GROOVR Review

A GEARVR NEWS APPLICATION REVIEW

by VRift720


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INTRODUCTION:

      GrooVR, an adaptive-music visualizer from Presence Labs, is a self-titled “Music-Driven VR” experience that seeks to enthrall you with psychedelic visuals to go with your music library of choice.  There are tons of music options to choose from, and a really great HUD for navigating everything.  Your Library is on the left, on the right are Experiences.

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      Whether you have a SoundCloud or a Spotify account, or just the contents of your phone itself, the music you play is supposed to affect the way the app caters its visual flair.  These dynamic shows are theoretically supposed to change based on the song that’s playing.  But sadly so far, I haven’t noticed much difference between the songs I’ve chosen.

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      Don’t get me wrong, GrooVR has some of the best visuals to date once you’ve downloaded the included free “Experiences” (shown in the photo above) which take the app’s capabilities to a whole new level.  But the core idea that these experiences are supposed to somehow be “music driven” has not been nailed down well enough here yet. 

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      In one Experience called “Transcendence” (shown above), the only thing noticeably driven by the music are the running lights on the floorboard you walk on.  They tend to light up with the rhythm of the beat,  but that’s about it.  The idea of a music-driven visual is that a lot more visualization should be going on here, in my opinion.  But that’s an opinion I have which is based on previous experience….

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GAMING HISTORY LESSON:

      Before Playstation 1 got really famous with Tomb Raider 1, there was a gaming device called 3DO, which I proudly owned at the time.  It had games running on full-motion video, the first of their kind, but actually what thrilled me the most was that device’s built-in music visualizer.  It would stream the graphics around the screen like a pixel-fill-rate graphic demo, with geometric lines dropping in which got blurred and warped to according to the music.  The music’s basic tone defined the color the lines, the beat determined how hard it warped the lines.  And some lines fell down according to treble notes.  During this, the whole thing rotated and pulsed according to the acoustic tones.

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      It was a masterpiece in those days, something you could watch for hours alone in a dark room like you were high on acid (or so I am told).  Since I was in the military at the time, drugs were not something you wanted to be found guilty of doing, haha, so this was the next best thing.  It really did work to trip you out, and was a soothing thing to watch.  That’s why I am disappointed thus far with the music-driven approach of the GrooVR app.  The visuals are amazing, the 3D-Depth is very good, with a high sense of Presence just like the developer’s name.  But the music-driven aspect is a bit too thin here, and I do not feel they can justify billing themselves as “music driven” just yet.  I feel that part needs more.

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DEMO REEL:

      This is still one great app to use in showing off your GearVR.  You get a really-intense psychedelic thrill with the newest Experience called “Transcend Winter.”  It uses the same world as Transcendence but the scale is three times larger and I think the Buddha statue just looks way better at this size. There is a lot more magical animations and the color scheme is better, too.  It’s quite amazing to behold at first sight.

      I like the whale from the original one better, but the colors, magical animations, and energy coming off of the things in this level are way more impressive.  So the Winter level offers the best possible “first-time” experience to show others as a kind of VR Demo Reel.  You load it up, slip on your favorite tune, and throw the GearVR on your friend’s head.  Almost every time, you’ll hear them gasp and cry “oh man….” or “Wow!” out loud. 

      Then they just turn around in every direction because they usually can’t believe it.  Part of this reaction are the intense visuals, but part of it is the music too.  You have to choose just the right space-like music, similar to what you might find in Car Sagan’s “Cosmos” soundtrack to go with visuals this cool.  The stunning world of “Mission 9” (seen below) helps us think about what else VR will let us see down the road as it only gets more immersive.

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FUTURE GOALS:

      There are still a lot more Experiences coming down the pipes.  One Experience called “Small World” (on which it says “Coming Soon”) is explained to be that you’ll enter a forest at the scale of a bee and see the enlarged plant world around you become syncopated to the music. With Small World, GrooVR hints at being able to offer an even more compelling music-driven performance than anything that’s come before.  It’s not out yet, so we will just have to wait and see if it’s any more active than the current Experiences, whose music-driven aspects I feel thus far have fallen short of their goal.  Plus, these Experiences have said “coming soon” for almost a year now.  In my book that’s not very “soon.”

      Despite these small setbacks, the app offers quite a few amazing experiences, some that just randomly move you around the environments, or others on rails and take you around a kind of outer-space “theme park” that is literally out of this world.  The graphics in all cases are stunning and colorful, with mostly night and neon color schemes like from the movie Tron.  And of course, the music is entirely up to you.  I personally like to listen to the music I’ve gathered from the many demos at DemoScene as this music is often very spacey and quite perfect for the visuals found in GrooVR.

LATEST VERSION REQUIRES GOOGLE PLAY:

      Oh no!  In a surprising development, since the latest update to Version 1.1.2 of its app, GrooVR has opted to force users to log in via Google Play!   ARGH!  Suddenly, this app (GrooVR) is no longer available for use by over 30% of the potential customers represented by China, where a third of all S6, Note 5’s, and soon S7’s are sold.  China has banned Google Play at the root level.  You can’t use Google Play if you own a phone sold in China.  This has created enormous headaches for Chinese people (even foreigners like me who live here) to be able to use GearVR or their Android phones in general, as the best apps are usually only found on Google Play. Such a move, without at least a few alternative ways to log into GrooVR’s service, is wholly unfair and not considerate of an entire demographic!  Other ways to log in would be great, such as our Yahoo Account, LinkedIN, and WeChat, etc….

NO “GOOGLE PLAY” IS BAD FOR CHINA:

      A whole (possibly illegal) sub-culture now exists on the internet whose purpose is to rip Google Play downloads for Chinese phone owners.  The essential apps are ripped and re-uploaded to give access to those apps on Chinese phones that can’t access the Play Store. 

      Lately, Chinese people have begun to rebel against not having Google, especially since it was reported last month that Baidu (a popular Chinese alternative search engine to Google) was rigging its search results to cater to Chinese companies.  Baidu was hiding key foreign products and services which work better than Chinese versions so that all of the money from Chinese sales would remain in China.  China doesn’t like any of it’s money being spent outside of China. 

      I saw this in action, as products I’d ordered from Amazon last year were kept in a warehouse for over 6 months, reported as lost, and then finally shipped back to the sender as “undeliverable” although the product was still in Beijing or Shanghai while I live in Wuhan.  The Chinese Postal Service actually claimed “I wasn’t home” … but the product wasn’t shipped to my home, it was shipped to my work which is open 16 hours a day 7 days a week.  This is Gangster-ism, phony-baloney cronyism at work, and just refusing American-made products into the country over a few dollars.

      And with these Chinese phones, it’s no different.  We pay all this money for a Deluxe Samsung phone and the core functionality of our phones is crippled right from the start.  You can’t do a Voice Search, use S Voice at all, do an English translation from other languages, get a map, or basically do anything at all without Google access.  All key functionality of Android is embedded to use Google by default.  And Android doesn’t know how to use Chinese infrastructure to get those same results.  So 60% of apps just plain don’t work.

      But it was reported in the news last month that Chinese people have begun to call for the return of Google in China and I agree.  It’s really a nightmare to do anything good on our phones in China.  Most of the great features we paid all of this money to have access to simply don’t work and never will until the Google ban is finally lifted. 

      I own a Samsung Gear watch, too, and it’s supposed to be able to look up anything like iPhone’s “Siri” but doesn’t work at all in China.  It’s useless here.  But when I went to Hong Kong, I was able to get directions, maps, everything, right on my watch in real time, linked to the phone in my pocket that was no longer service-denied like it is in China’s mainland.

      So this is one trend I really don’t like seeing here, GrooVR requiring Google Play access.  I have emailed Presence Labs directly with this issue, and just this morning I got a response already.  They were very interesting in every aspect of GearVR in China, and seemed to think it was not possible to use it here.  So that means they really didn’t intend to do any harm with this update, they just had no idea that GearVR was being used successfully in China. 

      Now that they know, it seems they are going to be looking at a possible variation of a way to get us logged in to GrooVR from China that will actually work.  I hope it doesn’t take too long, but at least they are considering it.  That’s all we could ask for.  It isn’t good to only have one route into your application that kills 30% of all possible users right off the bat. 

      This is just like how the VR JAM title Steam Crew VR messed up by only allowing you to see the app at all if 2 people were logged in to the same Wi-Fi network.  So all single users loading the app would only see the intro screen, which offered no demonstrations of the in-game visuals at all.  You are not allowed to even see the game without a second-player logged in locally.  They should have included a few minutes a looped in-game demo mode, to let the single players at least get a taste of it.  To this day, I’ve never seen that game’s in-game graphics or know what it’s even like due to this lack of foresight.

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FINAL THOUGHTS:

      GrooVR is one amazing visualization app.  But thus far, I would hesitate to confirm that it is truly a “music-driven” experience from what’s been released so far.  The only indicator of anything driven by the music are some in-level lighting changes that go to the drums.  All other effects don’t seem to pander to the music in any way.  Maybe the “Small World” or “Dancer” Experiences that are listed as “Coming Soon” will be able to offer much more driven shows that cater to the music much better.  One could hope. 

      This app also is interesting to do alone only the first time.  It does not require successive viewings and there is no reason to come back after you’ve seen it all.  That’s kind of a flaw with this kind of thing.  I feel it would benefit immeasurably by a multi-player option to allow either 1 or 2 other people to ride along and experience your music with you.  Presence Labs is quite gifted at creating psychedelic worlds with considerable eye candy, but an app like this can’t keep drawing us back unless it offers way more Experiences coming out every few months like clockwork.  And so far, the new Experiences have been very slow to come out, only 1-2 a year, which doesn’t bode well for GrooVR’s growth and adoption arcs.

      In order to grow and keep this app relevant beyond its initial viewing, beyond just being a VR-Show Reel app, it needs to offer us something more, like multi-player, and new Experiences need to come out more regularly.  They also need some way to push these “notifications” to us as soon as possible, directly on our phones, to let us know about it. 

      I look forward to seeing what Presence Labs will come up with here.  This is the point where I would usually make a really bad joke about needing to go get my “GrooVR” on, haha.   But since the app is broken for me at the moment due to needing Google Play, I guess I’ll just have to leave it up to you to try it out for yourself.  And don’t miss the Transcend Winter experience.   It’s beyond awesome!

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