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Wearable Tech

Samsung VR Pilot Season puts episodic shows on Gear VR

Trying to give you a reason to return to your headset with indie films.

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Scott Stein/CNET

Samsung's Gear VR is years old now, and I don't know about you, but I don't feel compelled to dive back into VR on a daily basis. Samsung's next bet is on more episodic 360 video. Will it help?

If you have a Gear VR, you can check out Samsung's VR Pilot Season, a collection of six shows that will be getting several episodes each. Then you'll be able to vote for which will continue. I watched all six at a screening blocks away from the Tribeca Film Festival

The pilot season initiative consisted of a grant given to six independent filmmakers, with the results exclusively launching on Samsung's VR video channel on Gear VR. The filmmakers were offered Samsung's professional 360 Round camera to use, but only one of the films uses it.

The best of the bunch happens to be the one shot on the Samsung 360 Round camera: &Design, by Sibling Rivalry, is a design-focused documentary series. The first episode, Death, is a tightly produced, well shot short on bizarre 3D-printed death masks created by Neri Oxman and the MIT Media Lab.

Actually, several of the shows were, oddly, about death: The Interpretation of Dreams, a trippy 360-degree piece directed and written by Graham Sack and created by Sensorium, felt like filmed theater, dealing with the surreal dream analysis of troubled patients. But the 13-minute first episode, The Ratman, felt like an infinite Kafka-esque nightmare of judgment, and ended up seeming far longer than its runtime.

Another, Voyages, by Kaleidoscope, paired animation with music from Johnny Greenwood. The pilot episode is... themed around death.

Sam's Surreal Gems, by RSA VR + Hey Wonderful, is like a 3-minute Where's Waldo, involving spotting odd stuff in a natural city environment. Clever idea, but not as subtle as it could be.

Bro Bots and Lightcatcher, by Breaking Fourth and Occupied VR, are sci-fi stories, little brief pieces that didn't feel like more than glorified trailers.

I didn't feel like these would all keep me coming back to VR. All of them were 360 videos, most in 3D. I had the feeling, overall, that I'd seen things like these before.

With Facebook's Oculus Go headset coming soon, it's clear that VR needs more great things to do to justify wearing the headsets. Samsung's VR Pilot Season seems like a clear effort to get more exclusive, episodic content that might hook you in. And, it's a great opportunity for a handful of indie creators. But, for the most part, it didn't really hook me any more than the hundreds of already-existing VR videos available on Gear VR already do.

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