You think that the path to the VR world lies only through obtaining Oculus Rift and consider it to be pretty expensive? If yes, then we have some good news for you. What if we told you that you can start enjoying VR experiences for as little as $10? Yes, the mentioned price is for a headset that will convert your smartphone to a VR device. Of course, the quality won’t be the same as if you bought VR gear from top brands Like Oculus or HTC but we are sure this is a decent option to try and embrace the essence of VR.
The following article aims to outline the essential requirements for experiencing mobile VR. All we say is supported by numerous links. Follow them to embrace the topic deeper.
Requirements for Smartphones.
Since the headset, or so-called — glasses of virtual reality can be purchased for a relatively modest price of 10–45$, then the main part of the equipment necessary to access the digital world is at least 10 times more expensive. Yes, we speak of a smartphone.
Fortunately, thanks to the tremendous leap in the development of mobile processors and graphics accelerators in the last year or two, you shouldn’t own a flagship smartphone to visit virtual reality. Of course, it must be modern, not five years old. At the same time, there are some requirements to its characteristics, and further, we are going to discuss them.
First of all, let’s clarify that you don’t have to worry about the screen size. Virtually all headsets support smartphones with a screen size of 4 to 6 inches, some — to 7, so that literally every owner of a “smart” device can enjoy the new experience.
The resolution of the display is the number of points from which the picture consists and is displayed on the screen. The more of them, the more clear picture we see. In helmets and headsets equipped with lenses, the screen of the phone appears in front of us in an enlarged form. Accordingly, the pixels increase. And if the “usual” look at the screen of a smartphone image seems very clear and “smooth”, then “armed” with lenses eyes easily see a pixelated picture like this:
Alas, but pixelation is clearly visible even when using smartphones with a maximum resolution. At the moment we have smartphones with 2960 x 1440 pixel resolution as in Samsung — Galaxy S9 but this doesn’t change the situation significantly.
Therefore, to ensure the first visit to the digital world not to end up in a couple of minutes because of poor picture quality, we recommend using a smartphone with a resolution not lower than Full HD, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels. Of course, if your smartphone is equipped with a screen with HD resolution of “only” 1280 x 720 pixels — your eyes will not “leak” from pain, but a pleasant impression of virtual reality is likely to be somewhat spoiled.
Each modern smartphone is equipped with an accelerometer (or G-sensor). This cunning device measures the proper acceleration. A complex definition, but everyone knows how accelerometer functionates. In general, it is used to change the orientation of a smartphone screen or tablet: vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape), depending on how you rotate a device.
Such a long introduction was necessary for us to talk about the gyroscope. Gyroscope operating principal is much similar to an accelerometer. However, unlike the G-sensor, the gyroscope determines the device orientation in three-dimensional space. The gyro’s readings are used not only when the smartphone is tilted to the right or to the left, but also when it rotates in all directions.
Therefore, the presence of a gyroscope is necessary in order to rotate the head and look around in virtual reality. Most VR games and applications can run on smartphones not equipped with a gyroscope, but you can not look around there. And without this — what kind of virtual reality will we see?
The presence of a magnetic sensor is not mandatory but welcome. The goal of a sensor is to determine the presence, intensity, and variation of the magnetic field. For example, the magnetic field of the planet itself — with the help of a sensor a smartphone has the compass function indicating the direction to the North and South.
More common application of this sensor in smartphones is associated with protective covers. Thus, when the cover is opened, a sensor reacts to the absence of a magnet and activates the screen. When the cover closes, the magnetic field changes and the screen is blocked. There are other options for its use, for example for partial display of information on a screen when using smartphone flip-cases with windows.
Another good example is a magnetic button. By pressing or pushing it, you thereby change the magnetic field which activates sensor.
There are three known mobile VR platforms on the market: Google Daydream, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR. Daydream and Samsung Gear VR are pioneering platforms and the Cardboard is relatively obsolete but is compatible with a much greater number of devices and supports IOS. Gear VR is limited to Samsung flagships like “Galaxy” series. This time we would like to pick your attention and compare platforms from Google.
Google Daydream vs. Google Cardboard Platforms
Google has created 2 platforms to improve VR experience on Android devices. They are Google Cardboard and Google Daydream. Cardboard is older. It was released on June 25, 2014, and is compatible with devices running Android 4.4 and above. Daydream was released on November 10, 2016, and is the platform supporting virtual reality built into new Android versions starting from “Nougat” 7.1. Using a smartphone with Daydream, we no longer need to remove a smartphone from a headset to switch between applications as we used doing it with Cardboard platform. Instead, we use Daydream Home ordinary desktop in virtual reality, where the shortcuts for running installed applications are placed. For this purpose, Google created special applications versions to use in virtual reality — for YouTube and for a set of others.
Daydream has special demands for smartphones and for software as well. Smartphones are required to have high-resolution screens and powerful hardware to run “heavy” games. Such phones are certified by Google as “Daydream ready” — this means that they are ready to install a new Android Oreo with built-in virtual reality platform and run VR apps. If you are satisfied having a well-performing smartphone for around 200$ even with Snapdragon chipset successfully digesting all modern games, unfortunately, it will unlikely meet the requirements of Google Daydream. Hopefully, still your choice is Google Cardboard which you easily install from Google Play. The list of “Daydream ready” phones includes Google Pixel 2, Galaxy S8 & S8+, LG V30 and several others with an average price of 400–500$.
As for virtual reality development for Daydream platform, Google also has a decent list of requirements to app quality. For example, the Daydream platform has the new controller requiring special involvement from developers. For headsets, there is also a separate list of some similar requirements. Daydream greatest drawback at the moment is the is the compatibility with flagship smartphones only with no IOS support. Nevertheless, there is a decent number of VR apps and games targeting Daydream platform.
Google Cardboard underperforms in terms of quality but is available for a much wider range of smartphones including IOS devices and is pretty sufficient for simple games, watching videos and getting first impressions of the VR world.
Both platforms releases were accompanied by the same name VR headsets releases: Google Cardboard Viewer and Google Daydream View respectively. Anyway, this doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to one of these headsets if enjoying VR on Cardboard or Daydream platforms. You have a much broader choice. Let’s figure out the details.
Headsets are glasses of virtual reality installed to a special box in which there are:
- smartphone fastening;
- lens to magnify the smartphone screen;
- the mechanism for adjusting the distance between lenses;
- the mechanism for adjusting the distance between lenses and a smartphone;
- belts for fixing the entire structure on the head.
In some cases, however, the headsets are equipped with their own sensors — an accelerometer, a gyro, and high-quality headphones that are connected to a smartphone. However, if your smartphone is already equipped with these sensors, then there is no need to have them in a headset.
Today the market is overwhelmed with a wide variety of headsets models. However, despite the difference in price, their main difference among each other is only in their appearance. In fact, they are all the same — a plastic box where you insert your smartphone. Therefore, when choosing a headset, we recommend focusing on reviews describing lenses and the convenience of using the device.
If you are going to use a headset not only for watching videos but for games too, then you will need a separate control panel — a gamepad. Some headsets sets initially include such a pad, but in most cases, it must be purchased independently.
I can not help but mention Google Cardboard. Project creators decided to prove that you can use ordinary cardboard as a headset, folded in a special way and equipped with lenses. The project was so successful that Google seriously launched its development and began selling the same name set starting from February 2016
The functionality of the Google Cardboard headset does not differ much from the cardboard which you just folded following the scheme from the Internet. However, with long-term use, the “cardboard” still loses points in terms of comfort. In addition, such headsets are not equipped with mechanisms for adjusting the distances between the lenses, since this requires a different body, more durable than the cardboard.
Google Daydream View
Google Daydream View is the more advanced VR headset from Google. They have merely nothing in common with Google Cardboard. First of all in terms of body. Here, instead of cardboard body which it was sometimes easier to fold following the scheme from the Internet, we got a “soft, lightweight fabric headset that’s easy-to-wear and an expressive controller that’s simple to use”. Google Cardboard comes without a controller and this is the significant difference between 2 models.
Applications for mobile virtual reality
There are really a lot of applications equipped with the “VR” label and you will hardly have enough free time to try everything out. Most of them are offered for free but you will have to spend some time trying to find something really worthwhile among them. Nevertheless, even YouTube and Facebook, which now support the placement of 360-degree videos are able to permanently pin your attention to such content.
In general, VR-applications can be conditionally divided into three main categories: games, experiences, and videos. There are a lot of games — starting from well-known Roller Coaster and to quite decent shooters or multi-hour construction of VR Minecraft world. For the Samsung Gear VR headset owners, the gates to the gaming paradise of the Oculus application store are completely open. This is one more place to discover amazing VR games and apps.
With experiences, we mean applications that allow us to explore various places of our planet using 360-degree photos: from Japanese high-tech cities to space and underwater depths, from museums and sights to ordinary pastoral landscapes. Of course, all the same can be seen on an ordinary screen but believe me: the simplest possibility to look around as if you are standing there, brings completely new experience.
And finally — videos. Above we have already mentioned YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook as the main providers of such content, moreover, with the advent of inexpensive cameras capable of shooting 360-format videos, their amount rises exponentially to appear on social media.