It’s hard to argue with a virtual reality (VR) headset that costs $10 but in fact, many are interested to know whether Google’s ultra-budget Cardboard VR has a future or it is just a five-minute novelty.
VR has come a long way in a short time, to the extent that it’s not just video gaming that has adopted the technology. Outside the likes of the PS4 and PC, the casino industry has been the technology’s biggest advocate, with even the spectating of live World Series of Poker events posited by the more creative people out there.
It’s part of a natural progression for online casino gaming in particular, which has long held innovation as a cornerstone of its business model. For example, the Betway brand recently spruced up the online poker experience with live human dealers, while mobile play has been central to the company’s casino offering for some time now – way before Google forced pretty much the entire internet to cater to mobile users.
So, how does Google Cardboard fit into all that? Cardboard is a logical entry point to VR technology – it’s cheap, DIY, and fits smartphones going back to the early generations of the Samsung Galaxy series – but is it worth all ten of those dollars?
Arguably the biggest issue faced by the Cardboard is credibility: it’s a piece of tech made from glass and folded paper. But in fact, it works perfectly well as a piece of hardware. The trouble is that the user’s experience is dependent on too many different factors to make it a must-buy or even a recommended, fun introduction to VR.
The brain, for all its processing power, doesn’t seem to fully understand what’s happening when it’s wired into virtual reality. For example, if you’re sitting still while your in-game character is moving forward, there’s a contradiction between what your eyes can see and what your inner ear, the body’s center of balance, tells the brain is happening.
For the above reason, you don’t need to suffer from motion sickness in real life (e.g. car sickness) for it to come as standard in VR; it’s an alien environment as far as the brain is concerned, and doesn’t seem to follow standard rules as far as the senses are concerned.
With Cardboard VR, the user’s experience changes from app to app, and every time they re-insert their phone into the device. Given those variables, as well as the headset brand (there are several manufacturers), screen size and quality, phone capabilities, and how smooth an app’s animations are, nausea is almost a guarantee with Cardboard.
Cardboard is not very well supported by developers, with one of the more popular apps, Deep Dive, standing as a microcosm of the Cardboard VR market as a whole. It’s a tech demo that lets the user watch fish swim around – and that’s it. The official Cardboard app is a little more interactive but the device has theater (rather than gameplay) at its heart.
It’s no surprise that many of the current apps are 360-degree photographs, virtual fireworks displays, and similar stationary adventures.
VR has a long history of not working very well, beginning with Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995. Unfortunately, Google’s VR box stands out as a reminder of the early days of the tech, a period of awkward play sessions (the Virtual Boy had to rest on a table) and head-splitting motion sickness, rather than a herald of future possibilities.
It’s probably a little unfair to Cardboard to even call it VR – it’s simply a more advanced version of the old Mattel View-Master (a modern, VR version of which is now available to buy), which is a fun distraction for a few minutes at a time. Its low price is attractive, but you get precisely what you pay for.
The motion sickness is at least free.