VR headsets have been floating around for ages. The Forte VFX1 was released in 1994. Largely they have been commercial flops, partly due to the tech not being there. However Sony's last Glasstron, the PLM-S700, had impressive hardware (especially for 1998), featuring a see through mode that predicted modern AR headsets like Microsoft's Hololens and a 1.55 million pixel 800x600 display.
A Quick recap of the history of VR:
What's really made it start to come back is actually the modern smartphone as envisioned by Apple and Google.
Google, in particular, has had a leg in this business since 2014 when it released Cardboard.
Singularity Pope and futurist Ray Kurzweil, it should be noted, has been working at Google since 2013, a sign of the company's forward thinking. Google publishes much of it's developments online in the form of paper.
This is perhaps because Google understands that it is creators and developers that push both the success of it's own business (what would Chrome be without it's extensions?) and innovation.
Smartphone technology, particularly the head tracking and small but high resolution screens, kickstarted the development of most every emerging VR headset I can think of - Valve and HTC's Vive, the Oculus Rift, and Google's newer Daydream
Some companies have understood the importance of not putting profits over progress, such as Valve's release of the open source OpenVR SDK, while others have quickly begun to squeeze out every last drop of money they can from the product - like Facebook's Oculus Rift getting exclusive games, an anti-competition measure.
The whole industry is soaked in science fiction metaphors and throwbacks, particularly cyberpunk authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. Cyberpunk, it should be noted, is largely a genre depicting dystopian futures, yet the VR industry, for better or worse, embraces it all with glee.
Today I'll be reviewing the 'Zomtop' VR headset. It fits my Galaxy Note 3 with room to spare and straps onto your head. It's a mere 20 bucks and enables you to experience VR without breaking the bank.
Sometimes my glasses get caught taking it on or off but otherwise it fit fine. The comfort level of strapping anything that large onto your head is probably not going to be too high but it was surprisingly wearable for longer viewing sessions.
Google's official version of Cardboard did not come with straps - they're a third party addition which has made it to every other VR headset and one that I appreciate.
To test it, I loaded up some of the many free apps available for cardboard. My favourite is Full Dive, which offers a fully immersive environment for watching a variety of 3d videos and integrating your other VR apps.
These videos provided me with an insight into the wonderful possibilities of VR. From my home base, customised to be a lovely town square in the evening, I took off to distant worlds. Music videos in 3D took me through virtual spaces that I ached to explore further. I was transported up into the atmosphere, and down into the crowd at a bougie nightclub.
I was provided with glimpses of VR chatrooms, music rooms that surrounded you with visualisations. I was more fascinated by the limitless possibilities of the CG worlds I saw than the real life experiences. This, I realised, was somewhere anything was possible.
This was all experienced in immersive 3d, and in my normal office chair I could spin around and see the world around me as though rather than being a mere simulation I was wearing dive goggles that let me go directly into the data.
I realised too why counter-culture icon Timothy Leary called the internet 'the new LSD'. I could get addicted to this.
The main woe I've found about cardboard headsets is the lack of standardised inputs. A magnetic washer on the side of the Zomtop, flicked up and down like a Viewmaster, provides a sort of 'click' feature, however not all apps support this.
Fulldive offers a printable controller, however you need to use a headset that lets your camera see outside the headset to use it. This is a trivial project for literal Cardboard users and DIY solutions are possible, and headsets that have this capability are available
Interestingly, although it is only available for Android and iOS, Fulldive is a member of the HTC VIVE VR Accelerator project, VIVE X https://vivex.vive.com/us/.
If you're on the fence about VR or haven't had the chance to try it yet, I definitely recommend picking up a Cardboard headset like the Zomtop. Download some apps - Google's official Cardboard App, Youtube, and Fulldive come to mind - and you're ready to go.
It's affordable, accessible, and let you experience the wonders of VR.
The Zomtop gets ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆. It did what it was meant to and it did it simply. No frills required.
Fulldive gets ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆. Any flaw here isn't the fault of the Fulldive team, but of external apps not loading correctly and lack of Android integration which somewhat limited my experience of using Fulldive.
Fulldive http://fulldive.com/ is available on the Google Play and Apple App Store.