It’s been nearly four years since Oculus Rift took Kickstarter by storm, raising $2.5 million before being purchased by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion — and the Oculus Rift launched at $600. More recently, the HTC Vive launched at $800. Compared to what’s still to come, these are on the cheaper end.
2016 looks set to be the year that virtual reality comes into its own, but looking at the most popular devices on the market may discourage you due to the high costs. That’s why we’re going to show you how to get started with VR on the cheap using the Google Cardboard.
What Do You Need?
- Google Cardboard
- Smartphone with a gyroscope
Cardboard works by splitting your smartphone’s screen in half, effectively using each half as a separate lens — one for each eye. Your phone displays an image on each half of the screen from a slightly different perspectives, which is what creates the 3D effect.
You need a smartphone with a gyroscopic sensor for head tracking. If you aren’t sure if your phone has a gyroscope, find your phone on GSMArena and take a look at the sensor list.
Which Cardboard Headset to Get?
To get the best experience from Google’s VR platform, you need a Cardboard headset. These were originally given away at I/O in 2014 to all attendees, and soon after Google released manufacturer specifications, thus opening up an entire market for Cardboard headsets.
The Cardboard headsets are designed to be inexpensive ranging between $10 and $30. They are made out of cardboard after all, and if those that are designed to Google’s specifications can carry the “Works with Google Cardboard” verification.
The model I use is the Cardboard 2.0 from BrizTechVR which is only $15 on Amazon, and its design conveniently supports both Android and iPhone.
While these official headsets are made of cardboard, some “premium” sets have recently come onto the market with better construction. If you fancy a hit of nostalgia with your modern tech, then you could try out the View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack, which is Cardboard compatible:
Despite the “headset” terminology, Cardboard has to be held up to the face rather than supported by a head-strap. This is because fast head movements in VR environments can cause nausea — a very unpleasant experience — and Google is keen to avoid that problem for Cardboard users.
Which Smartphone: iOS or Android?
When Google initially launched Cardboard, the Software Development Kit (SDK) for developers was limited just to Android, but Google eventually made the Cardboard app available on both iOS and Android. Unfortunately, the number of apps currently favors Android due to the head start.
But ever since Google published the iOS SDK in May 2015, we’ve seen a steady increase in iOS Cardboard apps. Aside from the Google Cardboard app, some of the best iOS VR apps are:
- The horror experience, “Sisters: A Virtual Reality Ghost Story“.
- The arcade brick-breaking game, “Proton Pulse“.
- Mobile VR Station to view 360-degree videos (while you wait for Google to update the iOS YouTube app to support the Cardboard experience).
There is a great roundup of some of the best iOS Cardboard compatible apps over at Unofficial Cardboard. For even more inspiration, Reddit user /u/faduci has put together a list of iOS Cardboard apps that are “most worth your time“.
Immerse Yourself in 360 Videos
YouTube began supporting 360-degree videos back in January 2015. By March they had enabled support in the Android YouTube app for 360-degree videos with Cardboard.
These videos allow the viewer to be transported into the physical space where the video was recorded, creating a more immersive experience — as if you were actually there.
YouTube maintains a dedicated section of the site to 360-degree videos that you can browse, but the playlist above rounds up some of the best currently available.
Experience YouTube in SnoopaVision
In the hubbub of April Fools Day, YouTube released SnoopaVision: 360-degree viewing of YouTube videos with your favorite rapper and entertainer, Snoop Dogg.
As is usually the way with Google’s April Fools, this fairly ridiculous idea has actually remained available for you to watch viral YouTube videos to this day, all with Snoop’s insightful commentary as you sit next to him in your comfy handheld VR cinema.
Get Inside Your TV
If you’ve finished binge watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, then you’ve probably moved onto the spin-off show “Better Call Saul” based on Saul Goodman’s formative years as a lawyer. AMC knows how invested fans are in Vince Gilligan’s mega-hit, so they gave you a gift: a 360-degree tour of the sets from Better Call Saul.
To coincide with the release of the final instalment of the “Hunger Games” franchise in 2015, Lionsgate also released a Hunger Games VR app that allows you to explore the key moments in the protagonist’s journey across the four films.
As broadcasters begin to dip their toes into virtual reality, expect to see this concept taken to the next level with VR shows popping up more and more in the coming years.
Play Around & Have Fun
Gaming is probably the most widely talked about use for VR, largely due to the Oculus Rift’s notoriety. While Cardboard isn’t designed to be able to handle high-end games, the ones you are able to play are still quite enjoyable and fun.
As most Cardboard apps don’t require actual controllers — only the use of head-tracking and the magnetic button on the top of Cardboard — this makes them ideal for showing off the potential of VR gaming without the steep learning curve.
Google has hand-picked some of the best VR games for Cardboard, although one that is definitely worth trying is Lamper VR: First Flight.
This virtual reality runner, which is similar to the more popular Temple Run, is really fun and easy to play guiding the firefly Lamper through tunnels and avoiding obstacles.
Try It Before You Buy It
When you buy tickets for a sports event, it can be hard to know if you are getting a great view or one that’s more towards disappointing. VR can actually help here.
Rukkus has created 360-degree panoramas of most major NHL and NBA stadiums in the U.S., and with the power of virtual reality, you can take in the view from your chosen seat before buying the ticket.
Rukkus has launched this feature in their iOS app first with Android support coming soon. Although you can view the panorama on your phone, using Cardboard makes for a more immersive view, so that you can get a better sense of what the seating area will be like.
Explore Before You Travel
Choosing where to go on holiday can be one of the most stressful parts of booking some well-deserved relaxation time. What if you choose the wrong place? Or don’t make the most of the time you have there?
Apps like London VR are here to help. By using VR explorations you can scope out a city or destination before visiting. Not only can these virtual tours help you plan a holiday, but they can allow you to experience areas or destinations that are usually unavailable to most people.
Along those lines, “Inside Abbey Road” is a Cardboard VR experience developed by Google that takes you on a guided tour of the famous recording studio, giving you an insight into a place that is held in very high regard by music fans around the world.
A Unique Learning Opportunity
In April 2016, medical training company Medical Realities broadcasted the first live VR cancer operation, allowing medical students to view an operation in real time using Cardboard.
While this is the first time Medical Realities performed a live broadcast, they specialize in using virtual reality to make it easier and more effective to train medical students as the video below shows:
In environments like the Operating Theatre, it wouldn’t be practical or safe to host a large class of students to watch such a procedure, but the use of affordable technology allows them to see and experience it as if they were there, while also opening it up to people all around the world.
Google Cardboard may not be as powerful or as immersive as fully-fledged VR systems like the Oculus Rift or Samsung’s Gear VR, but at under $30 for the headset to attach to a device you already own, it’s hard to pass up.
If virtual reality is to really cross-over into the mainstream then the cost needs to be less prohibitive, and Cardboard neatly fits into that realm.
Have you used Google Cardboard? What did you think of it? Does it serve as a challenger to the more expensive gaming systems? Are you excited about VR? Let us know in the comments below!