A few weeks ago I had the privilege of trying out an Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset in the forum at an IBM stall. For those who don’t know, Oculus Rift is the cutting edge of virtual reality. The headset consists of 2 small screens that sit in front of the user’s eyes, along with a number of gyroscopes and accelerometers that allows the Rift to track the position of the user’s head in 3D space. The combination of these allows the hardware to create a full 3D virtual environment for the user to explore. Prior to trying this out, I had no interest in virtual reality, and regarded it as a pointless and over-priced area of technology.
Virtual Reality is currently very expensive, as it requires a large amount of processing power, high definition screens, and motion tracking hardware. However, most people already own all these things, and carry this hardware around with in their pockets without a second thought; I’m referring to smartphones.
With all current Smartphones sporting fast multicore processors, large HD screens, motion tracking and a number of other sensors, Google thought to use this as a means of creating ultra-cheap Virtual Reality experiences. All that is required is downloadable content, and a means of placing the phone near your eyes. Enter Google Cardboard.
Cardboard is quite literally what it says on this tin. A cardboard net. You can order a flat packed £5-£10 model online, or purchase some lenses and print out the cardboard net designs from Google’s website. The setup process takes less than five minutes; assemble the unit, download the Google Cardboard App, slot your phone in, and you’re good to go!
Using this for the first time, I must admit I was sceptical, but honestly I was completely blown away by the quality of this, somewhat gimmicky, product. On booting up my first application, I was greeted with a 3D menu system that required me to look around and select apps (using the magnetic button on the left side of the headset). The head tracking works fluidly, animations are snappy and the 3D effect is incredibly immersive. You find yourself forgetting this is all powered by a phone.
One minute you can be in your bedroom, on a cold bring Saturday, the next you can be in a space station, orbiting an alien world. Or in a huge virtual cinema, maybe even viewing 360 degree photos of Mars captured by NASA’s Curiosity. The possibilities are endless, and due to Google making the whole concept open source, anyone can begin designing apps for it.
Cardboard is not a completed product; it is no Oculus Rift and, well, it’s made of cardboard (I’ve already had to bust out a Pritt stick and some sellotape). Cardboard is much rather a proof of a concept. Google set out to prove that Virtual Reality doesn’t have to be expensive, but can be accessible to anyone. Since release, the market has blossomed with full products based on the Cardboard concept being produced by companies such as Samsung.
At £5 for the cheapest models, pick one up and see for yourself!
Google Cardboard app– a number of demos, such as Google Earth, YouTube, and Photosphere viewer.
Full Dive!– a more fleshed out version of the Google Cardboard App. With a heads up display, YouTube support, and the ability to launch all Cardboard Apps
Sisters– A short immersive horror game, worth playing to the end, but not for the easily frightened!
Alien apartment– Explore an apartment orbiting an alien world, solve a puzzle, or just look out the window!
Cmoar Virtual Cinema– Ever wished you could bring the cinema to you? Well now you can, however it is a little empty, and watching a full movie on cardboard may be a bit uncomfy.
Trinus Gyre– For the technical minded, this app makes it possible to use cardboard to interact with your computer. It is possible to even play games like Portal 2!
Unfortunately as this is a Google product there is less out there for the iPhone, however here are some top picks!
Dive City Rollercoaster– Take a tour of a city on a roller-coaster.
3D Tube (split screen video)– Browse 3D YouTube videos.
The Height– explore a 3D-rendered scaffolding.