2016 is the year of VR. There, I said it.
It’s hardly a brave statement, though. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have already landed, blowing both minds and wallets, and it looks like we’ll all be riding dragons and travelling the universe without ever leaving our sofas.
For those of us with shallower pockets (and Samsung handsets), the Samsung Gear VR has offered the best bang-for-buck experience. Naturally, LG’s throwing itself into the ring with its own offering, namely the 360 VR - a slim, light headset that’s shackled to the LG G5.
At nearly ₹24k, though, it’s got a lot to prove - and sadly, it fails.
Hold the 360 VR in your hands, and you’ll struggle to justify its price tag. It feels rather plasticky and looks like an early Star Trek VISOR prototype.
It does have one massive advantage over the competition – at 118g, it feels lighter than a helium-filled feather compared to the 380g Rift, the 555g HTC Vive and the 318g Gear VR, and it’s small enough to make me consider whipping it out on a long flight.
The 360 VR’s diminutive size is thanks to LG’s tethered approach. Unlike the Gear VR, which requires you to clip your Samsung phone to the face of the headset, the 360 VR is attached to the LG G5 via a USB-C cable, with the G5 supplying the VR experience directly to the 360 VR’s built-in screens.
While a cable-free experience would be better, this approach makes for a much more comfortable headset. It feels like wearing a slightly heavier pair of glasses, and there’s no need to mess up your hair by strapping yourself in, as you would with larger headsets.
Another benefit to this approach is the fact that the G5 itself can be used as a handheld remote. But first, let’s talk about the VR experience itself.
WHAT A LITTLE TINKER
The G5 automatically prompts you to download the relevant VR apps as soon as you plug the headset into its USB-C port. So far, so easy.
Like the Samsung Gear VR, LG’s headset lets you adjust the lenses’ focus. However, it has the advantage of allowing each lens to be tinkered with individually and lets you adjust their lateral position.
I found the process rather fiddly until I realised that I’d completely ignored the on-screen instructions to remove the felt-covered eye-shield, after which it got a whole lot easier. My bad.
A tutorial introduces the navigation options available to you, and it’s all pretty straightforward. Look at an item, tap the G5’s blank screen to select it, and that’s it. There are also physical home and back buttons on the top right-hand side of the headset itself, but the only time you’ll need to use them is to quickly access the settings or return to the main menu.
Using the G5 as a handheld remote control is a neat solution to navigating through VR menus and options and it’s more intuitive than the Samsung Gear VR’s side-mounted touchpad.
Swiping through menus and tapping to select feels natural and it also means no more VR-arm - a term I’ve invented for the dull ache I get in my right arm when tinkering with the Gear VR headset’s controls. It’s much nicer letting your hands comfortably rest in your lap, holding the G5.
You can buy a separate controller for the Gear VR, but the 360 VR’s innovative use of the G5 works out of the box. One point to LG.
SCREEN DREAMS OR A BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARE?
The 360 VR’s screen is a paradox. On paper, its two 1.88in 960 x 720 displays working together to produce a 638ppi count. That’s actually more than the 575 pixels per inch found on the Gear VR using a 5.1in Galaxy S7, and I’ve noticed that text is a tad sharper.
I’ve also found a less pronounced ‘screen door effect’, which means that annoying individual pixels are harder to spot on LG’s headset. You’d think, then, that the 360 VR’s experience is superior, but it’s noticeably worse.
One of the best VR video experiences I’ve had on the Gear VR is a short film called Invasion, which plops you in the middle of a frozen lake while you’re befriended by an adorable bunny rabbit, before aliens arrive to cause trouble.
It’s my go-to demo for showing off the Gear VR to family and friends, and showcases how immersive VR experiences can be. On the 360 VR, however, the experience is much blurrier. Even after making sure that the lens distance and focus were spot-on, it still looks out of focus.
This was the case for almost all the videos I tried. I travelled to Nepal, Machu Picchu and an ice hockey rink, and everywhere I went, the fuzziness ruined the entire experience. The blurriness, however, isn’t the only thing holding the 360 VR back.
The best-looking content on the 360 VR is the pre-loaded 360-degree video showing off a roller coaster ride. It’s noticeably less fuzzy than the other videos I tried, which could be due to the fact that it’s saved to the G5’s internal memory.
Scrolling through the G5’s camera shots in the built-in virtual gallery also serves up clear photos, showing that the 360 VR is capable of showing off sharp content.
Here’s something: I actually typed up some of this review with the 360 VR still on my face - a testament to just how bad the immersion on this thing really is.
The 360 VR lets in tons of outside light, thanks to inexcusable giant gaps between the headset and your face. LG must have done this on purpose, because there’s no way any of the designers tried it on without noticing how much of the outside world you can still see.
Why you’d want to let in your surroundings while wearing a VR headset is beyond me. It’s like plummeting down the rabbit hole to Wonderland while clutching office spreadsheets in one hand and your gas bill in another.
I wish I could say that the 360 VR made up for its shortcomings with a pile of top-notch content, but I can’t. At the time of this review, there really isn’t anything to do on it apart from watch (blurry) 360-degree videos or scroll through photos and videos in your G5’s gallery.
While YouTube is full of VR content thanks to Google Cardboard, it’s not currently available. When you click the YouTube icon in the 360 VR’s main menu, you’re instructed to download a separate app called VRTube in the VRChannel app.
You can access the VRChannel via the G5, but at the time of writing, the only app available to download is Jaunt VR - which is where a majority of the 360-degree videos come from. This is in stark contrast to the ever-growing Oculus store found on the Samsung Gear VR, which is already stocked with plenty of games and experiences for users to jump into.
As things stand, I couldn’t recommend buying the 360 VR due to its lack of content.
The LG G5 heats up considerably when the 360 VR is in use. It also drains the battery, dropping around 20% after half-an-hour of use (with Airplane mode on and Wi-Fi switched off).
The overheating and battery drain are side effects I’ve found on the Galaxy S6 when using the Gear VR too, but thankfully, I haven’t had any warning signs on the 360 VR telling me to take a break while the G5 cools down.
LG 360 VR VERDICT
There’s no way I can recommend the 360 VR, especially at its ₹24,000 launch price. There is a glimmer of hope for LG, however: the 360 VR is light, small and unobtrusive, while using the G5 to navigate is comfortable.
This headset might be a solid alternative for G5 owners if the sharpness issues could be resolved, if more apps and games are thrown into the fray and if the price drops massively. But that’s a big ask.
If there’s ever a 360 VR 2.0, I’ll be excited to try it out once all the problems are ironed out. For now, the 360 VR remains a curiosity - a half-baked, rushed attempt to join the VR party - and it’s a crying shame.