Insta 360 has pretty incredible features such as editing tools to put your video in black and white a many other filters.

As for now, it has been hard for me to find cons for this camera. As time goes on and more consumers use the Insta 360, complications may arise. However, for now this camera is some of the upmost highest in VR technology.

This camera could be applied in many VR storytelling videos. The stabilization for the camera is very high quality, so to use this camera for biking, skiing, or any other footage that will be constantly moving would be perfect.

Story Review: How Finland stores Nuclear Waste.

This story was located on Euronews and is presented to us by IImari Huttu-Hiltunen. The story’s headliner is “how does Finland handle radioactive waste? By burying it”. The story takes places 450 meters down in Finnish bedrock. This is the location where Finland dumps its nuclear waste from the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power plant. Down here in the winding Onkalo Tunnel the Finnish have taken to relying on the bedrock to help contain the nuclear waste in a stable environment that could even withstand changes on the surface like another ice age. The story was shot on a GoPro Fusion.  The intended audience would be Europeans or persons interested in news about nuclear facilities.

This story I would say would be quite successful in demonstrating the feelings surrounding being 450 meters down below the earth. With the use of creative shots the users experience the space more intimately. In the beginning the viewers, here a voice over talking about the feelings of traveling down to this waste sight. The viewers are accompanying the film crew in a vehicle headed down a dark stone tunnel.  Following the tunnel it takes you through the nuclear facility accompanied by more voice-overs. Throughout the rest of the story, interviews and comments from news casters always take place in the back to help further along the context of the story while the viewer is at liberty to look around absorbing the information. The whole point of this video is to show you the perspective of these workers being 450 meters below the surface and the feeling of the quiet and close quarters inside the bedrock comes across.

This newscast demonstrates a proper story arch of a beginning middle and in. The beginning opens you up in a dark space introducing you to the place you will be visiting. Throughout the meat of the piece, they introduce us to the dumping location followed up with a concrete explanation of the process that goes on. The end fades out with communications manager, Pasi Touhimma, having finished his say. All in all this story is very effective in making you feel like you are on a tour through this location. While there were no specific characters throughout the story, the constant voiceover’s and personnel on site explaining things to the viewers gave the sense you were traveling with these people and getting the inside scoop. While no great swaths of emotion were used either it wasn’t necessary. The walls and spaces made you feel compact along with the stillness and silence that can only come from being underground also has a great effect.

In this newscast, the producers used several different techniques that were subtle but greatly affected the story. The first is the use of graphics. When there was text on screen it was shown from different angles in case the viewer was looking around. The text usually included who was speaking on the VO at the time. The editor also had an outstanding use of graphics.

When a worker explains the process of how they bury the waste a very clever diagram is projected on the way of the tunnel to help give the viewer context. Another interesting thing they did with the text is wiped it off screen, with the moving of the video. A specific example being text wiped away as the car in the video turned a corner.

A specific example being text wiped away as the car in the video turned a corner. Shots hanging out of a moving car, peering down a 400-meter hole, and a (very appropriately spaced) shot of a man carrying the camera down a hallway are among the few that felt particularly immersive.

           All in all I found this text very effective and suitable for Virtual Reality. The shots throughout the piece were very carefully designed and the filming was smooth, without jarring cuts. The only thing I would argue against throughout this 4 minute video is some shots could have been longer than others like the scene showing us the very deep hole in the ground. However the video made up for it with interesting commentary and an insiders take.

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).