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View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer review: Affordable VR device could use better content

John Moltz | March 7, 2016
Affordable virtual reality is here, but you get what you pay for.

Is there such a thing as View-Master street cred? Probably not. But I am a long-time View-Master user. Well, to be clear, I used a View-Master when I was a kid. I haven’t been using one the whole time since. That would be weird.

I have, however, recently become re-acquainted with the original as well as with View-Master’s current virtual reality (VR) offering.

Last summer as my parents were packing to move out of the house I grew up in, one of the items my mother found and sent to me was my old View-Master and all its disks. If you never experienced one of these, it was a stereopticon—a 3D viewer—which has had a long and storied history. The brand is now owned by the toy company Mattel, which is ushering it into the VR era.

Indeed, the View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer is the logical evolution of its 3D ancestor. It’s reasonably priced—the Apple Store sells it for $30, but it’s available from Amazon for under $20—and, because the viewer is based on Google Cardboard, there’s a variety of compatible content available.

At the same time, a few things detract from the fun.

A rough start

The View-Master VR requires iOS 8 and above and works with the iPhone 5 and up (although, they note apps might not be optimized for the 5 and 5c) as well as a number of Android phones. All the really heavy lifting is, of course, done by the phone. The viewer is really just a holder with a set of lenses that better separate the two images the apps present so each eye gets one.

The device is nicely packaged and comes with a brief instruction manual and the Preview Reel, which is ostensibly for unlocking preview content. I had a little trouble getting ushered into our new virtual reality future early on. The instructions indicate you should put your phone in with the top “to the left.” That’s helpful... if you know which way the viewer is supposed to be when doing this. The instructions neglected that detail. For the record, it’s with the lever to your right, even though the image shows the front of the viewer.

But, hang on. Before you close it up, you’re going to need some apps. View-Master has three of its own—Space, the travel-related Destinations and National Geographic Wildlife—that you can download for free. Each features content to try out, with additional content you can unlock for $15.

One of the first things the apps do is ask for access to the camera and photos. The reason is so the app can scan the QR code on the View-Master VR to determine which viewer you have (some apps from other creators simply ask you). The instructions also tell you to start the app by looking at the Preview Reel through the viewer and doing so in the app overlays a virtual menu of sorts onto the Reel. The Preview Reel is Mattel’s nod to the View-Master’s roots, but if you lose it you can still access the preview content through the app’s menu. The other nod is the lever, which is simply a switch that forces a rubber nub to tap the screen of your phone inside the headset, used to indicate a selection, to move in a certain direction, to fire in a game, etc.

 

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