Want a virtual reality headset, but can't afford the hefty pricetag on most existing models (or to hold out for the future)? Google dropped an inexpensive solution today following its I/O keynote: Google Cardboard, an app that lets Android users transform their phones into VR headsets with the help of a DIY cardboard viewer.
It's not exactly the Oculus Rift, but who cares what the outside looks like if the virtual reality experience is any good? The Cardboard app lets users watch YouTube, virtually carouse on Google Street View or virtually scale the Himalayas with Google Earth, among other immersive demos. But first, you have to put your cardboard viewer together. Google provided directions to put together the viewer, which is made from cardboard, velcro, magnets, and lenses (NFC tag optional).
If you're curious, the app is available in the Google Play store, and cardboard is available at your local hardware store, and probably some local recycling bins. Google recommends using corrugated cardboard, so your headset will probably look wonky if you try to use something you actually found in the garbage.
Update: Our own Brent Rose got some (very limited) time with Cardboard earlier today, and confirms that it is awesomesauce:
I just got to spend a very quick minute with Cardboard before I had to run off, and oh hey, surprise, this piece of cardboard is awesome! Basically, once you put it together (which took me about 45 seconds while watching the tutorial on the Cardboard site), you drop your phone into the back panel, velcro it down, and you're off.
You hold the box up to your face, and suddenly you're looking at a horizontal row of applications. To scroll back and forth, you just turn your head. Oh and you see that little washer that's held to the side? That's how you click on things! You slide it down in its little cardboard slot and it pops back up. It feels like a old school view-finder.
I used it to look into the Pixar-like world of Windy Day, and it was incredibly immersive. Responsive, too. The gyroscopes in the phone worked very well, and as I turned my head, the world turned with me with no lag (that I was able to detect in the 30 seconds I was in there).
I was using a Nexus 5 which is 1080p, but it's split between your two eyes, so it's definitely not quite retina. It's certainly on-par with the first version of the Oculus Rift, though. As phone become higher resolution (like the 2560x1440 LG G3 this will just look better and better.
We'll do a deeper dive with this soon, but for now, we are very, very impressed considering it's a couple cents worth of cardboard, a pair of plastic lenses, a magnet, and a washer. VR is about to get very, very cheap and ubiquitous.