The Living Guide To Virtual Reality On The Cheap

Virtual Reality PC

The Living Guide To Virtual Reality on The Cheap

Reality, I think it is time I see other realities.  Don’t take it personally, it’s not you, it’s me.  I mean, you have your gravity, logic, physics and consequences – which are all totally cool, but I just need a little more freedom at this point in my life.   I need to experience what it is like to fly, float and nauseously spin through other worlds.  I need to run with the Dinosaurs and live in that Minecraft world my son just built.  Yes Reality, I am leaving you for Virtual Reality.

Virtual Reality Has A New BFF – Your SmartPhone

The idea of putting on a high tech headset, that can transport you into a Virtual Reality world is certainly not new.  Most of us have heard the story of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that started on Kickstarter and two years later was sold to Facebook for $2 Billion…all without ever releasing a consumer product.

While Virtual Reality headsets like the Rift and Sony’s “Project Morpheus” are coming in 2016, they will not be cheap.  The good news is you don’t need to spend a lot of money or wait until 2016 to jump in the Virtual World, since you probably already own the most important piece of your Virtual Reality Headset.  Yep, turns out the smartphone in your pocket is good for a lot more than just sharing photos of your meals.  With your phone, some apps and under $20 in parts you can be living in a Virtual Reality World today!

The Living Guide To Virtual Reality On The Cheap – Google Cardboard and More

Today we launch our Living Guide To Virtual Reality on The Cheap.  We got hooked by Google Cardboard and now we want to see how far we can push things…without breaking the bank.  As this world of Google Cardboard inspired Virtual Reality is brand new, we will be updating and expanding this guide on a regular basis…to quote Dr. Frankenstein, “It’s Alive!

Grab The Popcorn and Start Here…

Much of the work in this Guide will involve testing, reviewing and hacking various Virtual Reality gear…which can be done best with video.  To get things started please watch Part 1 of Our Guide To Virtual Reality On The Cheap -

Like To Learn By Video?  Great – Check Out Our Virtual Reality On The Cheap Playlist!

Roundup of Virtual Reality Hardware (Under $35)

Google Cardboard

Check out the Google Cardboard site to read about what got this all started.  At the June 2014 Google I/O Conference, Google announced the Google Cardboard – a piece of cardboard, some cheap lenses, a few magnets, velcro and a rubber band.   Put it all together and add the Google Cardboard app and you have a Virtual Reality Headset.

Interestingly, Google does not officially make a retail Google Cardboard kit, so numerous other companies have jumped in to make Virtual Reality headsets that match Google Cardboard specifications.  On this page, Google does maintain a list of manufactures for Google Cardboard and also has specs on making your own.

Powis ViewR VR Google Cardboard 2.0 Headset

In May of 2015 Google updated the specs on the Google Cardboard – a Google Cardboard 2.0 if you will.  One of the major changes was going away from the magnet to select things on the screen and instead using a button that triggers a screen click.

The Powis ViewR is the first Google Cardboard 2.0 headset we have reviewed and we were impressed.  We wish there was a headstrap and better velcro on top, but overall an incredible experience for under $30.  The adjustable lenses will be huge to those who are near or far sighted.

Watch Our Full Video Review of the Powis ViewR –

Dad Does Notes: If you want a super easy (no assembly required) and high quality Google Cardboard 2.0 Headset  – the Powis ViewR is the way to go.  The adjustable lenses and sub $30 price tag for a fully assembled unit are tough to beat.

 

DODOcase VR Google Cardboard Headset

The DODOcase VR is a good quality and easy to put together Google Cardboard inspired Virtual Reality Headset.  The kit comes with everything you need – cardboard, lenses, magnets and NFC sticker.  The Dodocase VR is $25 At Amazon.Com.

Watch Our Full Video Review of the Dodocase VR Kit

I AM CARDBOARD Virtual Reality Headsets

I AM CARDBOARD makes a full line of Google Cardboard inspired kits.  They have the most diverse collection of Google Cardboard headsets – different colors, some with a Bluetooth clicker instead of a magnet (because people with Pacemakers like to got Virtual as well)  and a larger version of Google Cardboard, for the big headed among us.   Prices start at about $25 on Amazon.Com.

Watch our Full Video Review of Two I AM CARDBOARD Virtual Reality Headsets

SeresRoad Google Cardboard Kits

Just how cheap can you get a Google Cardboard Virtual Reality Kit?  How does $7.99 for a pack of two headsets sound?  Yep, we picked up a 2 Pack of SeresRoad Google Cardboard Kits for $7.99 at Amazon.Com .  The kit comes with lenses, cardboard, magnets, velcro and NFC sticker – but this is clearly a low end option.  No instructions are included and it definitely takes more work to put it together as compared to the DodoCase VR or I AM CARDBOARD.

We just got our hands on the SeresRoad and should have a full review up soon.

GearBest Virtual Reality Google 3D Video Glasses

I’ve got one word for you – plastic!  Yes, Google Cardboard Virtual Reality also comes in plastic now.  The GearBest Virtual Reality 3D Video Glasses is basically a plastic version of Google Cardboard and sells for just $21.  While the sturdiness of the plastic is nice, it is missing the magnet (used for clicking in Google Cardboard Apps) and the NFC tag.

Watch our full video review of the GearBest MB-VR61 Virtual Reality Headset

EasyLife Plastic Google Cardboard VR Headset

Another entry in the plastic version of Google Cardboard -with one key difference.  The EasyLife Plastic Google Cardboard VR Headset allows you to adjust space between the lenses and the focus of the lenses.  While the addition of lens adjustment is a huge advantage, the EasyLife does not have magnets or a NFC sticker, making it harder to work with the Google Cardboard apps.  The EasyLife Plastic VR Headset is $33 at Amazon.Com.

We just got our hands on the Easy Life VR Headset and should have a full review up soon.

Roundup of Virtual Reality Hardware (Under $100)

While our focus is going to be on the $35 and under Virtual Reality headsets, there is some interesting technology available if you are willing to spend a little more…

Samsung Gear VR

Samsung GearVR

If you are lucky enough to own a compatible Samsung device, you will want to go with the Samsung Gear VR ($99).  Powered by Oculus, this is by far the best quality VR you will find for under $100.  The side of the headset has a touchpad which allows for additional controls, not normally found in sub $100 VR headsets.  Excellent optics, focus control and a lightweight design make this your go to choice if you own a Galaxy Note 5, S6, S6 Edge or S6 Edge+.

Noon VR Headset

If you don’t own a Samsung device that will work in the Gear VR, you still have plenty of options.  The Noon VR Headset ($89) provides a great virtual reality experience.  With adjustable lenses, a lightweight design and vents to help prevent fogging and overheating, the Noon VR is a nice step-up from the more boxy Google Cardboard devices.

VR KiX Headset

The VR KiX Virtual Reality Glasses ($49) provides a lot of comfort and features for under $50.  We love the the fact you can adjust the lens left and right and also forwards and backwards.   In addition, this VR headset is filled with padding, making it more enjoyable to use for a long period of time.  You can also purchase a bluetooth controller to give you more controls while exploring the endless virtual worlds.

Durovis Dive

Long before Google announced Google Cardboard, the clever folks at Durovis had invented the Durovis Dive.  The Dive (as us cool kids call it) sells for about $69 and ships direct from Durovis in Germany.   The Durovis Dive has developed a strong following and there are now a number of apps made specifically for the Dive.

The Zeiss VR One

The Zeiss VR One ($99) brings elegance and quality to the world of inexpensive virtual reality headsets.  Made by Carl Zeiss, an optical instruments company, the VR One is thoughtfully designed, has improved lenses and a secure tray to hold your phone in…that is if you have an iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5.  Yes, at this time the VR One will only work with the iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5 – but more phone support is planned for the future.

Homido Virtual Reality Headset

Like the look and quality of the Zeiss VR One, but don’t have a supported phone?  You may want to check out the Homido ($85).  While we have not had a chance to hold one in our hands yet, it does look to be of high quality and offers custom made lenses and a number of ways to adjust the lens distance and focus.  Homido has their own app center making it easy to find compatible apps.

VR Goggles Stooksy VR-Spektiv

One of the problems with having cardboard or plastic strapped to your face is, well, you have cardboard or plastic strapped to your face.  As you can imagine, not the most comfortable thing in the world.  The Stooksy VR-Spektiv ($55) looks to get your face some comfort by making their VR headset out of foam pieces.  You may not win style points wearing the Stooksy VR-Spektiv, but your face will thank you for the comfort.

Roundup of Virtual Reality Software (for smartphones)

Hardware is fine, but it is nothing without the software. In this section we dive into the various apps you can use to experience Virtual Reality.  What type of things can you experience?  Virtual tours, flying through streets, watching money come down all around you, 3D movies, life inside a cartoon, roller coaster rides, duck hunting, museum tours and more!

One word of warning – things can be a little rough around the edges in the brand new world of Virtual Reality.  Some apps only work with certain phones, some are buggy, others work for a while then stop.  These are not fully polished apps, but there is something exciting about watching an industry develop.  With that word of warning, let’s jump into it…

Google Cardboard App

If you are using an Android phone, this is the place to start.  The free Google Cardboard App (Android Only) provides a number of very cool virtual reality experiences.  Live inside a cartoon, visit far away places, fly around the planet and watch movies in 3D.  When you get a Google Cardboard inspired Virtual Reality headset  – this is how you show it off.

Update (12/10/14): They now have a section in the Google Play Story with recommended VR apps – check them out here.

Google Cardboard Camera

Just released in December of 2015 is the Google Cardboard Camera app…and it is a big deal.  One of the problems with Virtual Reality is lack of content.  The Cardboard Camera app looks to correct that by allowing anyone to take VR photos with their Android phone.  Captures a 360 degree shot on your next vacation and then relive the moment when you view it in your Google Cardboard style headset.

Dodocase VR App List

Check out the Dodocase VR Blog Post for a great list of VR apps available for Android and iOS.  Remember, the apps will work with any Google Cardboard design, so you don’t need to buy a Dodocase to be able to use the apps they list.  Check the updated Google Docs for iOS and Android apps.

Durovis Dive App List

Durovis has an excellent collection of Virtual Reality apps listed here and here.  Remember, not all of these will work on non-Dive headsets, but many will!

Homido App Center

Yet another company that has created a sort of mini app store for VR apps.  The Homido App Center is free to download and provides a good list of VR apps to play with.

Our Favorite VR Apps

Yep, this is coming soon.  We are busy downloading apps and doing some testing.  If we can avoid throwing up while testing some of these apps, we will be back soon with a list of our top picks.

Roundup of Virtual Reality Software (for PCs)

Virtual Reality PC

You probably already have some 1st person shooters, car racing games, world building software and flight simulators on your PC.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could use your Google Cardboard Inspired VR Headset to play those PC games?  Well you can…sort of.  This software is all new and evolving quickly.  Expect many bumps, crashes and frustrations along the way – but if you can get things working, the experience is pretty incredible.

The basic idea is to run software on your PC that mirrors your PC display to your smartphone.  The catch is you need to output a left and right eye image to get the 3D effect and not many games have this option.  Still, there are some workaround and hacks, let’s jump into it…

Trinus Gyre

The Trinus Gyre software has two parts – the server you install on your PC and the client app your install on your Android phone.  The concept is very elegant – you load up something like Doom 3D (which supports left/right images) on your PC, start the Trinus Gyre on your PC and phone and suddenly your phone is displaying the output from your PC.  In addition, the PC is using the Gyro in your phone as its controller, so as you look around, the PC sends out the correct images.  Even if you have PC games that do not support 3D SBS (side by side images), you can use the Fake3D setting in Trinus Gyre to play the games in your Virtual Reality Headset.

When Trinus Gyre works, it is pretty amazing, unfortunately it can take some hacking to get everything working.  This is not for the faint of heart, there are numerous settings and potential pitfalls to getting everything working – but still a very impressive piece of software that should only get better.

MineCrift – VR Minecraft

Minecraft really needs no introduction.  If you have spent any time with a child between the ages of 5 and 15, you have no doubt seen some world they have built in Minecraft.  Cool enough, but what if you could experience their Minecraft world in 3D?  This is exactly the idea behind the MineCrift mod. Run Minecraft, moding with MineCrift on your PC, then use Trinus Gyre to send the signal to your Google Cardboard and you are suddenly living in a Virtual Minecraft world….watch out for Zombies!

TriDef 3D

Want to make all your PC content 3D?  That is the idea behind TriDef 3D.  The software attempts to create 3D output from 2D content on your PC.  So, if you have a game, which you really want to experience in Google Cardboard, try running it through TriDef 3d (supports 880 games) and then through Trinus Gyre to your VR headset.

Splashtop Personal

Splashtop Personal does one thing, but does it well – it takes the output from your PC and puts it on your phone.  While Splashtop Personal does not use the gyro in your phone like Trinus Gyre, it is more established and less buggy.  You will need to do some hacks like attaching a wireless mouse to your head if you want to be able to control movements with your head –

 

Kainy

Kainy does pretty much the same thing as Splashtop – allow you to play PC games on your phone or tablet.  Kainy has more of a focus on gaming, so it has developed a nice following in the DIY Virtual Reality and inexpensive Oculus Rift world.

List of Games With 3D Support

Wondering if your favorite PC game will work with a VR headset?  Wikipedia has a nice list of games that have Oculus Rift support.  For the most part, if a game will work with the Rift, there are hacks to get it to work with Google Cardboard Inspired VR headsets.

Roundup of Virtual Reality Info Sites

This section will be greatly expanded over the next few weeks, but we just wanted to get you started with some awesome sites that have all the latest and greatest on Virtual Reality hardware and software…

Road to VR

If you want to stay up to date on the latest and greatest in the Virtual Reality world, Road to VR should be your first stop!  They have articles, podcasts and reviews…enough to keep any Virtual Reality geek happy for days!

Google Cardboard on Reddit

Much of what we have posted in this guide, we learned from reading the very cool Google Cardboard on Reddit.  Did you know that as of December 2014, over 500,000 Google Cardboard cases have been shipped?  Neither did we, until we read it on Google Cardboard Reddit!  Things change very fast in this DIY Virtual Reality world, and the Google Cardboard Reddit is a great way to keep up to date.

Here’s The Crazy Thing, We Are Just Getting Started

We are well over 2,000 words and we have so much more to cover.  As we said, this will be a living guide and updated on a regular basis.  Please favorite the page and check back often.

What are you interested in seeing us test?  Have a resource we missed?  Drop it in the comments below our shoot us an email!  We will from time to time leave the virtual world to return to this world to update this guide.

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