Cardboard power

HOW do you get a few pieces of cardboard with holes cut out of them to popularize a cutting-edge technology? Answer: You add an Android phone (any brand will do) and load it with some cool 3D software and slip it into what is essentially a cardboard box with holes cut out of it so you can look into your phone—much like you might have done with a View-Master stereoscope when you were a kid.

Made up of low-cost components like cardboard, 45 mm focal length lenses, magnets, some Velcro and a rubber band, the Google Cardboard isn’t exactly the kind of device that gadget gonzos would go gaga over or brag about. Still, there is something quite compelling about making such a complex technology such as virtual reality (VR) available to anyone with a smart phone, using the most mundane materials and packaged as a do-it-yourself kit.

Third-party Cardboard viewers

Google Cardboard, introduced at the Google I/O developers conference in 2014, is hardly at the forefront of the resurgence of VR initiatives. That distinction would probably belong to Oculus Rift, a head mounted display being developed for gaming by Oculus VR, a company that Facebook bought for $2billion last year.

But the Oculus Rift is still in development, and is expected to cost about $1,500, which includes the price of the computer that powers it. Google Cardboard, on the other hand, is available today and sells for less than $50 from a number of companies that build the kits according to Google’s specifications. There is even a third-party clone (made in China, of course) selling on for only P460 (plus P80 shipping in Metro Manila).

If you just want to get your feet wet in VR, you can’t get any cheaper.

Once you’ve assembled your Google Cardboard, you can download the Cardboard app from Google Play to explore some VR demos and discover other apps developed for Cardboard. Apps developed for the Cardboard viewer split the phone’s display into two, one for each eye, while the lenses create the impression of a stereoscopic 3D image. Turn your head in any direction and the viewer will show you what items are in there, giving you the sensation of actually being at the scene.

There’s been quite a lot of interest in the Cardboard since it was introduced a year ago.

The Cardboard app has been downloaded more than 1 million times and Google itself has shipped half a million viewers.

At the Google I/O developer conference this May, Google announced a new version of Cardboard, designed to fit larger phones (up to six inches) and replaced the magnet controller with a cardboard button. Cardboard 2.0 is also supposed to take fewer steps to assemble. The company also announced the Cardboard app for iOS, to expand its market for VR apps.

Given Cardboard’s surprising popularity, third-party manufacturers have begun to sell compatible viewers, making the VR system even more widely available. A “Works with Google Cardboard” certification program launched in April is supposed to assure consumers that the third-party viewers they buy will work with apps developed for Cardboard.

Of course, if you are so inclined, you can even build a Cardboard viewer yourself by downloading the PDF template from Google. Glue the template onto cardboard, cut it out and follow the assembly instructions. Be warned, however: this is not for the arts-and-craft challenged set—and after the whole exercise, you’d still need to find the lenses and the magnet.

Whether you decide to buy or build your own, there’s a definite View-Master vibe to Google Cardboard.

Which makes it somewhat appropriate that Google teamed up with Mattel, maker of the View-Master, to develop new version of the iconic stereoscopic viewer that ought to go on sale in time for the holiday season this year. reports that Mattel plans to sell the new Cardboard-driven View-Master for $30. The old disc has been renamed an “experience reel” and will help you navigate a virtual world. Chin Wong


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