Monday, 5 December 2016

my cardboard virtual reality

I was at a gig recently which had professional VR filming set up using a cluster of GoPro cameras. So far it hasn't been released, but some of the people attending are already looking into the necessary equipment to get that immersive feeling.

Something like the Oculus Rift costs about £550, needs a separate PC to run and probably requires the hand controller to be upgraded for the serious aficionado. It makes going to the original music gig seem like very good value for money.

Then there's the HTC Vive, at a cool £685. It is probably close to the benchmark, although some of the demos are a little bit sketchy.

I decided to start at the other end and see what could be done for almost no money, to get the effect until the technology properly matures. Roll on the Virtoba Reality Viewer V2, which cost me the princely sum of £5. Yes, five quid.

Admittedly there is some modest assembly of the cardboard structure required, but it does include all the velcro, elastic straps and even a rather basic control button. It took me about 2 minutes to get a fully functional unit, including setup of the VR environment via my phone.

The system works by putting a smartphone into the box, and effectively using it to provide the stereoscopic moving pictures, much like a Viewmaster from the olden days.

And it works rather well. I'm sure it's not as good as the expensive models, but at circa 100 times less, its not only 1/100th as good.

In fact, I booted up a 360 degree version of a Mr Robot episode and it was eerily realistic sitting in the room next to Elliot. As I turned my head I got the corresponding change to the view of the room. This example plays with the format too, with the start looking like someone has taken some video on a phone in portrait, before spilling into a 360 degree room (look behind to the open window, or spiral up in the air to look down on the action. Later the same storyline goes outside to Coney Island we are soon on the chairs in that big wheel that features in the TV show. And right in the middle of the conversation.

I've showed my cheap as chips VR to others and had various reactions from 'Yay' to 'I don't like the way it is moving about'. Most people comment on the pixels, which are more visible than, say, watching the same kind of thing on television. It's a factor of the iPhone's resolution, which, despite retina, still needs a further boost for full-on VR.

Here's the Mr Robot 360 unwrapped, but it's much better to watch it properly immersed on a headset viewer like

So here's a few more viewable extracts: They do boot onto a regular browser and give 360 viewability, but the headset version with the stereoscopic sound is still much better. Even if it did cost £5. And even if it does look rather silly watching VR with a cardboard box.

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