A couple of weeks ago I sat down on my couch and watched a movie. Now, under normal circumstances, this rather inane activity would have not even merited a slow news day on any of my social networks, but on this day, I was doing something something rather peculiar – I was watching a movie on my Galaxy Note 4, and it was sitting literally inches from my face.

ritchies room gear vrRitchie Djamhur is a Sydney-based “geek dad” who, as well as being involved in the local consumer electronics industry, loves keeping up with all the latest technology trends and telling anyone who will listen. Ritchie runs his own website, Ritchie’s Room, as well as a YouTube channel where he’s been investigating the Gear VR. He also appears on television and radio from time to time.

Recently Ritchie watched an entire two hour movie on Gear VR and I asked him to tell us more about his experience.

The Gear VR, Samsung’s first mobile virtual reality headset, has lit up the imagination of both smartphone and VR enthusiasts, and in this particular Venn diagram, it appears there is a fair bit of overlap. I’ve been a casually interested observer in VR, mostly because of the enthusiasm and constant news feed from Road To VR, which is run by an old contemporary from the mobile tech world, Ben Lang. And now here I am on his site talking about my Gear VR experiences—how the world turns.

Using the Oculus Cinema to playback your own videos/movies is a cinch, and has already been outlined by the Oculus’ Mobile SDK. Within the root directory, you’ll find an ‘Oculus’ Folder… dig a few levels in and you’ll find a ‘Movies’ folder, which drills down to ‘Your Movies’. This is where the 2D movies need to be placed for playback on Gear VR. If you have 3D content in a side-by-side configuration, you can create a new sub-directory called ‘3D’ and place your 3D content there. The Oculus Cinema app will output those files in 3D onto its virtual movie screen.

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oculus cinema gear vr

So, how did it feel to watch a full 2 hour movie? Not as bad as I thought it would, to be honest. I was expecting my neck to be way more stressed after two hours of having a plastic/foam headset along with one of the more intimidating smartphones on my head. Instead, I felt comfortable enough to be totally focussed on the content I was viewing, and actually had to remind myself that this was a ‘test’ of the system, not just for my viewing pleasure.

gear vr frontHaving the headphones on along with the Gear VR headset helped take me out of my standard world, into this large, cavernous cinema, where I sat right in the middle with empty chairs in front, behind and to the sides of me. If anything, the emptiness of the environment is what took me out of the experience—having the cinema all to myself actually felt unrealistic.

The most jaw dropping moment was when the movie started and I really did feel that the screen was meters away, and many more meters in actual size. My eyes were genuinely tricked into believing the images on the virtual screen were on a real screen, and I think it was partly due to the perfect audio sync. This enclosed fusion of audio and visual delivery kept the illusion at a high level for a long while.

The movie never, ever skipped a beat. Imagine having to produce the VR environment, display subtle light effects on chairs that don’t actually exist, and then to display a movie. The mind boggles at how the Note 4 actually keeps up with all these graphical demands.

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Once the movie had finished, I did not have the eye soreness or fuzzy focus that I thought I would. It took me a little while to adjust to the bright lights of my studio, but that probably wouldn’t be the case normally as most people aren’t filming themselves while they watch a film.

gear vr closeupWhat this whole experience showed me is that entertainment is rising up next to gaming as a killer app for mobile VR experiences. I still remember being stunned that I could watch a show on my early model iPhone, way before the iPad or other tablets came out. This was another stunner moment, and the commercial opportunities will help drive this experience with more diversity and revenue for content makers.

It’s a virtual dream come true.

For those looking to watch their own 2D and 3D content through Gear VR in Oculus Cinema Ritchie shares the procedure on video:

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • seanlumly

    Great writeup! I’m looking forward to getting the GearVR, and this feature alone makes the purchase compelling, and it sounds as though it’s well worth it. I can’t wait!

    Did you get a feel for the resolution? I understand that most GearVR games are roughly 1080p before being upscaled to the Note 4’s 1440p, but driving a theater simulation should be easy enough to pull off in 1440p with cycles to spare. Plus the added resolution would certainly help with the “movie screen” clarity.

    And not to be a buzz kill: but the reflections should be actually straight forward and dirt cheap to compute — certainly no challenge for the Note4’s Adreno 420, nor any modern mobile (even low-end devices). It is just a matter of using an extremely low-res downsample of the movie frame (eg. 1×1 or 10×10 pixels), then doing a per-pixel specular addition on the reflective surfaces (eg. ceiling tiles, floor, walls, etc). The sharpness of the specularity can be determined by a texture map covering a surface, so that the ceiling tiles can be dull and diffuse while the metal chassis surrounding them can be more shiny.

    • RitchieD

      I would say the resolution was around the 720p mark, there was still heaps of environment to see. A small turn to the left or right did move the extremities of the sides out of view.

      And thanks for the explanation of the reflective task, that is extremely interesting. Even though it might be a low power process, it certainly adds to the overall environment.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Don Gateley

    What about pixelation? Is the resolution sufficient that one would actually choose to view video this way beyond checking out the novelty of it?

    Any idea or guess as to what the actual pixel dimensions of the virtual screen is?

    • RitchieD

      There is still some pixelation, but it wasn’t obvious or overpowering to the point of distraction. I’ve heard that the screen is a 720p res, but we’d need more clarification or confirmation on that.

      • Don Gateley

        Thanks. If the actual viewing screen less all the surrounding stuff is 720p I may be sold. That would mean it vertically occupies half of display. Does that jibe with your experience?

        Further confirmation would, however, be appreciated.

  • pedrw nascimentw

    There is still the problem “screen door”?


    • RitchieD

      The “screen door” still exists, but definitely less than the DK2 and not to the point of making the movies unwatchable.

  • mdude04

    In his Oculus Connect keynote, John Carmack said that the theater screen display is about “960 by something,” which would make it about half the resolution of full 1080p.

    (At the 34:00 mark)

    As Carmack points out, though, that’s still “a lot better” than what other attempts at VR movie theaters have been.

    • Don Gateley

      A lot better might still not be adequate, though. It’s been absolutely intolerable. If the actual video screen on which the movie is “projected” is 960 lines that would be pretty damned good. But if it is less than pretty damned good I can’t accept the cost.

      • mdude04

        Considering that you are talking about a display (the Galaxy Note 4) that is split in half, and then each half is split again to display the virtual movie theater screen, 960 lines is indeed impressive. It’s not quite 720p though, and I have no idea why that number is being thrown around. Apparently it must look good enough for people to think it’s 720p!

  • saxman717

    How are 3D SBS movies on the Gear VR? Would you recommend watching movies in 2D or 3D in VR Cinema? Does the vr environment enhance the 3D effects (or make them more pleasing to watch vs. watching them on a TV)?

    Also, do you need to copy the movies (especially 3D ones) directly onto the Note 4 internal memory or can you play the movies from your SD card? Some 3D movies are 15+ GB and will swamp the Note 4’s 16 GB memory limit. Does playing movies from an SD card introduce any playback lag?

  • acem77

    Just got my Note 4, do you think they will have some type of video input option to connect external video players, pcs ot game systems? As of now it lloks like only local content.
    i would love to use this with the parrot bebop drone.

  • Don Gateley

    There are a number of folks looking right now at a YouTube for VR. If that works out you could just upload your recordings to it and view them through their app. An Indiegogo project is in the works to do this that could use some support.


    If they don’t make it, the idea is at least out there and I think we can expect to see it happen

  • acem77

    yeah, that wont be good enough for live feeds, game systems, or drone camera feed back