Google Cardboard – Cheap intro to VR

Google Cardboard is designed to be a cheap way to experience Virtual Reality. VR gaming, just one part of the overall VR market, is estimated to be worth $9.5 Billion by 2022. You can expect to see a huge increase in the usage of VR in the coming years. There is a range of VR headsets you can purchase today including the Oculus Rift £549 , Sony Playstation VR £349 and  HTC Vive £759. On the lower end of the scale there is Google Cardboard and its many many clones. Google Cardboard costs $15 for the original direct from Google but it is not available on their Ireland store. I did have a look on Amazon and eBay to try find an Official Google Cardboard kit but couldn’t find one at a reasonable price. I instead opted for one of the cheapest clones on Amazon costing €4 delivered to Parcel Motel.

Google Cardboard (and all VR headsets) are designed to create a simulated environment. It appears three dimensional and when you move your head, the view changes with you. VR allows you to look around in this simulated environment and it is very possible to ‘lose yourself’ in this new environment and end up walking into a very real wall. I’ve used a Google Cardboard before as a demo and was very impressed especially for how cheap it is.

Unlike the more expensive headsets there are no built in screens into Google Cardboard, instead you use your phone. All you receive is a cardboard cut out, magnets and some lenses. You assemble the cardboard, attach the lenses and magnets and then place the phone in the cardboard case. The magnets are used to allow you to simulate button presses which are picked up by the app.  Once you have a VR app installed you’re ready to go. There are tonnes of VR apps available out there including gaming, movies and VR maps. The main app I used was Google Cardboard. This has a link to VR videos on YouTube, Street View and VR Demos.  There are currently only 100 or so areas in StreetView that are VR ready – allowing you to look up and down, left and right and move around the ‘scene’.

My cheap headset arrived and took a couple of minutes to fully assemble. After downloading the Google Cardboard app there was a set up process to complete and one the steps was to scan the headsets QR code. There was no QR code with the headset but I found one in the Amazon Comments. After getting it fully set up using my Nexus 4 phone I could instantly tell this was not going to be as polished experience as the genuine Google Cardboard headset. While everything worked, I could look around and the click worked most of the time the screen was out of focus. It wasn’t horrendously out of focus, I could still make out what everything was but it was impossible to get fully immersed in the simulated environment, I always knew I was actually looking at a phone screen through cheap lenses. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the screen fully in focus.

In the end, I got a refund from Amazon on that clone but haven’t bothered trying out another clone yet. There are more expensive plastic cases available which I presume will be of higher quality. After booking my cheap Ethiopian flights to LA, I’m going to hold off until then and purchase the genuine Google Cardboard over there. I do think its a bit of a gimmick buts it a good gimmick! I expect I’ll use it quite a bit the first week of owning it then put it away and only use it when I’m showing it off to people who haven’t seen it before. Regardless for $15 its worth it.

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