All the research I’ve been doing into VR really worked up my anticipation for actually experiencing it in person. I was pretty excited when my little package arrived in the mail, and I finally had the chance to see what all the fuss is about.
Upon opening it I realised that it didn’t come with a controller as advertised. Only mildly surprised, I’ve been burned by eBay before. It definitely wasn’t going to ruin my mood.
I set up Tap Tap Fish – AbyssRium, a virtual aquarium app in its VR mode and put the phone into the headset. Putting the headset on for the first time was pretty impressive – the screen took up about a third of my field of vision. It doesn’t sound like much, but when it’s in the centre of your vision, about 5cm away it definitely does the trick.
The above 360 video just doesn’t do it justice. My eyes were greeted by a slew of blurry, animated sea creatures casually floating past my vision. After I adjusted the lenses to a create a comfortable view, there was surprisingly immersive sense of depth in the world.
I say world because it does feel a lot like one – I watched a seahorse cruise by, and followed its journey by moving my head. The accelerometer and inclinometer in my phone, tracking my head location were far more effective than I assumed they would be, and provided a smooth, responsive experience. Experience will vary depending on your phone model however.
A Lack of Input
The VR Box is a phone based headset that operates on the Google Cardboard method (More on that in this previous post). To use it, you pull out a plastic tray and secure your phone in with a spring loaded clasp, then slide it into the headset.
This revealed a problem that was only evident to me once the phone was in the headset – I couldn’t interact with any menus requiring a ‘click’. Some apps allow you to ‘click’ with the dot in the centre of your vision, by staring at an option for a few seconds. But the official Cardboard ones don’t, and pulling the phone tray out every time I wanted to click was a bit of a drag.
Google Cardboard viewers get around this by using a magnetic switch, where changes in the magnetic field get picked up by the phone’s sensors and used as input. The VR Box has no such, relying on the assumption that the user has a Bluetooth controller for input.
Immediately, I went through and downloaded a few free VR showcase apps to get a feel for it. Here’s what I found:
- Google Cardboard – The official app, it acts as a library for VR apps and contains a few demos and a handy link to Youtube 360.
- Google Cardboard Camera – Lets you take and view panorama shots (and also add sound for extra immersion).
- Google Street View – Ever wanted to experience google maps street view in VR? Personally no, but you can!
- Google Expeditions – Takes you to some beautiful places and gives you little lessons on them. Also has a tour feature for classrooms or groups.
- Netflix VR – Lie in bed and watch TV while staring at the roof. The dream. May be uncomfortable to watch films on, something I plan on testing soon. I can’t get past the login screen without an input device unfortunately.
- The Guardian VR – Immersive VR journalism.
- VR Thrills, Cosmic Roller Coaster and Temple Rider – All similar roller coaster type apps, fun once or twice. Wouldn’t recommend doing while standing up.
- Fulldive VR – A video and social content platform.
- Asteroids VR – A 3D version of asteroids, where you shoot them down by looking at them. Great for a neck stretch.
Pain in the Brain?
After spending the afternoon experimenting, the back of my eyes started feeling a bit funny. Not painful, but a similar feeling to the one you get after staring at something really closely and the looking across the room. Or the feeling you get from looking at 3D stereograms for too long.
After reading about the issues we have with VR, it’s not a surprise. I am a little concerned with how long I’ll be able to comfortably use the headset for though. It’ll have to be usable for at least an hour in order to consume TV episodes.