Virtual Reality(VR) is coming back! In the 1990s VR was mostly seen in video game arcades as opposed to in the home.For those of you who don’t know it, the idea of VR is that you put on a headset with two screens inside of it. On those screens you would see video or images of something from the real world or a virtual world(e.g. a video game). Software would allow the head to be tracked so that you can look around your environment.
Flash forward to today, we have lots of companies who are working on a plethora of different VR headsets, and 2016 is shaping up to be the year for VR. Google has recently raised their hand and decided to give VR a shot with Google Cardboard. So this begs a question, just what is Google Cardboard?
Simply put, Google Cardboard is a new standard developed by Google for a new category of budget VR headsets. As part of this standard, companies can make headsets made out of cardboard where you put your phone in the headset and your are able to access video content, games and all sorts of things. The phone will track your head’s movements, meaning that you will be able to have a look around to see what’s happening behind you as well as in the front, left and on the right of you (more on that in a few moments).
So what do you need in order to go for Google Cardboard?
- A smartphone (it can be an Android smartphone or an iPhone)
- A Google Cardboard headset(affiliate link)
- Google Cardboard app (available on iOS or Android)
There’s two different ways to go as far as a Google Cardboard viewer goes. You can spend less but you will have to spend a bit of time assembling the headset yourself. If you spend a little bit more then you can get the headset pre-assembled and ready to go. If you are the type of person who does not have much time on your hands then I would recommend the latter.
The headset that I went for in the end was the EightOnes VR Kit 2.0 (affiliate link). This one is priced at £12.99 plus postage. This is compliant with version 2 of Google’s Cardboard standard. It will fit phones where the screen size is anywhere up to six inches. If you have a slightly larger phone then I would recommend checking out the EightOnes VR Kit XL (affiliate link).
The first thing that I needed to download is the Google Cardboard app. This is what you will use to find Google Cardboard apps and YouTube videos that have been shot with cameras that can shoot in more than one direction.
For the purpose of this article, the smartphone that I used was a Samsung Galaxy S4. With that said you can also use an iPhone to do this. I would recommend an iPhone 5S or above.
Having installed the app I started out by checking out the demos that came with the app. The obvious one for me to start off with was the Google earth demo. I was dropped into the city of Chicago in the USA. I was able to look around and see the coast, the city itself and I was able to move around a bit. I then gave myself something that some of you might find a little scary. I put myself on top of the sears tower in Chicago and looked all the way down to the ground. Needless to say it was a little bit scary at first but oh my goodness it was amazing.
Next, I looked at some of the YouTube videos that have been shot with cameras that can see in all directions. One of the videos that I looked at was a video of a swiss fight plane with its squadron. I was able to look around me and see the mountains, the lake, the clouds beneath me and of course the rest of my squadron.
Are there drawbacks? The answer is yes.
You would have to take your phone out of your headset to access the YouTube videos or to change to a different app.
The other drawback that I found was that I had to hold the headset to my head. With that said you can buy a head strap(affiliate link).
The only other thing that’s missing is the ability to touch things. For example, it would be good to have a first-person shooting game where you can pick up a weapon with your hands. Again, Oculus are already working on their Touch controller for the Oculus Rift. With that said there is nothing to the best of my knowledge that would work with Google Cardboard.
As you can see, Google Cardboard has shown us something that I think is really important and crucial about VR. Don’t get me wrong, Oculus make their virtual reality headsets and they are really good. However you need to spend hundreds of pounds on it. On top of that you need to spend in the thousands of pounds for a PC that you can use with an Oculus Rift. This is because you need a really powerful PC and they don’t come cheap. With Google cardboard all you need is a smartphone and a headset compliant with Google cardboard and you are good to go.
Now think about what this could mean in the future. Estate agencies can implement some functionality for people with Google Cardboard headsets to see a house before actually going to see it in person. Casinos could use it to give people that visit their website a tour around the casino so they know where to find the roulette tables or the poker tables. People can experience what a skydive is like before they actually go on one of them. Needless to say, Virtual reality has a bright future ahead of it outside of the world of gaming.
I guess the TL:DR (too long didn’t read) of this article is that Google Cardboard has proven that you can still experience VR on a tight budget.
Last but not least, if your developing apps for Android or iOS, then I would recommend checking out the SDK for Google Cardboard.
Have you used Google Cardboard yet? If so what did you experience and how did you find it? Let me know in the comments!