LG surprised many with the launch of the LG 360 VR, a virtual reality headset announced alongside the LG G5 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
VR seems to be very much the hot topic in 2016, from the major systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, through to the intentions of Google to develop the Cardboard experience further.
LG doesn't want to miss out on the fun, but it’s approaching VR in a rather more unique way than some of it's rivals.
LG 360 VR hardware: The headset
The LG 360 VR headset is different many of the mobile devices we've seen, because it's tethered. This is a headset that you have to connect to your LG G5 via the USB Type-C cable, rather than slipping your phone into the front as you do with Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.
But not only is the connection type different, but so's the format. The LG 360 VR headset takes the form of a pair of glasses, which you wear rather more conventionally than others. It's better than Cardboard and other basic systems because you don't have to hold it to your face all the time. Arguably it's better than the diving mask style approach because it's more casual: you're not strapped into the thing.
But that style of wearing comes with some downsides. Firstly, movement isn't a free and easy as it is with Gear VR. If you move your head quickly, you run the risk of it falling off, as it might with a pair of glasses, and you're also moving around that cable too. So this is perhaps more of a seated solution.
The second downside is that there's less opportunity to block out light coming from behind you. Because you're wearing this like a pair of glasses, there's no foam seal around your face, so you'll get reflections of the lens surfaces on the inside, as you do with Cardboard. There's a soft sort of felt baffle around it (as seen above, but removed in other photos so you can see the lenses) that aims to do this, but it's never going to be as sealed off as other VR solutions.
However, the LG 360 VR is pretty comfortable to wear, and it's lightweight and portable, perhaps more so that the bulk of Gear VR. There's a padded nose support and some padding inside those arms.
The headset itself has two 1.8-inch IPS displays inside, one for each eye, each with a resolution of 960 x 720 pixels, resulting in 639ppi. LG's argument here is that you're getting a sharper resolution than an average Quad HD smartphone in a VR headset, like the Gear VR.
Those displays sit behind lenses that can be independently focused (you can't wear glasses and 360 VR at the same time), as well as being able to adjust the width to get the best fit to your face and ensure you have the best stereoscopic vision.
The headset also carries the controls for your VR environment, with an ok and back button for basic click navigation. Otherwise, it has motion sensors, to allow you to look around the virtual world you're in. There's also a sensor between your eyes. This detects when the headset is being worn, which is a handy addition.
When it comes to audio, there's a 3.5mm headphone socket on the underside of the 360 VR headset for you to connect to. If you don't use this, the sound comes out of your smartphone, which may be some distance away, or perhaps in your pocket.
The whole headset weights 117g.
LG 360 VR: Smartphone requirements
The LG 360 VR is very much a tethered device, launched alongside the LG G5 and working with the LG G5. It connects to that phone's USB Type-C port on the bottom and LG has said that it uses proprietary software, so you can't use it with other devices.
Whether that remains the case in the future we don’t know, but at the moment you'll need the LG G5 smartphone to be able to use LG 360 VR in any way at all.
LG 360 VR release date and price
LG has shown off the LG VR 360 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but has so far made no statements about when it will be released and how much it will cost.
The LG G5 is due to launch in April, and as this is one of the G5's Friends, we suspect it will follow soon after.
LG 360 VR: Content
As soon as you connect the LG 360 VR to your LG G5, it will open up the app on the smartphone and start the headset.
The software and hardware we've seen so far is still pre-production, so we're not passing any judgements on the quality of what LG has produced until we've experienced more.
On opening, the LG 360 VR presents a virtual lobby of sorts, letting you navigate your way through various content types. It's as simple as looking and what you're interested in and clicking ok to head through to it.
So far we've seen some typical VR-type experience, such as a rollercoaster ride, which was immersive enough to give us those inertial effects. The quality appeared to be pretty good graphically.
The LG 360 VR headset we tried also had a lot of pre-loaded video content. LG has it in mind that you'll be wanting to use this as a video viewer.
The LG 360 VR supports Google Cardboard and its app ecosystem, so you'll also be able to download any of the apps from Google Play to experience. There's some great content in there from companies like Jaunt VR, and a whole world of games too.
That means that 360 VR also supports YouTube 360 video, which is likely to be the source of fresh content. There's also a lot of good stuff on there, from home made VR content, through to professionally shot documentaries.
LG 360 Cam: Make your own content
It's also worth mentioning that LG has launched the LG 360 Cam alongside the G5 and this VR headset, meaning you'll be able to capture your own immersive video and photos.
The LG 360 Cam has two wide-angle 13 megapixel cameras back to back, offering full 360-degree video or still capture. Again, this is an accessory for the LG G5. It can be controlled through the smartphone, but works independently too. Simply press the button and you're capturing content.
This means that you'll also have an avenue for content creation: if you want to make your own video for the 360 VR headset, this camera will let you do that.
Again, there's no word on pricing or availability.
LG surprised us with the launch of the LG 360 VR, but we're impressed with the independent route that LG has taken. It would have been too easy to create another VR headset that houses the phone in the style of Gear VR or Cardboard.
Although you'll need to be tethered to your phone, there are some advantages in LG's approach. You avoid the awkwardness that Cardboard suffers from with you having to remove the phone to change content, so navigation should be easier.
It's also comfortable to wear from the time we've spent with it, and well suited to casual VR experiences, while letting you keep your hands free.
These are very early days for the LG 360 VR and we're yet to full experience it's complete software offering. Priced right, this could be a great VR companion for the casual partaker.