A GEARVR NEWS APP REVIEW
Netflix is one of greatest apps on the GearVR. At least it was, until I got banned (more on that below.) I mean, sure, it has it’s issues like everything else, but for me it was actually a better experience than anything I’ve ever had in my own home. Where I work pays pretty well, but at only 20 hours a week, my salary is still barely enough to cut it, so of course I don’t own a sprawling house or an 80-inch big-screen TV. Yet when I loaded up Netflix for the first time and saw the luxurious living environment, the clean lines, the gourmet living room, that HUGE screen, I was instantly smitten.
The graphics are extremely well done. It’s an environment you actually want to spend a lot of time in watching episode after episode, “Series Bingeing” your way through what seems like nearly an inexhaustible line up. You feel so comfortable there, in that world, that you don’t want to leave it and return to reality. I’m wonder if that’s what Netflix was aiming for? If so, mission accomplished.
The house you’re set in is spacious, well-lit (the room darkens only after pressing play), with huge windows you can see the snow-capped mountains through. Your wide-screen TV is about 80-100 inches and fills your view just full enough to feel big enough, but not too close to make you have to look around to get the full picture, (pun intended). The feeling of 3D-Depth is well done, with strong Presence. Some users have reported trying to put their feet on the in-app coffee table because it’s so comfortable in there.
You can’t really see the SDE or any pixels while a show is playing, but you do unfortunately see black smear all too often during poorly-lit shows. That’s a hardware limitation for now, nothing can be done about it until our phones become advanced enough to eliminate black smear one day. Any black instantly gets smeared around.
I noticed while watching horror movies that the black smear issue actually contributed to creeping me out more, since all the black shadows move when you turn your head. I jumped out of my skin a few times, so I kind of liked it for the horror movies. But while watching a comedy, or anything else, black smear is a huge turn off because it still creeps you out when it happens, breaking the fun-loving mood of your selection.
HOW IT WORKS:
You get 30 days free, but just to do that, Netflix requires a credit card. Since I couldn’t get a credit card for over 8 months while in China, I couldn’t even try out the so-called “free 30 days” which is not really free if you MUST have a credit card to even try it out. This really chapped my hide, calling something free when its actually contingent on a credit card. It caused me a lot of grief because I already had an account with Netflix and I remember how great it was even back then in 2007.
Finally, my sister agreed to help me obtain a pre-paid one. And after a brief hiccup where the card wasn’t authorized yet, meaning Netflix couldn’t charge the test fee to it to ensure it was operational, I finally went online and went through the steps to authorize it at Visa’s website. Now working, I added the card to my Netflix account and told Netflix to begin my 30-Day “FREE” subscription. Finally, it was working.
I did what Netflix required next to ensure the company could help me find the movies I might like to see the most. This included a survey about which movies I’ve already seen and how I felt about them. I rated maybe 200 titles before finally burning out of that process and moving on.
NETFLIX STREAMING QUALITY -> EXCELLENT:
In China where I live, there are these special TV-watching sites and you need a program called Xigua (sounds like “shi” + “gwah” … Chinese for Watermelon). You click on the shows you want to watch to add them to a Queue and then have to wait a few hours for all of them download before you can watch them. There are other services that do offer streaming, but those are mostly Chinese only and I can’t use those. But when you click play on any show in Netflix, it fades out and begins playing …(snaps fingers)… just like that !
Finally, I dug in and took a look as what Netflix had to offer. Ah, awesome! They have Marco Polo… the last episode of which never came for me last year, I guess the people ripping that show for China missed that one. I loaded it up at once. Wow, what a great show. This Series features a young Marco Polo whose father barters him for the right to trade along a famous trade route for great wealth. There is lot of Kung Fu in the show, and many sensual delights with the many lovely Asian women. You can’t go wrong here!
Moving on …. I lose track, my head spinning. There were so many categories there, I didn’t know what to even do with it all. I love TV Shows the most because I can just load up some snacks and drinks, lay back (literally! In Netflix, you can lay on your back looking up at your ceiling, and turn a black “Void” into a huge floating screen that you can adjust even closer if that’s to your liking.)
I then loaded up a new show I’d never heard before, Sense8, and got my world rocked by an incredibly well-acted series about people with the ability to see, hear, sense, taste, or actually “be there” in the same place with others like them. They learn to begin helping each other no matter where they are. The friendships become synergistic in nature, so that by the end of Season 1, they all bond like no humans ever have before. It’s magical. Its a show about walking the world in someone else’s shoes, seeing from fresh viewpoints, and on those scores, there’s no better show anywhere that can match its style and bravado. This is the best of both the Wachowski Brothers (the Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame), who have collaborated brilliantly on this show.
I binge-watched the first half of the entire Season in one day. During this time, Netflix stalled out only once in 7 hours. Amazing streaming service. The rest of the time the Network functioned perfectly, this despite me using a VPN to access the TV shows because China blocks most internet functions sort of like North Korea. Netflix isn’t offered in China, because Chinese people don’t pay for their TV, they stream everything for free and thus would never buy into Netflix even if it was offered.
The first issue I noticed is that the “Play” button is too small. It literally could be any size they wanted it to be, but they stuck with their default-sized icon from the PC version, this tiny little dot you can barely see. It takes 3-4 track-pad clicks to hit the target, but your face wants to move back to center, expecting the video to begin, so when the click doesn’t register you have to turn again and click again, rinse and repeat. Frustratingly!
Another issue, although I know technically it’s not really any issue, is that the app is single player only at the moment. One person can watch something, but no one else can see it or join in it with you. One thing that would make this a lot better is, at the very least, a cooperative mode over Wi-Fi. This would allow for having a husband and wife team share download streams on the same network while watching the same show together. Logged in on the same Wi-Fi, both parties’ phones would take one half of the download stream and then share their downloaded data with one another to ensure a buffer-free performance. In this mode, audio would not be required, because you’re in the same room, and can just talk with the other person.
Netflix would also need to create some kind of an avatar, like vTime’s or Oculus Social’s, so you could see your loved one sitting on the couch with you and they could see you. Later, they could add the ability to connect with other Netflixers from anywhere online, so you could conceivable watch a show cooperatively with friends and family in other States or regions of the world (where Netflix is offered).
The next issue is that the screen drifts every time you open the panel so that, in about an hour of watching, you have to recenter the view at least three times. It’s annoying and bothersome, and really gets in the way of the experience. Fix these drifting issues.
The last issue I noticed is that sometimes, Netflix wouldn’t load into my user account. The wheel would just spin and spin … and spin. And sometimes, in the middle of a show, I would get pushed out of Netflix and be unable to go back in for hours. I believe this was to do with my VPN. They were probably doing the tests leading up to learning how to block and prevent anyone from using a VPN to access Netflix. So, at times, I was totally unable to get back in. The article I read talking about Netflix decision to start banning VPN users in 2016 explained the technical terms and reasoning behind it. But I really can’t follow their logic myself, not fully.
THE “NO-VPN-USE” DEBATE:
I’m an American. I paid with an American credit card. And I was watching content from America, which is what I, as an American, should be allowed to do. But Netflix says “China doesn’t have a Netflix agreement, so you can’t watch Netflix there.” But I don’t believe the license should extend to the country, the license should grant the USER the power to watch Netflix in his home country. Since my home country is America, where Netflix is, I should have the right to watch Netflix from anywhere in the world as long I am tunneled into America watching the American Netflix Library to do so.
If the system worked like that, you could be confident as an American that if you paid for a month of Netflix before leaving on your trip to Thailand that you could still get your money’s worth by being allowed to watch Netflix in your hotel using a VPN.
I could see their point if it was a Chinese man living in China crossing into unfamiliar waters to watch those shows which his own government might be opposed to him watching, creating legal troubles or issues between America and China.
For example, in China, it’s illegal to watch movies about time travel. The Chinese government forbids discussion of time travel in Chinese schools and universities. I’m sure people still watch time travel shows, but they sure don’t tell anyone about it. So if Netflix was in China, China would regulate its titles to filter out all time travel related shows, and then Chinese people could watch Netflix without concern. But by crossing over, someone could watch a “time travel” show and end up getting in trouble with their government. That’s why they prohibit things like they do.
VPN users also cause problems with ratings, since Netflix can’t really know where the users are coming from and therefore, can’t say “this many Americans liked Iron Man 1 but only this many Australians did…” for their own internal requirements. I get their point. But someone needs to look into my point, too.
In China, all internet is blocked, filtered, bungled, botched, scanned, screened, and what have you … as a tech nerd like myself, its tedious and frustrating at times to live here because of all these internet issues. So you need a VPN even for looking at sites WITHIN CHINA. China’s own sites are not exempt from banning and blocking and filtering. China blocks all Google things, so almost every normal function of a smart phone, from Voice Dictation, Voice Search, Google Maps, Translation services, EVERYTHING vital on your phone, doesn’t work in China.
You also need a VPN on your phone in China to do anything normal like this. The problem there is the VPN will disconnect when you close your phone. It won’t stay online full time for those quick moments when you need it right away. You have to open your phone, turn on the VPN, wait 5 minutes for it to go through its startup process, all so you can get one little sentence of translation. Or to get S Voice to tell you something useful. You can’t just click your Gear Watch or tap your phone and do an S Voice request instantly like I could back in America. Nothing works a VPN.
NETFLIX VPN SOLUTION:
As a solution, why doesn’t Netflix institute their own VPN service which allows one user to have a world-license, free of all of this B.S. and legal wrangling? You log into your account, Netflix starts a Netflix-based VPN automatically set in the America Library only. Now, with full control of it, Netflix can ensure Americans watch only American Netflix, and other people watch their country’s Netflix. And if you live in a country which doesn’t have Netflix at all, you can’t get a VPN-For-Netflix solution, so for now, you’re just out, like you would be already if this stupid VPN ban had already been in effect all along.
With a Netflix-Owned VPN System enabled, and controlled by Netflix, the suggestion above to watch TV shows cooperatively in any region in the world is still possible. But if Netflix continues to make it illegal to watch shows using a VPN from other regions, the most Netflix will be able to accomplish with any multi-player mode is to have Americans only watch Netflix with other Americans and not include other nations. This would set globalization back a decade (hahaha) but if that’s how Netflix wants to play this.
As an American living in China, all I know is I’m not allowed to use Netflix anymore as of 2016. Our money is no good anymore. And just like that, there goes one more awesome application I can never enjoy again in my GearVR. Netflix considers well meaning people like me (who want to pay for Netflix legally but whose only crime is living in a foreign country) out to be thieves and poachers, illegal file sharers, criminal downloaders, and freebooters… And thus, have given us the boot.
The rest of you … enjoy your Netflix. I have to go and pirate a bunch of TV shows now, since that’s all that’s allowed here. I can’t watch TV legally anymore. But Netflix is cool in at least ONE country. Some of you should be able to really enjoy it.