Google Cardboard and other VR Cardboard Headsets Explained

May 10, 2017 · 7 min read

It’s such a shame that you can’t just try out Virtual Reality at home.
I mean, you can, but have you seen the price of those headsets? What if I don’t like it? Who has that kind of money to just throw around?

Well, as it turns out, most people. VR technology was recently made available to the masses by the launch of Google Cardboard and other alternative VR cardboards that followed. All you need to watch 360 videos, look around a virtual world, or play a VR game, is a reasonably up-to date smartphone, a free app, and a pair of weird looking glasses, which will (depending on the manufacturer) cost you less than $20.

Let’s clarify what Google Cardboard is

Google Cardboard is, originally, a platform that holds VR content. If you put the term into your app/play store’s search window, you’ll find an app with the same name. If you download it, it will serve as a library for your VR content, as well as a VR video/game/app launcher and platform. It’ll also recommend experiences, and grant you access to free demos.

The term Google Cardboard is closely linked to the Cardboard Viewer used with the platform, so people often refer to it as ‘’Google Cardboard’’. Even more often, the whole experience of watching VR on your phone with a Cardboard Viewer is called ‘’Google Cardboard’’, even if you are watching an independent app with third-party cardboard headset. Basically, when you hear ‘’Google Cardboard’’, think of this:

So — as you probably gathered by now, you will need a cardboard headset and a smartphone to try this thing out. Let’s focus on the phone first. Cardboard requires a phone that runs a version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) Android or higher, or iOS version 8.0 or higher. Your device will also need a built-in gyroscope in order to track your head’s motion.

One thing people sometimes forget about is the screen size. If your screen is too small or too big for your glasses, you won’t see the picture properly. Make sure that the two are compatible. If you plan on using VR Cardboard a lot, you should consider the screen’s resolution as well. The bigger, the better.

Finally, if your phone will be used for Google Cardboard, research its gaming capabilities. If the users complain that it lags and glitches when running simple 3D games — welcome to the nausea train! VR should be as synchronized with your motion as possible. Any lag, and you will be experiencing sensory inconsistencies, which could cause vertigo and motion — sickness (similar to what you’d get if you’d be reading a book in a moving vehicle).

Here is a list of phones that work great with Google Cardboard.

What to expect from Google Cardboard?

Google Cardboard will give you a glimpse into VR. You’ll be able to watch 360 videos by sitting still and turning your head. You’ll be able to see other people’s experiences and their realities. There’s art you can see, games you can play, cool 360 music videos, concerts and more. Cardboard has a big potential in education, storytelling and training, because any school or company can easily afford headsets for their students / employees.

Note that the official Google Cardboard app is a great place to start, but is does not contain all of the Cardboard content. It is dispersed throughout the internet, and you’ll probably have to do a bit of research to find what you’re looking for. An unified hub that holds all of the Cardboard compatible videos, games and apps simply doesn’t exist (yet). It’s also worth mentioning that Cardboard apps and games are usually shorter than those from other (costlier) sources. Many of them are demos, but there are of course full length ones as well. Here is a list of 31 cool Cardboard compatible apps to whet your appetite.

Lastly, let’s mention a few of the technology’s limits. Cardboard is unable to detect your environment or hand movements, so you won’t be able to play the latest cutting edge games like Job Simulator VR. (There are loads of mini-games to choose from though.) You also won’t be able to move through virtual space by walking in real life, as some more advanced headsets will allow you to do. It doesn’t have the ability to follow your eye movement, so you have to turn your whole head in order to look in another direction.

So, if there are more efficient and advanced ways of enjoying VR, what’s the point of this?

Simple — Google Cardboard is for people who are interested in VR, and would like to have their first experiences. It’s a cheap, easy and accessible way to get in contact with VR. The idea behind it is — try it out, and if you get excited, you can consider investing in something more advanced. If you hate it — too bad, but at least you only wasted $15, not $500.

Secondly, it is a perfect marketing tool. It’s easy to sell if you can give a proper taste of what buyers can experience. But this is really tough in majority of cases. But branded Google Cardboard can offer just that — an insight view into driving a new Ford, watching a musical Lion King, or ascending The Wall.

So… Should I buy the original Google Cardboard glasses, or are fakes okay?

Funnily enough, there are no ‘’fake’’ Google Cardboard glasses. Google did create their own headset, but they decided to keep both the platform and the headset open. That means that anyone can design and modify cardboard viewers. There are A LOT of different compatible headsets out there, but they mostly share some similarities.

There are 3 main parts to them. Firstly, there’s the frame, which is, well… The frame. It holds the thing together, and ensures that your eyes are isolated from the outside world. Then there’s the phone compartment. You open it, slide your phone in, and close it, easy as a pie. The closure is usually really simple, like a rubber band or velcro.

The most hi — tech thing are the lenses. Not all of the cardboard viewers even have them, some just went with two eye holes. Make sure that the one you order has a quality pair of these babies! Usually made of plastic, lenses are the things that truly make the difference and trick your eyes into perceiving the screen as 3D environment. Basically — the way Cardboard content plays is that it splits your phone screen in half. On the left side is a video that you’ll see with your left eye and on the right side is the video for your right eye. The lenses insure that the content is in focus, and that it is not distorted.

Another important feature you should search for in cardboard glasses is adjusting the lenses. The double vision can quickly occur when you choose cardboards that do not enable changes according to your inter-pupillary distance.

Some headsets also have other features like straps (so you don’t have to hold them to your head) or cushioning for your nose (so you don’t look like Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer at the end of that VR tour).

Your average pair of Google Cardboard VR glasses will (as we mentioned before) cost somewhere around $15 mark. However, you can get some cheaper models for less than $5. If you are into DIY, you can make your own for a few bucks. Or if you are in the right place at the right time, you just might get a promotional pair for free. Most of the products will come in flat packs and will require some sort of assembly (usually a simple process that takes less than 5 minutes). There are also luxury versions or Google Cardboard glasses, which shift from cardboard into plastic, and come already assembled. Those can cost even more than $100.

Our recommendations for Google Cardboard Viewers

Google Cardboard is only capable of giving you a basic insight into VR. That’s why we recommend that you don’t invest into higher-end cardboard viewers. They won’t make that much of a difference. If you are prepared to spend more than $50 for a headset, you should probably put it towards a more substantial one, like Daydream ($80).

Secondly, that 2 dollar viewer is really cheap, no argument there, but does it have proper lenses? Probably not. It’s also likely to be made out of thinner, cheaper cardboard, which is not going to last 10 seconds if it gets into children’s hands. So, what we recommend is that you invest in a Cardboard VR Viewer that is going to bring you the most bang for the buck. ViarBox is priced under $10 for 100 units and it’s the Rolls-Royce among VR Cardboards. Sturdy enough to survive falls and being put in a bag, come with quality adjustable lenses, and have features like foam cushioning, headstrap and awesome customer support.

If you have any further concerns, browse our website for additional info or reach out to us and we’ll make sure to find the best solution for you.

Oh, and don’t forget to grab our free ebook about VR marketing campaigns.

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