First time I ever got to believe, Virtual Reality (VR) getting real for consumers was during the live stream of Google I/O in June 2014. The attending developers were given a cardboard box on their way out of the conference. After that most known bloggers in the Android journal were sharing their experience with what turned out to be a consumer-grade VR head mounted display. The product was also named as the Cardboard, which became the platform for development. This was just a box until the Nexus 5 (a Google flagship at the point) was set in the phone slot behind the lens. The head mounted display with the matched application made the person experience the virtual world first hand.
Since Google I/O, the Cardboard has been becoming more and more powerful. The applications and games developers have been delivering more content to enhance this experience. Youtube, added videos for 360-degree viewing and is compatible with cardboard. The Cardboard works with both Android and iOS similarly. Based on the Cardboard concept, there are quite a few manufacturers offering the headsets. These are available through various OEMs linked directly from the Google Cardboard official website in the west.
What is Virtual Reality?
VR enables the audience to enjoy three-dimensional (3D) content with a 360-degree viewpoint and near real effects. More and more industries are indulging in VR-based experience than in reality due to savings on time and cost. Recently, even educational institutions are looking forward to enabling VR for their students. This would enable the students to make virtual field trips while being in their classes and the faculty can control the content viewed. Many games developers are turning to VR content. This enables gamers to be more immersed in the game content, rather than playing.
Most of these VR use Head Mounted Displays (HMD). These are headsets that have two monitors one for each eye. A stereoscopic effect gets created through the convex lens. An illusion of depth is sensed. Mobile phones, today are getting as powerful as the personal computers. These mobiles phones combined with portable headsets like Google Cardboard or the Zeiss VR are becoming the most portable devices to experience the basics.
I have been wanting to try out the cardboard for some time. Google has the blueprint with dimensions available on the official website for the adventurous people to DIY. For the lazy ones like me, a quick search led me to GetCardboard.in in India. These guys offer two choices for the Cardboard based VR headsets. One is a Do-it-yourself kit, and other is a pre-assembled unit. Both are priced at a low cost at Rs.399 and Rs.430 (approx $6.5), including the shipping.
There was a crucial information missing on the website on the basic requirement. Before making the purchase ensure your smartphone supports Gyroscope sensor. This sensor detects the orientation and rotation of your phone. If this is missing from your phone (check your phone model's compatibility at GSMArena, look for "Gyro" under Sensors).
I opted and ordered the pre-assembled unit directly from the official website. The item is also listed on Amazon India along with few other options (search "vr headsets"). The unit was compatible for a 5-inch phone screen and suited my Nexus 5 perfectly, leaving my OnePlus One (with a 5.5-inch screen) deprived. The package was delivered within 2 days from in a simple brown box. The box carried the VR unit in a bubble wrap to protect it during transit. The headband on the unit enables the hands-free experience.
The quality of the product was decent since the most important component is the lens. To experience the great content the lens needs to do the justice, which it did. The outside shell also includes a magnet based pull back switch. This is useful based on the content being played on the phone.
The low price did have its toll on the no NFC chip. The NFC on compatible phones can automatically launch the desired application. Since the chip was missing from the GetCardboard headset, I had to manually launch the desired app each time.
There is another segment of the VR headsets, which are currently for developers - Oculus Rift. Oculus Rift is a high-end VR head mounted display and made the news recently when Facebook bought them. Oculus Rift is like Google Cardboard with the better display, sensors and more rich content. This is currently priced quite high compared to the Google Cardboard concept at the cost of approx USD350. Oculus Rift may soon be releasing to the end-consumers as well, with an affordable price tag.
As the VR is taking baby steps to get into the user space, the content is still work in progress. To discover the available content on Android, I downloaded the Cardboard app from Play Store on my Nexus 5. The Cardboard application in itself provided a basic experience. It links more compatible VR based app/games on the Play Store. My favourite ones were being the Roller Coaster and Battle 360.
The Roller Coaster app was quite an experience, to an extent few of my colleagues also enjoyed. The next thing they did was to order the VR from GetCardboard.in themselves. At home, a few close neighbours had a similar experience as well. Making the spend totally worth more value than the amount spent.
Youtube, too has playlists specific to experience VR via cardboard too to began.
Slowly yet steadily we are moving towards a Virtual World from education to offices, from traveling to shopping, and experiencing the past to looking at future worlds. This is just a beginning of the boom that is forthcoming.
Google Cardboard offers to kickstart the experience. The high-end head mounted displays like Oculus Rift's takes it to the next level completely and mark the era of the Virtual Reality that is about to hit us all in the very near future. Be prepared for the future, try the Google Cardboard today!