Shooting VR Videos is Easy with Samsung’s Gear 360 Camera

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There’s nothing like a 360 degree VR video to relive an experience and the Samsung Gear 360 system makes it easy to return to a vacation or an adventure. You’ve probably seen the Samsung Gear VR headset commercials that show people of all ages laughing and in awe as they look around and experience a VR video. That was pretty much my first reaction as well as that of everyone with whom I’ve shared my VR headset. A 360 video puts the viewer in the middle of the action whether it’s strolling through Las Ramblas in Spain, or jumping off a cliff into the sea in Acapulco. With Samsung’s Gear VR bundle, it’s pretty easy to take your own videos with the Gear 360 camera and relive them on the Gear VR headset.

The Gear 360 Camera is easy to use

Samsung has released a new model this year.  The Gear 360 (2017) shrunk the tennis ball-sized orb to the size of a golf ball. A handle has been added to make it easier to just hold and shoot rather than requiring a tripod. It’s been upgraded to shoot 4k video. The rest of the design is like a pared down version of the previous model. Ultra wide-angle lenses are placed opposite each other to capture two 220 degree images. The camera can shoot a panorama with just one of the lenses or can shoot 360 degrees by automatically stitching together the images from both lenses.  In addition to streaming, there’s a slot for a micro-SD card that will hold up to 256GB. 

There are three buttons on the camera—one button is for power and to go back in the menu system, another is the menu button that is also labeled to turn on Bluetooth and also connects wifi. The third button starts and stops recording and is used as the “OK” button in selecting menu items.

A small, very small, LCD screen on the camera allows a user to see and change the camera’s settings without a connection to the phone.  After checking that the camera was set to record video, I could quickly press the record button on the camera to start shooting video or take a photo without taking out my phone. This worked well when I wanted to take a photo quickly and when I mounted the camera to my bicycle’s handlebars and preferred to watch the road rather than look at the phone. A 2 to 10-second self-timer can be set so there is time to hide or pose in a good spot before the camera takes the shot.  

The new camera has also added high dynamic range (HDR) for landscape photos. Unlike a standard photo where you can point the camera away from the sun, a 360 camera will shoot toward the sun at the same time it’s recording in all other directions.  The HDR function will help to “even out” the exposure in still photos. An HDR option appears in the video shoot screen on the Gear 360 app but there is no reference to its ability to shoot HDR in video.

The Gear 360 Phone App is Now Available for both Android and iPhone

The camera connects wirelessly to the Gear 360 phone app using either a direct WiFi connection or via low power Bluetooth. There does not need to be any kind of network or hotspot to connect the camera and phone (a “direct” connection).  Using a Galaxy phone, connectivity is instant and seamless. 

Something new with the Gear 360 (2017) is iPhone compatibility. The iPhone app is almost identical to the Android app with one big exception.  The Android app allows for live view while shooting video.  You can be standing out of the scene— around a wall corner, behind a tree—and see what is being shot on the camera.  The iPhone app allows for live view when you are setting up the shot, but will go blank when the camera is actually shooting.

The new Gear 360 can broadcast a 360° video live to Facebook and other compatible services. The iPhone’s lack of live view during shooting will leave you blind to what others may be seeing.  Live broadcast requires Android Nougat version 7 operating system for the Android phone.

Along with seeing what you are shooting, you can change the exposure setting to compensate for an environment that is too dark or too bright, change white balance, and turn on/off HDR.

Easy Playback and Editing

After shooting a video or photo, a quick tap on “Gear 360” in the app gallery brings up the photos and videos that are saved on the camera. Photos and videos can be saved to the phone. Tapping on “trim” allows you to drag where you want the video to begin and end so you can remove that part where you are walking back to the camera or other distraction. A tap on Share allows you to upload the video to Facebook or YouTube.

The Gear VR Headset Version 3

The full Gear 360 experience includes a Gear 360 camera, a Galaxy Android phone, and the Gear VR headset. Samsung acquired the headset technology from Oculus, one of the first big companies to develop Virtual Reality headsets. This is why the Gear VR requires a compatible Galaxy phone with the Oculus app installed. You’ll need to create an account for the Oculus app and for the Samsung VR app which also must be installed.

The manual for the new VR headset is much more comprehensive than previous versions. It now explains how to size the connector clip for the phone you are using—the standard size or larger Galaxy Note. This is one manual you will want to follow to make your life easier.

Upon attaching a Galaxy phone to the headset, the phone automatically opens the Oculus app.  In the virtual world of the Oculus app, you’ll see many VR videos from online sources and other content providers. Among the other videos will be a menu square for Samsung VR videos. To choose an item, look at it and a dot will appear where you are looking. Tap the touch panel on the side of the headset to select the item you are looking at. You’ll need to connect headphones (earbuds are included with the Gear VR) to your phone if you want to hear audio from a 360 movie.  

Once in the Samsung VR headset app, choose the folder from the menu icons.  Here you will find your videos and images to view.  Playback can also be controlled by looking at the play, pause, skip, (etc.) button you want to use, then tapping on the headset, or you can use the remote control.

The new Gear VR headset includes a remote control that can be used to point at and select items.  It must be calibrated before use.  Although I calibrated it twice per the manual, I had to hold it awkwardly to make it work with the headset.  I preferred to use the touchscreen, home and back buttons on the headset itself.  

Deals are Available When You Buy a Samsung Galaxy 8

If you are in the market for a new phone, Samsung is offering great deals to get you started in the world of 360.  Look for specials that include a free VR headset. There’s also a widely publicized deal that features new Gear 360 camera for $49.

It’s so easy to use a 360 camera and such a great way to bring you back to an event, adventure or destination.  While the complete Samsung Gear 360 camera, headset and Galaxy phone is seamless and easy to use, there are options for iPhone users.  Monster Products offers a VR headset with headphones for $20 that will let you view 360 videos on your iPhone.  

The new 360 Camera costs just about $230, (more than $100 cheaper than the first version), but as we say there are better deals to be had as part of a package.  The bottom line is that this camera is just plain fun.  If you need more proof, take a look at Samsung’s video.

 

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Barb Gonzalez wrote The Home Electronics Survival Guide at a time when manufacturers and users thought technology was becoming too complicated. Dubbed the Simple Tech Guru, Barb spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show, wrote for trade magazines, and worked for electronics companies where she became the “eye of the consumer” and simplified everything from manuals and packaging to marketing materials and educational websites. She’s written for Home Theater Magazine, about.com, Technology Tell, and for the “over-40” crowd for NBCUniversal’s Tech Goes Strong. She was the Technology Expert for the Sears community. For the past decade, Barb has split her time, writing freelance articles and a regular column about streaming media for Sound and Vision, and working as a travel photographer, where her work is published in newspapers and magazines in the Pacific Northwest.

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