Definitions don’t always give you the real picture. For example, VR is defined as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” That’s a flat and joyless way to explain VR. It’s a lot more fun than Merriam-Webster implies.
After reading about virtual reality (VR), my wife, Kimber, and I were eager to try it ourselves. I was given an opportunity to review an inexpensive Google cardboard viewer and jumped at the chance.
This is the one we have, but there are plenty of viewers out there. Just read the reviews and choose the one you think will work best for you.
It took very little time to set up the viewer. It arrives flat. Fold it up, attach the headstrap, and you’re good to go.
Also, remember sound is imperative to fool your mind–and trickery is an integral part of VR. This is true even with a 360 degree still image. For example, an image of rippling water with sound seals the deal in convincing you that you’re there. Use earbuds (wired or Bluetooth).
Next, you’ll want to download some VR apps into your smartphone. (Mine is a Samsung S5–not every smartphone will work with the device). Carefully slide the phone into the viewer, making sure that the phone is secure. Then keep your hands around the viewer edge, so the phone won’t fall out. Trust us. Once the experience starts, you’ll be less aware of your movement, and you don’t want your $500 phone sliding out and crashing onto the floor.
Google Cardboard Demo
The first app we tried was the free Google Cardboard Demo app. (NOTE: Go to the iTtunes store if you’re using an iPhone to get the app.)
We realized immediately that this was something we’ve never experienced. There were lots of exclamations of “Wow,” “Oh my,” etc. (One thing I’ve realized is that it’s weirdly isolating to have someone in the same room with you viewing VR when you’re not.) “You sound like you’re having sex,” I remarked to Kimber when I first heard her reactions.
Tutorial is brief. Pretty much it tells you how to click and tilt to maneuver through an app.
Google Earth might be the coolest thing on this app. You can spend a lot of time here. Play around with it and enjoy the sensation of flying. We were thrilled to end up in Chicago. We honeymooned there and are familiar with the city, so it was a treat to fly down Lake Shore Drive and over to the Bean.
Tour Guide includes a short tour of Versailles with a historical narration. These are still 360 degree photos. Kimber has been to Versailles, and this was very similar to standing in the rooms. Can’t wait until they upload a garden tour.
Exhibit is a kind of silent slideshow where you can view masks from all angles.
My Videos provides a way for you to watch videos you’ve created.
Photo Sphere provides a way for you to view Google Photo Spheres, either your own or someone else’s.
Welcome Video is short but gives you a flavor of VR.
We will review other VR apps in the future, but I do want to mention a free app titled Sisters. It was a good intro into the emotional potential of VR. You feel it. Although I’m not a fan of horror films, I’d read good reviews. It’s an animated short that packs a punch. It really did scare me, and I’m positive my heart and pulse raced. I also laughed a lot. In fact, my involuntary reactions were so disturbing to the dog, he left me and went to his other mom to tell her I was having a conniption.
A Few Notes to Help Your Viewing Experience
It’s a good idea to remain seated when you first experience VR. It’s disorienting, and it’s conceivable you could fall or bump into something. You don’t want your first VR experience to result in anything broken, including you.
The viewer can be uncomfortable to wear–the cardboard dug into the bridge of my nose, leaving a little indentation. This can be alleviated by raising the viewer slightly as you hold the edges to prevent your phone from sliding out. Or you can retrofit with a cotton ball. It’ll make you look even cooler. Really.
If you wear glasses, you may need to experiment to find your best viewing experience. I have poor eyesight and find that wearing my glasses works best. However, my wife wears bifocals, and she prefers her reading glasses with the Cardboard viewer.
Turn off your phone’s notifications. They can ruin the immersive experience.
Make sure your phone is fully charged because viewing VR sucks up the juice. A lot.
There were a few glitches with some of the apps we tried. Many times the time the images were somewhat blurry. Sometimes the apps stalled or wouldn’t start.
Still, the Google cardboard viewer provides an inexpensive introduction to VR. The technology will get better and more comfortable. This is new, people. Keep trying. You’ll be glad.
Next time …
We’ll write about our experience using the Google Cardboard Camera app to create our own VR images. Very, very cool.