Oculus has been successfully able to bring back VR gaming back to the center stage, with several other companies showing interest in the area. It is one thing to play your games on a monitor or screen in front of you, quite the other to be immersed in the experience. And while several companies have been busy bringing their expensive virtual-reality headsets out in the market, Google has just made it easy to use one using your phone and some cheap materials. Google Cardboard uses the technical capabilities of your smartphone and brings VR capabilities using a simple cardboard mount for your phone. The end result is a VR experience which is more than enough to give you a glimpse of what’s in store.
We picked a Cardboard VR set off Amazon for Rs 400 ($6). There’s one that is even cheaper, but you’ll have to assemble it yourself. Built by a third party manufacturer on Google’s guidelines, the set comes with a cardboard mount that houses your phone. It is made of easily available components including two 45 mm focal length lenses, a magnet, a fastener and an elastic band to mount the set up on your head. You can build one on your own, given you’re able to source these materials.
The build quality isn’t exactly awe inspiring, but given the price there’s nothing to complain. We had no difficulty in fitting our 5.2 inch Moto Turbo inside Cardboard. It would be able to handle bigger phones easily as well. The only trouble we had was when closing the flap on Cardboard kept pressing the power button on the phone. Other than that, it is easy to setup and mount.
Of course, the whole thing would be pointless without the software and this is where Android’s prowess comes into play. The store is already filled with some quality titles (most of them made by a developer named Fibrum). We downloaded a few including Roller Coaster VR, Battle360VR, and VR Free Flight. The apps split your smartphone’s display image into two, one for each eye, and apply barrel distortion to each image to counter pincushion distortion. The end result is a stunning stereoscopic 3D experience with a wide field of view. The 3D effects manage to impress while moving your head in either direction gives a wide view of the world created by the developers. Prolonged use and whirling might give a headache or nausea to many users, so it’s advisable to not use it for more than 10 minutes at a stretch.
There’s also a magnet on the left face of Cardboard which works as an input source (since you can not touch the screen while your phone is inside Cardboard). This is helpful in some games which require input for movement or other actions. Unfortunately for us, it didn’t work with our Moto Turbo and Nexus 5.
At the moment there are only a handful of titles in the Play Store, but that should swell with time. It’s not just games, but you can also watch 360 degree videos on YouTube, as well as 3D images. You might not get the best VR experience here, but Google’s aim here is to generate interest in VR, which the cardboard manages to do quite well. However, with the lenses magnifying the pixels on the phone’s screen, the experience could turn out to be sub-par for users with low resolution displays. We tried Cardboard on a Nexus 5 and a Moto Turbo and Moto Turbo’s higher display offered a much more immersive experience. We’d recommend using a phone with at least FHD resolution.