The Gear VR at work on a First Class flight.
The Gear VR at work on a First Class flight.

The well-minted among us — those who frequent first class lounges and fly at the pointiest of pointy ends on an A380 — will soon be able to enjoy Samsung’s virtual reality (VR) headset, the Gear VR, while travelling, thanks to a new partnership announced today with Qantas.

In a trial rollout starting in Qantas’ Sydney and Melbourne First Class lounges mid-February and in the air on selected A380 flights between Australia and Los Angeles from mid-March, first class passengers will be able to fly with the birds, swim with the crocodiles and see the world from an altogether different perspective via the Gear VR headsets.

Similar to the Oculus Rift, the Gear VR is a  virtual reality headset that provides the user with a unique, 360-degree immersive content experience. A user slips a Galaxy Note 4 smartphone into the slot and the content on the screen is transformed into the most realistic scenes imaginable on a display. Here is how we reported the Gear VR experience last year at the launch event (via UnderCurrent):

…this product is something special. UnderCurrent soared over Manhattan Island, hot air ballooned in Turkey, lazed with lions in the Serengeti and swam the oceans with the most beautiful benthic beasts (and ‘benthic’ is the perfect adjective for UnderCurrent) — all while sipping white wine and relaxing in one of those really comfy hemisphere lounge chairs that you just fall into. The vision may have only been B-Roll but it was A-Grade.

As much as UnderCurrent thoroughly enjoyed the Gear VR experience, and it can proudly report no “visual abnormalities, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, discomfort or pain, or any symptoms similar to motion sickness”, it is intrigued by how totally dependent this virtual reality wearable is on the Galaxy Note 4. The handset actually slides into a cavity in the Gear VR, and only the Galaxy Note 4 can fit. Usage of the Gear VR is entirely linked to the Galaxy Note 4 — there is no backwards compatibility — and no futureproof assurances. It is as limited as it is wonderful. The Gear VR would make a great product to have in-store to attract and engage with foot traffic, and it’s possible that a customer would splurge the combined $1,198 for the set, but UnderCurrent sees this more as a bridging device: one that provides a tempting glimpse into the near future, when virtual reality headsets have more native content, work with more devices and have an increased level of brand agnosticism.

Samsung has confirmed that the Gear VR still requires the Galaxy Note 4 to operate so, presumably, Qantas customers will also receive that phablet for use with the headset.

The Gear VR trial will run for three months, before an assessment into its success determines whether it will be expanded to more lounges and classes of travel.

Qantas group executive, brand, marketing and corporate affairs, Olivia Wirth, described this move as groundbreaking.

“Whether the user wants a virtual tour of our new Los Angeles First Lounge or experience an A380
landing from the tarmac, this technology gives us a completely new way to connect with our
customers,” she said.

“From an inflight entertainment perspective, it’s an industry first. Qantas is committed to being at the forefront of innovation to give our passengers the very best and latest in-flight experiences, like accessing the virtual worlds of their favourite Hollywood blockbusters from the comfort of their seat 40,000 feet above the ground.

“It’s also a fantastic tool to feature our network’s destinations, inspiring travel and promoting tourism.”

The first content partner for the trial is Tourism NT, which will present a special 3D experience of Kakadu National Park. Arno Lenior, Samsung Electronics Australia chief marketing officer, said this content and the trial run with Qantas’ premium customers will open up virtual reality to a whole new audience.

“Samsung is immensely proud to be working with Qantas to deliver Samsung Gear VR entertainment
technology through the airline’s first class services, both in the air and on the ground,” Lenior said. “We believe Samsung Gear VR, one of the latest innovations from Samsung, will open new worlds
for Qantas customers who experience the technology for themselves.”

Qantas and Samsung make for a cosy partnership. Both are sponsors of the Australian Rugby Union team (“the Wallabies”) and, no doubt, this VR integration will further strengthen that bond. Of course, with Australia and South Korea playing off in the 2015 Asian Cup Final this weekend, these two companies, icons of those two countries, have perhaps suspended the overall goodwill for the time being.

The Gear VR, which perhaps could look a little bit cooler, is a great device to use.
The Gear VR, which perhaps could look a little bit cooler, is a great device to use.