Virtual Reality got started back in the 1980’s. Back then the images were stick figures and they needed to be created on a supercomputer like the monster from Cray that filled almost an entire room at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountainview, California. Now, almost thirty years later, VR has become a practical and affordable system. And while the first applications were for gaming, now there are more apps coming along that are suitable, and often targeted to an older audience. So we thought it was about time that we took a look at one of the least expensive VR headsets, the original version of the Samsung Gear VR. There are newer versions, but they are slightly more expensive and offer features that you might not need, and might actually make you dizzy or nauseated. With the original Gear VR, coupled with a compatible Samsung smartphone, you’ll be able to see if this is an experience you’ll enjoy or dread.
The original Gear VR headset is a pretty simple device. You pop off the front cover, then put in your Samsung smartphone. You need to use your own headphones from the smartphone for audio. There are no electronic connections. The headset is basically a set of lenses that takes the VR image from your smartphone and projects it so that you are immersed in the experience. Subsequent versions are a bit more sophisticated, with a Bluetooth enabled controller that tracks the movements of your head.
What to Watch?
Hands down the most popular VR apps for the 50+ market are travel apps. We found a couple of well-curated lists that will give you a taste of what’s out there. As you might expect, there are lots of mediocre travel apps, but some of the best come from groups like Huffington Post and National Geographic. You can find one really good list here:
Another compilation lets you find the best travel apps based on your device, including the Samsung Gear VR. Several hotel chains including Renaissance have created their own virtual room tours so you can look before you book. Same for cruise lines.
VR is being used to help older seniors as well. MIT Age Lab has been working on systems that help the elderly relive their experiences as a way of forestalling dementia and reducing social isolation. Some assisted living facilities are doing the same, Rendever has a system that can be used to recreate the experience that a senior remembers, such as walking through an old neighborhood, or revisiting places they’ve gone when they were younger. They are also using VR to create experiences that can be shared by a group, such as a collective hike up Machu Picchu.
VR is also being used to treat a number of neurological conditions – ranging from stress, anxiety, to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and even traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many of these therapies are still in the experimental stages, though early results have been quite positive, especially in helping damaged brains to “remap” themselves.
Bottom line – Virtual Reality is here to stay. As programmers find more ways to immerse us, from exploring the interior of a cave to the exploring the interior of a new car, we can expect this technology to become mainstream. The Samsung Gear VR, developed by Oculus, is a cost-effective way to try it out and see if you like it enough to invest is a more sophisticated device further down the road. Prices for the original Samsung Gear VR start at about $50.