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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.

The experience

Overall the viewer is reasonably well put together. It’s plastic so it would probably break if it fell off a high table, but it doesn’t feel flimsy. I had thought maybe the lenses and some image trickery within the apps could widen the field of view, but the view is not panoramic, your view is restricted to what’s in front of you and nothing in your peripheral vision. Turning your head (and body) around reveals the full 360 x 360 degree virtual environment. The images in the View-Master apps blur slightly when you turn your head, something I did not find true of all the Cardboard content, other than Google’s app deliberately blurring faces in crowd scenes, just like on Street View. That’s understandable but does remove you a bit from the “reality” part of the virtual reality.

I spent the $15 on the Destinations app and unlocked a number of additional sets of VR images of (mostly) places I’ve never been. That’s pretty neat, but as someone who spent a fair amount of time in the 1990s looking at QuickTime VR videos (such as Star Trek: The Captain’s Chair), I was somewhat underwhelmed by the static nature of most of the View-Master content. You can stand in front of the Acropolis, look around and access information on it, but there are no people milling about, there’s no movement of any kind. Likewise, Google Cardboard app’s tour of Paris around the Eiffel Tower is basically indistinguishable from Street View. The Space and National Geographic apps have some computer-generated elements that are in motion, but nothing live.

The viewer has a wrist strap but no head strap, so you have to hold it up to your face the whole time you’re using it. That didn’t turn out to be much of a problem for me because I found I couldn’t use it for very long without getting nauseated. This isn’t the fault of the viewer so much as it has been my personal experience with all VR-type environments going back to the old Star Tours ride. Don’t necessarily let this sour you on our virtual reality future, as it seems to be the luck of the genetic draw and most people do just fine with it. My understanding is that smartphone-quality VR may be partly to blame and higher quality headsets alleviate the effect. We’ll just have to wait for the prices to come down.

My wife, who is far sighted, said she found all the pictures to be blurry (using the viewer with glasses is impractical). The next version, due this fall, will reportedly come with a focal adjustment wheel, as well as a cutout for a headphone cord, something that would’ve been useful to have in this version.

 

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