The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are incredible devices, but they’re far out of the range of an impulse purchase for most of us. We’re talking about spending $600 to $800 on a headset and accessories while dropping upwards of a thousand dollars for a capable gaming PC. And even if we’re generous with our PlayStation VR price estimates, we’re still talking about spending between $600 and $700 for the whole shebang. However, provided that you already have a smartphone, there’s a less expensive way to get a taste of VR.
Back in 2014, Google Cardboard made its debut at Google I/O. By using low-cost materials for the headset, and giving developers an easy-to use SDK, this strange little box allowed for many Android users to try out VR for the first time without making a big investment. While it’s only capable of delivering a low-fi virtual reality experience, it’s still quirky enough on its own to provide plenty of entertainment while we wait for the big girl helmets to make their way downmarket.
Because Cardboard is a Google initiative, and it originally launched exclusively with Android support, most of the attention it’s received is on the Android side. That’s perfectly reasonable, but let’s not forget that the iOS support has been in place since May of last year. There’s an ever-growing number of VR apps available right now, and as an iPhone user myself, that intrigued me.
Starting late last year, I began poking around the app store, trying everything I could find, and picking out the most interesting VR experiences on iOS. Today, I get to share those with you. Want in on the fun? Just grab a Google Cardboard headset for about 20 bucks, grab your iPhone, and check out the following VR experiences for yourself.
Google Cardboard demos
If you’ve never used a VR headset before, the official Google Cardboard app is the perfect place to start. While it’s a bit more limited in scope than I’d like it to be, it serves well as an introduction to the strong non-gaming value of virtual reality headsets.
In “Explorer” mode, you can look around the American Museum of Natural History, an Icelandic hot spring, Puerto Rican prehistoric art, and even the face of Mars. “Exhibit” mode lets you view every angle of six different 3D models — including a Google Cardboard viewer. “Urban Hike” takes you to well known locations like Paris, Tokyo, Venice, New York City, and even the Great Barrier Reef. And “Kaleidoscope” mode? That’s the perfect entertainment device for children and inebriated adults alike.
This app offers around fifteen to thirty minutes worth of novelty, and then highlights a few other VR apps like Sisters, Proton Pulse, and Google’s own Street View app. Speaking of which…
When I first showed off the Google Cardboard experience to my family, Google’s Street View was what really blew them away. That might seem kind of silly at first, but seeing familiar places in VR helped ground the tech for them.
While seeing your house or workplace from the road is a nice novelty, Google’s photo sphere functionality is much more impressive. By taking multiple pictures inside the app, you can automatically stitch together a VR experience of your back yard, living room, or favorite landmark. And since you can export the spheres as regular ol’ JPEGs, the archival aspects are exciting in and of themselves.
I love the idea of being able to keep visual representations of important places. Regular snapshots are nice, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to give your grandkids an immersive experience of what it was like standing in your kitchen? What about the experience of being at your wedding? Or maybe even a photosphere of a presidential inauguration. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in documenting the world around us, Street View and photo spheres are reason enough to give Google Cardboard a go.
If the DIY aspects of Google Street View don’t tickle your fancy, check out the slickly produced content in Jaunt VR. Once you load up the app, you’ll see three categories: travel, film, and music. Each one has a handful of short-form VR videos that cover wildly different topics.
In the travel section, you can find short videos on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jerusalem, Nepal, Yosemite, North Korea, and more. With “film,” you get videos on hockey, baseball, Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, and even a bizzare little 360 degree video promoting the next Zoolander movie. And as for the music category, you get an up-close look at the likes of Paul McCartney and Jack White performing on stage.
The depth of content is limited, but the breadth is fairly decent here. It probably won’t keep you occupied for very long, but Jaunt is definitely worth your time.
The puppy bowl
Back in 2015, the Discovery Channel launched a VR app of its own. It features VR videos that serve as bonus content for popular programs like the Mythbusters, Survivorman, and Gold Rush. I’ve watched a few here and there, and found most of the videos to be enjoyable if unremarkable. The one big exception? The Puppy Bowl.
As I’ve been researching VR heavily in the last few months, my girlfriend has expressed only the slightest interest. She’s enjoyed some of the demos I’ve showed her, but the Puppy Bowl VR experience is one of the few that legitimately excited her. She has a deep and abiding love for fluffy creatures, and being smack-dab in the middle of a bunch of adorable puppies sold her on the VR concept almost instantly.
Considering the level of popularity that games like Neko Atsume and Nintendogs have seen, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see pet-themed VR experiences explode if and when VR becomes more mainstream. At the very least, expect a lot of 360 degree cat videos to make their way to YouTube.
While trailers are little more than fancy advertisements, their popularity on sites like The Verge and IGN shows that there is a big demand for them. At the very least, there is a demand for a select few trailers for a handful of franchises. Trailers feed heavily into a “hype” narrative, and can occasionally impact the financial success of your movie, game, or show in a big way. Unsurprisingly, that means that novelty VR trailers are starting to hit the smartphone VR marketplace in hopes of gaining some additional exposure.
The official Star Wars app sports a limited VR mode that offers bite-sized exposure to a galaxy far, far away. It’s not really all that interactive, but there’s something incredibly appealing about having a TIE fighter pursue the Millennium Falcon directly overhead.
The Walk and Insidious 3 both have relatively compelling, if short, VR experiences aimed at scaring the hell out of you. I can’t say that these trailers have persuaded me to watch their associated films, but they’re both on my radar now.
As with all technology, erotic is seen as a major driving force in the VR field. The demand for life-like erotic experiences is strong, and it’s only going to grow as more people are exposed to what VR is capable of.
As it stands, the folks over at Naughty America are the biggest purveyors of VR smut. I dove deep on its VR offerings, and found it intriguing. It’s highly novel, and it made me think about VR logistics in a way I hadn’t before, but it probably isn’t worth paying a monthly fee for — at least not yet.
However, I do suggest that you grab the free Homido 360 VR Player app, follow the instructions on how to get everything working, and try out the free four and a half minute clips in both male and female perspectives. At the very least, you’ll have a story to tell your friends about how you experienced the future of erotic.
In time for GDC 2016 and VRDC, we’re covering VR, gaming, and augmented reality all this week; check out the rest of our VR Week stories for more in-depth coverage.