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Google Cardboard: A VR headset you make yourself


Powered by article titled “Google Cardboard: A VR headset you make yourself” was written by Ian Tucker, for The Observer on Friday 12th June 2015 06.29 UTC

Google’s previous attempt to get us to wear something mildly ridiculous on our faces didn’t end well. But while Google Glass was released (and failed) to much fanfare, the growth of Google Cardboard has been unhurried, and – by Google’s standards – low key.

Now on its second version, “Cardboard” is a cheap holder that turns your smartphone into a virtual-reality headset. Anyone can download the template and make one, while the impatient can buy a pre-made model for £10 from Amazon. (Currently only the template for v.1.2 is available, but v.2 will be downloadable soon – and it will be easier to build.) Once you have your Cardboard you can download VR apps from Google Play or the App Store and experience the sensations of exploring far-flung cities, the stomach-in-the-mouth feel of a rollercoaster ride or simply be spooked by zombie children – all without leaving your chair.

Mike Jazayeri, director of product management at Google VR, says he is pleasantly surprised by the success: “We never imagined the momentum it has had. Immediately we got a lot of interest from content creators, brands, developers – and a year later more than a million Cardboards have shipped and there’s hundreds of apps.”

The rival dedicated VR headsets – Facebook’s Oculus, HTC’s Vine and Sony’s Morpheus, plus the augmented reality Microsoft HoloLens – have yet to be released, and when they do they’ll be much more expensive. For example, Oculus will sell for about ,500 (although this includes a powerful PC to drive its graphics). Rather than suggesting that Google has stolen a march on its rivals, Jazayeri says the devices will have different “use cases” – engineer-speak for horses for courses. “For Cardboard our focus is on simple, fun, shorter experiences – bite-size VR. And they’re cheap, so, for example, everyone in a classroom can have one.” He says Oculus will need to be connected to a PC, but Cardboard is as portable as your phone.

“Cardboard” is a cheap holder that turns your smartphone into a virtual-reality headset.
“Cardboard” is a cheap holder that turns your smartphone into a virtual-reality headset.

As well as making VR accessible to smartphone users, Google is trying to simplify the creation of content. At a developers’ conference last month it announced Jump, a platform to create 360-degree content. This consists of three elements: an open-source template to build a 360-degree camera setup (they displayed a circular rig of 16 GoPros, but any camera could be used); software that colour corrects, processes and stitches footage together, and a player – YouTube now plays VR content. “Just capture your content in 360 and anyone can experience it. Jump will really lower the barrier to creating VR,” says Jazayeri.

“Cardboard has primarily been devised for developers,” says Patrick Moorhead of tech analysts Moor Insights Strategy. “This is their primary target. Secondary are people who want to try out the technology. The issue here is that Cardboard delivers a lousy experience compared to other devices because of the lack of optics and image perfection.”

VR is still emerging technology, and searching for a “killer app”. What does Jazayeri think could make Cardboard irresistible? “This idea of transporting or teleporting people to places that otherwise they couldn’t go, that’s something new and different.” Moorhead sees a more prosaic future for VR, “I’m not a big believer in the notion of a “killer app”, but VR will be most beneficial in games, and commerce where you have to see many elements of the potential purchase, like a hotel room or a car.”

But Cardboard shouldn’t be dismissed as a gimmick, Jazayeri says, as it fits with Google’s broader ideological drive to democratise data: “It’s consistent with our mission to make the world’s information universally accessible – and experiences are part of that information, right?”



Test your reflexes in this claustrophobic game which involves running along a passage while having to dodge obstacles with a flick of your head.

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A gothic ghost scenario – all lightning, creaks and frankenkids – that demonstrates the ability of VR to spook and scare. She’s behind you!

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An app that shows the educational potential of VR, takes users on a guided tour of our solar system. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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