Last night I watched Kung Fury on my ViewMaster, and it was magical
I told my wife that I was getting a ViewMaster for the kids, and she just assumed that I was feeling nostalgic for childhood toys. Instead I bought Mattel’s new ViewMaster VR headset to share with my kids and for myself to play with.
The ViewMaster functions just like Google Cardboard 2.0. It’s actually endorsed on Google’s Cardboard page. Usually with Cardboard 2.0 there’s an NFC switch, but on theViewMaster there’s a lever that touches the screen for interaction. The lever is a throwback to the vintage ViewMaster, and it feels great with the device. The advantage of using touch over NFC is that it’s compatible with iPhones which don’t support NFC. This makes the ViewMaster more device-agnostic which is always a plus.
There were a few flaws in the design that became clear after using the device for a little while. For starters, there isn’t an easy way to use wired headphones. You also can’t charge the device when it’s plugged into the headset. That and it lacks a head-strap. You can get around the headphone issue with a pair of bluetooth headphones or you can make a few modifications to the headset to sneak in cables. If you cut holes for the headset or power cable though, it could be a tight fit for larger phones . A head-strap would be helpful, but not having one doesn’t hurt the experience Mattel was going for. They wanted to introduce the original ViewMaster to a new generation, and this design holds true to that aesthetic.
There are a number of apps that work with the ViewMaster, Mattel even has a few Augmented Reality apps that work pretty well. That isn’t why I chose the ViewMaster over Cardboard though. There are a few nice looking Cardboard 2.0 kits out there, but paying a bit more for some added durability (especially with two kids), was worth it. I’m also a sucker for neat chunks of plastic. The rubber shielding feels nice against your face, and the lever is just fun to use. The new ViewMaster even has the plastic-clicky-lever sound (technical term) from the original version. I’m curious to know how long they played with the design to get that sound right.
Most devices will fit snugly, and there is a handy centerline inside the headset to help you center your phone correctly. My Nexus 6 fits perfectly with just a little wiggle room side-to-side. Other devices that I tested were a Nexus 5x, iPod 6th Gen, iPhone 6+. They all worked great. The only problem I encountered was with the iPod which was too thin for the clamps to secure. When you needed to tilt the device, the iPod slid out of place. You can fix this with a thin case or something to give it a little more padding though.
Until recently the apps that really shined were just demos and Vrse. More recently some nice games have popped up. Quake for Cardboard is a blast if you have a head-strap, a bluetooth controller, and a legal copy of the game. I’ll admit that I used a baseball cap and some tape in lieu of a proper head-strap in order to play the game properly.
Beyond this, the best things to explore were the 360 videos which have been supported since March on YouTube. If you’re on Android, Google recently added support for Cardboard to all of its videos as well. Previously there were third-party apps that did the same thing, but now that it’s official, more people will be inspired to use and develop VR experiences.
What really excites me about YouTube opening up all of its videos is that it feels like a first step towards proper AR in my home. It reminds me of a here-and-now version of what Microsoft is trying to do with their HoloLens, a video mapped to a 2D plane that keeps the video in place as you move your head around. I don’t feel like I have a phone strapped to my face, but I’m still watching a simulated TV. It’s exciting to think about being able to wear a pair of glasses without a huge black monitor hanging in my house. Instead I could just have a square of reflective paint or even a nice picture or painting that the glasses could detect to map my video onto.
Watching Kung Fury on a floating monitor was pretty entertaining. Missing from the experience, however, was the way I experienced Kung Fury the first time: viewing it alongside my wife, cracking jokes, and having fun. For now this will have to be a solitary experience, but I can’t wait for the day when multiple people have VR/AR gear and they are able to share their experiences. As it stands, I think this is as good as it gets for now, especially for the price.