When Palmer Luckey created the first prototype of a modern age VR headset in 2010, he probably didn’t think it would kick off a new wave of excitement into virtual reality. The company he founded, Rift, was purchased four years later by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg for $2bn. The Oculus Rift VR Headset currently retails at £550, and that’s excluding the Oculus Touch controllers needed for the full immersive experience.

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Source: FT/ IHS

Virtual reality has greatly advanced since then, with more users than ever before. On 14th April 2016, Mr Shafi Ahmed broadcasted the first ever surgery in virtual reality. You could watch it on his website – Medical Realities – or, if you had a VR headset and an Android phone, you could download the VRinOR app.  Our editorial lead, Catherine Schuster Bruce actually recently had a chat with Mr Shafi Ahmed, and you can read full interview here.

Virtual reality will only continue to expand in fields such as medical education, offering a great opportunity for a first person view and providing an immersive experience that helps us learn more effectively.

A recent Financial Times article forecasted that VR headset sales will quadruple by 2020 (see graph) and the largest chunk of these will be mobile VR headsets, that don’t require plugging into a console or computer. VR and AR are also thought to be one of the five top tech trends according to TIME so if you haven’t yet tried out one of these headsets, read on for a quick and affordable way of seeing what it’s all about!

How can I try VR for less than £10?

Whilst Oculus Rift kicked off the excitement, their headset was rather on the expensive side and was also only compatible with a PC. Google luckily came to rescue. Back in 2014, at their I/O conference, they handed out kits that would turn a piece of cardboard into an inexpensive, basic VR headset. The plans are still available on the Google Cardboard website but if you would rather buy a pre-made headset, you can choose from dozens of companies selling them on Amazon. The one I have personally tried is the Virtoba Cardboard currently priced at £5.99.

The best thing about Google Cardboard is that it works with any gyroscope enabled smartphone running either Android or iOS.

The Virtoba cardboard I purchased took less than 5 minutes to put together. You also have a strap that attaches to Google Cardboard using velcro so you don’t need to hold the viewer with your hands. Although, note that Google recommends you don’t do this to prevent dizziness and nausea.

It being very basic, is not the most comfortable to wear but it does also include a nose pad and other models allow for adjustment of the strap as well. Another great feature is a dedicated button on top of the unit that taps the screen of your phone, so you can interact with the VR scenes where possible.

Google Cardboard Interact Button

Pressing this cardboard button on top of the unit is equivalent to tapping the screen and can be used to interact in VR apps or pause/ play/ quit VR videos.

The Google Cardboard is most definitely a ‘no frills’ VR headset. If you want the extra comfort, there are other shinier and better-padded models for a better fit.

It is worth noting that all the Mobile Headsets rely on the same basic principle and lens types found in the Google Cardboard and none offer features like positional tracking or other kinds of experience enhancement. The exceptions are Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus) for which you’ll need a Samsung phone and the recently released Google Daydream View only compatible with Google Pixel. These provide a smoother VR experience due to the hardware and software interacting together.

Why VR on the iPhone or using Google Cardboard is not true VR

The fully assembled Google Cardboard

The fully assembled Google Cardboard

This piece of kit is excellent for trying out VR for the first time but having been fortunate enough to previously try the Oculus Rift, it is truly incomparable. Firstly, the experience is only semi-immersive and is passive in the majority of cases.

There are only a limited number of apps & games that allow for interaction at the moment. Even the ones that do, are actually guided in the sense that you need to interact before the game can proceed. This is in contrast with true virtual reality, offered by Oculus Rift or HTC Vive where you can create your own path, interact with all objects and gain a sense of depth when looking around. To get more of an idea of true virtual reality, check out this video – starts at 0:50.

The resolution offered by the iPhone’s retina display is also not high enough for immersive VR. As the two lenses magnify the display, this also enhances the black lines between the individual LED squares. Whilst the iPhone 7 offers a 4.7 in LCD 1334 x 750 326ppi screen, the screen is much worse compared to Samsung’s Galaxy S7 offering a 5.1 in AMOLED 2560 x 1440 577ppi, currently the best phone screen for use with mobile VR headsets.

The iPhone also has a slower CPU so the frames per second can drop occasionally, causing slight nausea if persistent.

The number of VR apps available is increasing

The one app you should probably start with is the official Google Cardboard app.

Cardboard App Menu

The Cardboard app lets you choose from 5 different demos.

This app lets you launch a number of demo apps to show you some of the features of VR, and in some of them you can even briefly interact with the objects. As soon as you have launched the app you need to pair your own cardboard googles to the app by scanning the VR code on the back of your goggles. As different manufacturers make the goggles slightly differently, this helps avoid double vision as much as possible.

Each demo app will guide you through the different functionalities of Google Cardboard. Another reason why you should download this app is because it lists some of the other top apps you can download, such as Within, Vanguard V and Google Street View.

I almost wouldn’t recommend searching for other AppStore apps because their quality is not worth the download at present.

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The top Google Cardboard apps available are listed on the home page.

Probably the most exciting app is Within as it lets you download different ‘mini stories’ that you can play through. The latest VR mini story experience is Hello, Robot! – The Possible but others include Invasion, Evolution of Verse and Valen’s Reef.

These are quite large files – 600+ MB so make sure you have enough data!

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Evolution of Verse has some pretty cool VR features, is completely CGI which takes you ‘from one beginning, to another beginning’.

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In Invasion!, you play the role of a bunny helping your buddy to escape from an alien invasion.

Google Street View is also worth checking out. Once you have downloaded the app and paired your goggles, you can go to any address and look around, just as you would in real life.  You can also press the cardboard button and that’s equivalent to clicking the mouse to move forward.

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Looking around in a completely 360-degree scene on Google Street View.

So that’s pretty much it. Getting one of these Google Cardboard goggles is a great and affordable way to experience basic VR for less than £6.

You never know, it might just be the inspiration you need for your next business idea!

About The Author

Nicholas Dragolea
Co-Founder & Technical Director

Nick has qualified as a doctor with an MBBS from Brighton and Sussex Medical School in 2015. He also holds a BSc in Management from Imperial College London. He has built a number of successful online businesses and is increasingly interested in medical technology that is going to change the future of healthcare delivery.

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