Google’s Cardboard more than just a neat experiment

Google’s experiment into a cheaper version of virtual reality isn’t just an experiment anymore, as Google takes “Cardboard” more places, showing you how to make it yourself and getting more app developers involved.

It seems this whole virtual reality thing isn’t going away, and while it appeared in the 90s way ahead of its time, the idea is coming back. It’s returning with the Oculus headset that has revitalised interest in the concept, with Sony joining with its own Project Morpheus later on, as well as Samsung’s interest in the technology linking it to its Galaxy Note 4 smartphone.

But while all of these will probably cost two or three hundred dollars (at a minimum), Google is also interested, and has been eyeing the space with an option of their own.

A budget option at that.

Unveiled this year, that option is called “Cardboard,” and for those who haven’t heard what it is, it was Google’s attempt at making an inexpensive virtual reality option that turned your phone into the entertainment device and a bit of cardboard and plastic lenses as the headset.

To give you an idea of how inexpensive it is, you can assemble it yourself if you have some magnetic, lenses, cardboard, velcro, tape, and a rubber band, and provided you have a smartphone which acts as the viewer.

Smartphones that can make this work generally need at least a Full HD display and have to have a screen size between 4.7 and 5.5 inches, but the better the resolution, the better it is, with the 2560×1440 displays working well in this regard and splitting the screen in half, essentially providing a 720p picture per eye.

Google even made a demo app earlier in the year to show what Cardboard could do, and while it was basic and showed the sort of accelerometer controlled virtual reality content that a phone could make use of, the interest in the project seems to have Google investing more resources in the concept.

Now, the Cardboard app is being updated, and more than just an experiment, other developers as well as Google are getting behind it, creating experiences that turn an everyday phone into a virtual reality entertainment device.

As such, you can now find some 360 degree immersive videos to let you view the world of Frodo Baggins in “The Hobbit”, a live concert or two with Jack White and Paul McCartney, and even some trailers to immersive movies currently being made.

Beyond the films, you’ll find some games out there that allow you to move your head, though thankfully you won’t be walking into objects or walls yet, as this information isn’t tracked (and if it were, you’d probably be bumping into things). Instead, you just sit in your chair and play games with a wireless controller if you have one, or have the games happen around you, such as is the case with the falling game “Caaaaardboard!” (which is a fun game of falling not meant for anyone suffering motion sickness) and the spooky title “Chair in a Room” (a game that had us freaked out even without the sound).

But it’s more than just a few companies making content, and Google is encouraging more people to make stuff for Cardboard, with an SDK released for both Google’s Android developers while game coders working in Unity now have support there, too.

Cardboard is even being used by Aussies this year, as Telstra takes advantage of the concept to stream the New Year’s fireworks, with the company even providing free Cardboard units for a time.

If you didn’t nab one before they ran out, there are other ways to get them.

While Google won’t sell you a Cardboard unit yourself, if you’re not game to make one yourself, Google is providing companies with detailed specs to make units so that you can try it out, with units available between $5 and $50, many of which rely on different materials such as wood, cardboard, and aluminium.

Some of the units even support the iPhone 6, a phone that Google isn’t officially supporting with its own Cardboard app, but that other Apple app developers are supporting with similar concepts displaying vision with a split screen.

That said, most of the support is there on Android devices, and if you have phone handsets such as the LG G3, HTC One M7, Google Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S5, this concept is made for your product, making it possible for you to try the VR thing before it well and truly lands.

And it’s coming, that much we’re sure of, because if Google sees a reason to invest more resources into Cardboard, it knows Oculus, Sony, and Samsung are onto something.