Virtual reality (VR) kits are around for some time already, but full-pack products like Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR are very pricy. However, it’s a fact that if you’ve already got a smartphone, you can rely on a very affordable solution to have some VR fun – Google Cardboard.
The word “solution” here is more applicable than “product”. Google markets the actual Cardboard, but when you order it you will get just some cardboard sheets, lenses and the assembly kit. So what you get?
Pretty self-explanatory, a Google Cardboard is a concept which empowers people with low incomes to have a chance for taking a glimpse into the beautiful world of virtual reality. Use these cardboard sheets to make a box into which you put your smartphone, put it on your head using a simple strap and voila! The rest of magic is done with custom software made with the Cardboard SDK (Software Development Kit). With this thing developers can make movie layers and other software applications which turn your smartphone into a 3D visualizing device.
The Cardboard can accommodate all smartphones sized 4” to 6.5”, so it basically can fit 90% of all smartphones in pockets of average people. The fact it’s a Google product does not limit its use to Android phones. There is also a SDK for iPhones, and it’s known there are games and software independently developed for Windows Phone as well as for BlackBerry OS. Definitely, the Cardboard sprung up interest for spreading affordable VR solutions among general public.
The pair of lenses which come with a Cardboard are usually made of plastic, so these are prone to damage from scratching. You will have to be very careful and clean your lenses tenderly with a very soft cloth (it has to be dry!).
Despite being cheap, lightweight and easy to assemble, the Cardboard is not a perfect thing. The device is not quite anatomic, and it feels like cheap paper 3D glasses from cinemas. However, when you insert a smartphone into its box it gains pretty much weight, and it can be a burden if worn for several hours. Lack of soft cushions and non-sealed smartphone box may also allow some environmental light to get in. That will lower your VR comfort.
Normally, a user with such a problem will fight back by lifting up the light setting to the brightest, and that will be draining the battery. In most cases that will not allow a smartphone to run a 100 minute long movie. You will have to lower your blinds or wait for the night should you sit in a dark environment. Another major drawback of the Cardboard comes from its ultra cheap material – it has zero tolerance to humidity and rain. Contact with water will literally kill your Cardboard, though the lenses would survive and you can use a scheme available online to make another from a piece of cardboard you find anywhere, using the surviving lenses. However, cutting a new Cardboard can be an ordeal and if cut lines not followed strictly you will lose much comfort.
The best strategy to cope with potential loss of a Cardboard due to water exposure or mechanic pressure is to order several kits at a time from websites like Aliexpress, Ebay or Amazon. This way you will always have a reserve kit which is assembled quickly and ready to use after the first one is damaged or lost, or have the lenses compromised.
Google Cardboard is basically just an experiment whose primary aim is to check whether a VR headset can be made of materials we usually dump. It does not have a huge market perspective thanks to the fact that headsets working in a similar manner can be found for less than $10, or $15 considering models which feature a remote control unit that lets you manipulate the video player or play games without need to remove the smartphone from the box. These are made of plastic, have enclosing and soft, comfortable cushions and are waterproof – the smartphone is kept tightly in a sealed chamber. An average plastic headset, which can be found on same retail websites mentioned above will usually outlive its first smartphone. You should make sure a plastic VR headset can accommodate a smartphone which is larger than your existing one, so you can have it useful when your existing mobile phone contract expires and you sign another one with a faster and bigger phone.
One good reason to get a Cardboard is to check whether you can actually see in 3D. Around 10% of the population is stereo blind since birth. Many of these are unaware of the condition until they try to use simulated 3D entertainment means such as a VR headset. So if you’re stereoblind it’s much better to know you wasted few bucks on a Cardboard than over half grand on a Samsung VR or similar ones which has its own hardware built-in.