Virtual Reality and the Cardboard Spec

June 17, 2016

Perhaps you’ve been thinking lately that the modern world isn’t futuristic enough. We’ve seen Back to the Future – where are our hoverboards?

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Apparently, they’re in Spain. Image cred: NowThisNews

For those unaware, the tech world has been moving to some pretty amazing places as of late. One of these is the wonderful world of virtual reality – simply strap a device to your face, and suddenly media becomes ever more immersive. Neat, right? Absolutely! So let’s take a look at some of these headsets.

For this overview, we’ll be reviewing a few of the lower-end options – devices that are easy enough for most people to get and use.

Google Cardboard

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This is the one that really kicked things into gear for the less-expensive range of VR viewers. The Google Cardboard was designed simply (utilizing cardboard for a build material, after all). The design is quite simple – simply slide a phone into the device, and load a Cardboard/VR-enabled app. These apps will split the image on your screen into two nearly-identical halves.

The viewer, which has two separate lenses (one for each eye) will ensure that each eye sees only one of the two images. Viewing these at the same time creates a visual 3D effect – pretty neat! While not as immersive as something like an Oculus, the viewer still focuses your vision on the VR content, and is nothing to sneeze at.

Most simple Cardboard viewers function through the use of extended gazes – ie, if you stare long enough at something on screen, you’ll “click” it. This functionality is used to navigate through VR apps and menus, and play some simple games.

Knox Next

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The Knox Next is a VR viewer designed to the Cardboard spec as established by Google. The major difference between this viewer and the simpler ones is price – coming in at closer to $40, this viewer is designed to hold a range of phone sizes that span to the considerably large.

Another fascinating feature on this viewer is the trigger – situated flat against the side of the device, a small magnetic ring can be pulled down to trigger on-screen events. This, for some, is a snappier alternative to the “stare at it until it clicks” approach of simpler viewers. However, using too much force can detach the magnet from the viewer (as it is just a magnet, after all). Easy enough to fix (just hold it against and it’ll re-attach, magnetically), and easy enough to avoid, it is still a bit of a nuisance at times.

View-Master VR Viewer

What’s that? Is this the View-Master logo we’re seeing? Why, yes – yes it is!

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Ah, yes – many good times were had with this toy. Nostalgia aside, View-Master has grown up, and so has their device. Sitting at a cost of $30, the VR viewer is made of a durable plastic, and allows for the use of the camera during wear. This means that a handful of small Augmented Reality apps can be used, a genre I’m hoping to see grow in the near future. (This is when 3D objects are added to an otherwise unaffected camera feed)

The trigger on this device is actually attached to the device this time, feeling rather similar to the standard View-Master toy trigger at the side of the device. This activates a small stylus pad that taps your phone, which is a quite effective way of interacting with whichever VR world you happen to be viewing at the time.

Another neat feature to this viewer is the View-Master reel. No longer are these inserted in the viewer – now, they exist as physical entities to be used alongside the device. The reel should be held or placed about 10 inches from the device (a table or desk is great for this). Then, using the View-Master app, you look at the reel through the viewer, and an image is projected onto the reel – usually a neat 3D building or something, depending on the reel.


Perhaps my favorite feature out of all of these viewers is just how easy it is to get started. Each device has a scannable QR code specially designed to contain information about which model of viewer you’re using. Scan this code with your phone, and it will automatically sync your phone and its VR apps to work with that viewer.

Perhaps when the market of VR games and applications is a little more expansive, we’ll review some of the noteworthy applications for these devices (in fact, a list is already in the works). Until next time!

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Gary is a team member at Sephone, helping to design, build and maintain websites. He is also a web design student at the New England School of Communications of Husson University.

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