We live in a technological age in which advancements in entertainment and technology are not as impactful as they once were. This is evidenced by how blasé we are when we see something new and exciting. 3D TV? Meh. We stopped buying those a while ago. Smaller, lighter, more powerful smartphones? Yawn. A new one comes out every week, we’ll wait and see.
Unfortunately for the naysayers, there is some technology that is absolutely, without question, stunning and indefatigable—like virtual reality and 360-degree video. Once you’ve seen, you cannot simply un-see it. Once experienced, it will not soon be forgotten. The only problem is describing it in words—virtual reality and 360-degree video is an experience that has to be shared physically in order for the full impact of its scope and promise to be realized.
At the time of this writing, I was a skeptic. I come from a long background in video-game journalism (there is such a thing) and I have seen the advent of every major game system, from the Super NES to the Oculus Rift. In other words, I consider myself pretty jaded. So, when LG came to us to ask us to look at the LG G5 RS988 32GB Smartphone and VR Bundle, my first challenge to them was: entertain me, LG. In a way I have not been entertained before.
A VR headset and 360° spherical camera
The LG G5 RS988 bundle includes an LG G5 R5988 32GB smartphone (unlocked), which itself isn’t a bad deal. The 5.3" IPS LCD phone (which can sell separately for up to $600) runs on Android 6.0 with a 2.15 GHz Qualcomm Kryo Dual-Core and a 1.6 GHz Qualcomm Kryo Dual-Core CPU, 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU. Impressive? There are certainly more impressive and less impressive phones on the market at this price, but this bundle happens to include a VR headset and 360° spherical camera. This is a bundle that is definitely worth more than the sum of its parts. But this isn’t a phone review (although this phone does have its fair share of positive reviews at B&H, all of them in the 4-5-star range), and I’ll leave it to more savvy phone connoisseurs to determine if the phone is all that. I will say that the screen was crystal clear, the responsiveness was terrific, and the button placement was superior to many phones I’ve used in the past.
The addition of the headset is a great perk. The headset was comfortable to wear, easy to fit, and fairly hassle free to operate. Once you familiarize yourself with the two-button operation on the top right of headset, you are equipped to view video in amazing 3D and 360-degree orientations.
And here’s where I have to explain the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality. This is not a true virtual reality headset, nor will you get a full virtual reality experience through this headset. This is more of a VR-junior experience—you’ll experience (sometimes stunning) 360° video, where you can turn and view everything around you in detail, and even move and track your vision to see around, under and above objects. But you do not interact with anything in your environment (unlike true VR), and when you move, the ocular experience does not move with you. So if you start walking with headset on, don’t expect to track any miles in your virtual reality environment. Your head will track movement, but your body will not. Don’t get me wrong—I swam with sharks, rode a hot air balloon, and even skied down a mountainside, all while craning my head to see a glorious 3D world around me, but I never moved my body.
But the experience was still amazing, and just as amazing to watch others experience it, as well. Nothing was funnier or more amusing than to see others crane their heads and turn in circles as they tried to track objects on screen with their headset. Many of the people I set up to use the headsets even walked into walls thinking they were going to move within their environments (they did not).
The VR rabbit hole
But the combined fascinating experience is only as viable as the material created for it, and that is where headsets like this will fall short. There were some amazing videos available on YouTube, and through the LG app itself, but it seemed like there was never enough. After you’ve gone through all of the content of the LG VR app, you’re reduced to scrounging for 360-degree videos on YouTube, which can be a hit-and-miss proposition, at best. The videos on YouTube ranged from amazing and high-def to grainy and unwatchable. You’ll definitely find yourself falling down a VR rabbit hole as you search the hundreds of videos available. But there are limits to the content, and you’ll find yourself wanting to create your own after a while.
Which is where the third component in this bundle will come in handy. The LG 360 Spherical Camera is an easy-to-use action camera that takes minutes to set up, but can give you an unlimited amount of content to view. After setting up the camera and placing it in the middle of the dining room table, I filmed a Mother’s Day get together that involved a very large Italian family (almost 15 participants) and upon reviewing the footage, I caught in amazing detail what it was like to be a dish of lasagna with faces looming over me and forks getting prodded into me from a 360° view. Tasty. The quality of the video was a lot clearer than most videos I viewed on YouTube, and a lot more fun to create. I also used the camera while hiking, walking along the beach, and driving along the coast (I had one of my kids hold the camera—never film and drive at the same time, unless you want to post a 360-degree video of a car accident that you can view in the afterlife).
All of the stitching and heavy-duty editing is done directly in the camera, so you don’t have to worry about fixing anything in post. Imagine this camera at a wedding, a birthday party, or a graduation, and then imagine you having a 360-degree video of that event forever etched into an SD card—an event that you can watch over and over again in glorious panoramic video, seeing all of the people and scenery in front of you, on the side of you and behind you. Believe me when I tell you, that even from my jaded perspective, the experience was amazing.
So with all of this goodness, there must be some downsides, and there are. The headset is not intuitively made for sharing. Every time you take the headset off, it resets to a place where it has to be re-negotiated from the beginning—meaning that if I want a friend to see what I see, I have to take the headset off, hand it to them, and then instruct them on how to get back to a video manually. This was especially frustrating with non-technical friends, having to explain what buttons to look at and press on the screen every time I passed the headset to them, or having to explain how to get to a video on YouTube using the search feature (which, by the way, also used Google Voice to search, which was kind of a lifesaver). Also a downer: the quality of some of the videos was not great, and a lot of the experience depended on the quality of your phone’s connection, so a weak Wi-Fi signal gave you a different, more stutter-filled experience than a strong one. Also, the battery on the phone is severely drained when using the headset (we only got about two hours of time before we had to switch out batteries) so it’s best to keep a spare set around, just in case.
Those minor drawbacks still don’t wash out the amazing experience of viewing and creating 360-degree videos. And for the same price as a mid-range laptop, you can get the phone, the headset, and the camera in one great bundle. Trust me, from a guy who thought he saw everything there was to see when the Xbox debuted Dead or Alive 3, in 2001, this may change the way we view our entertainment from now on. Get on board early with this mobile entertainment bundle!
Some important information is missing. Doe the headset have its own panel and if so, what is the resolution, how long is the cable or is it wifi streaming from the phone. If one can insert thze phone, so what makes this headset special at all.
The LG 360 camera doesn't offer live streaming to the headset or to the phone. So it is e.g. not possible to see what you are recording while you are recording it. There are now quite a number of camers available doing exactly this. You can mount them under a quadcopter and fly. In 360 degrees VR.
Thanks for writing in. The headset does indeed have its own dual 1.88" IPS LCD panels at 920 x 720 per panels. The headset is tehtered to the phone with a USB-C cable, the one i used was approximately 8". It connects to the phone via the cable - you don't place your phone into the headset.
As for the streaming capabilities, no, this headset does not have that. It's not meant to be a professional VR 360 piece of production equipment, but rather an entertainment module for those who are new to the 360 video experience.
Thanks again for writing in.