Virtual Reality on a Dime

Photo of a Google Cardboard viewer
“Assembled Google Cardboard VR mount” by othree – Google Cardboard

Google’s virtual reality efforts are getting a lot of press these days, so what’s all the commotion? For the past two years, Cardboard has been the flagship of Google VR. If you’re new to the world of virtual reality, Google Cardboard is essentially housing made of cardboard that turns your smartphone into a virtual reality viewer. Similar products include Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR, but they come with a hefty price tag. A Cardboard viewer, on the other hand, will run you about $20 or less; Google even provides the blueprints if you want to create your own from scratch.

Photo of a girl looking through a View-Master
“Black-Ta” image from Flickr user Steven River

If you’re still scratching your head, think back to the good ‘ole View-Master. With Cardboard, you’re also looking at images through a viewer, but the experience is more interactive. Instead of viewing stagnant images, you can watch 360-degree videos that respond to your movements. For instance, in Bjork’s 360-degree music video, you’ll see Bjork standing on a beach in front of you, but you can also look up at the sky, down at the sand, even behind you. Pretty impressive stuff, eh?

Unfortunately, creating a 360-degree video isn’t quite as affordable as viewing one. GoPro has a VR camera rig called Jump that can be yours for the low low price of $15,000. That said, you can create your own 360-degree still images for free with the Google Street View app! In Google terms, these images are called “photo spheres”, or a series of images stitched together to recreate a 360-degree experience. I took one of my office and the process was incredibly simple; the app prompts you to move your phone around as you take photos to capture your whole environment. The final product isn’t 100% seamless, but the price is right and sharing is remarkably easy. If you’re eager to try out Google Cardboard, check out the #360Video YouTube channel. Even without the viewer, this will give you an idea of what we mean when we say virtual reality.

In addition to Cardboard, Google recently announced a new virtual reality viewer platform called Daydream, set for release this November. Daydream is considered an upgrade to the existing Google Cardboard viewer at more than double the price ($80). If you’re curious about VR, Cardboard remains an excellent choice for beginners. Daydream may be the latest model, but it’s unlikely to rival the simplicity, DIY quality, and accessibility of Cardboard.

If you’re interested in emerging technologies and digital creativity, join us on Mondays this semester at the IQ-Wall for Maker Mondays workshops, presented as part of the Scholars’ Commons Workshop Series – yet to be covered are stop-motion animation, internet of things and logo design:

Maker Mondays series event information

You might also want to check out upcoming events in the Digital Tools and Visualization Methods for Humanists series, which will be covering a variety of topics from 3D Scanning and Printing to IQ-Tables to much more.