It’s amazing to consider that there are now more than 43 million active virtual reality (VR) users.
Just a few years ago, VR was considered to be a failed experiment and devices like the Virtual Boy from Nintendo were the butt of many jokes. What changed consumers’ minds wasn’t the expensive Oculus Rift nor the HTC Vive with its motion controls, but the humble Google Cardboard, a VR headset constructed out of a piece of cardboard and cheap, plastic lenses.
History of Google Cardboard
When Sundar Pichai first announced Google Cardboard at the 2014 Google I/O developers conference, nobody was sure if it was just an elaborate practical joke. It turned out not be, as we now know. So, how could a multi-billion-dollar company decide that cardboard is the right weapon for the VR war?
It all started with a simple idea by David Coz and Damien Henry, engineers who worked at the Google Cultural Institute in Paris. The mission of the institute is “to make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations.”
When the two men stumbled upon a stereoscopic video that could only be viewed with a 3D headset they didn’t have, they immediately knew what to use their 20% Innovation Time Off for. The resulting cardboard contraption was then pitched to their Paris manager as a way to visit virtual museum galleries, and the rest is history.
How Google Cardboard Works
The Cardboard is make out of several parts: a piece of cardboard (duh) that forms the shell of the headset, a pair of plastic lenses, and a magnet that acts as a button. Some versions also include a rubber band and NFC tag. These parts can be purchased separately for a true DIY solution, but they are more commonly acquired as a set.
Once assembled, users insert their smartphones into the back of the headset and look at the screen through the lenses, which cause pincushion distortion of the image. This distortion is then countered by each Cardboard-compatible application, which splits the image into two and applies a barrel distortion effect. The end result is a stereoscopic image that responds to user’s movement using the built-in accelerometer in the smartphone.
Google Cardboard Games & Experiences
Google has created a dedicated category for Google Cardboard in the Google Play Store. It contains hundreds of virtual reality games, experiences, immersive applications, and cool projects from innovative developers.
The one everyone should definitely start with is, perhaps surprisingly, YouTube. Content creators from all over the world are now embracing the 360-degree video format by creating immersive videos of anything you can think of. Similarly, Google Street View is the perfect way to experience virtual tourism – a concept that we are likely to hear a lot more about in a near future.
You’ve probably seen a demonstration of virtual reality using a simulated roller coaster ride. Well, you can experience it yourself with Roller Coaster VR, a popular Cardboard game with no shortage of thrilling moments. If that isn’t scary enough for you, there’s also Caaaaardboard!, which is an adaptation of the AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! game for VR. Just like in the original game, you are placed on top of a skyscraper from which you take a dive to the bottom, while avoiding dangerous obstacles in the process.
Best Google Cardboard Headsets
Now that you know what Google Cardboard is all about, it’s time to take a closer look at the best Google Cardboard headsets that are currently available on the market.
The D-scope Pro Google Cardboard Kit is our favorite all-around Cardboard headset. It fits most phones up to 5.5” without any problems, and the manufacturer offers 100% quality guarantee, so you can be sure that you get your money’s worth.
The assembly instructions are conveniently printed right on the cardboard itself, making it very easy to assemble the headset even when you throw away the included manual. Compared to the original Cardboard from Google, this version comes with a strap for hands-free carry and a pair of biconvex lenses with 45 mm focal length.
People who are completely new to VR can use the included QR codes to instantly access a range of compatible experiences and games without having to spend a lot of time separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
The Blisstime Google Cardboard Headset is all about value. It’s about 30 percent cheaper than most other Cardboard headsets on the market, yet it packs all the essential functionality and even tosses in an NFC tag for easy pairing and a headband for hands-free viewing.
In fact, you can pay even less, if you opt for the plain version that ships without the strap and the NFC tag. There’s also a black version for people who don’t find the regular brown version all that appealing.
You might be now wondering where exactly did Blisstime manage to reduce their manufacturing costs. Well, the headset can only fit devices with up to 5” large displays, and its build quality is a step below what you get from the D-scope headset. It will work just fine for the intended purpose, but it might not feel as comfortable or be as durable as other, more expensive headsets.
If you own a very large smartphone (up to 6” screen) or simply want to get the best Cardboard headset you can, the Google Cardboard Kit V2 Black by MINKANAK is the one to buy. It comes with biconvex lenses that are 37mm in diameter and have a focal length of 45mm. This results in a more immersive viewing experience, allowing you to take advantage of larger screens.
Even though this is still a Google Cardboard headset, the construction quality and material are nothing like any ultra-cheap Cardboard headset you come across. Not only do you get an NFC tag and Velcro strip, but there’s also a nose and forehead pad that make the headset much more comfortable when you wear it for a longer period of time.
Google Cardboard is a fantastic first step into the astonishing world of virtual reality. From education to entertainment, the possibilities of the platform are virtually endless. And now, with Google Daydream, the successor to Google Cardboard, just around the corner, there has never been a better time to get acquainted with the device that started it all.