Telstra engages virtual reality for a City of Sydney New Year’s celebration

Australia has one thing on most of the world: we get to ring in the new year before so many other places, and that means we have to do it in a pretty special way. Telstra thinks it has found that way, bringing in a dose of VR for anyone with a smartphone.

And since practically everyone has a smartphone, this opens the field right up for anyone keen to experience New Years in a different way, and that’s because Telstra is working with Google’s Cardboard to make a more immersive New Year’s Eve, while also offering 50 free SMS to Android and iOS (iPhone, iPad) owners.

“Telstra is thrilled to be collaborating with City of Sydney on one of the world’s most iconic New Year’s Eve events, providing global audiences with the opportunity to get into the heart of the action thanks to Telstra’s technology,” said Ben Cutler, General Manager of Brand Marketing at Telstra.

For the free SMS, Telstra is asking anyone keen to send them to set the 50 SMS up in the NYE app before 10pm on December 31, with the telco sending them on your behalf when midnight hits so you don’t run into the typical message clog networks tend to suffer from at the stroke of midnight.

As for the virtual reality side of things, the concept relies on a stream taken from cameras set up at key vantage points throughout Sydney, and after the clock strikes midnight, viewers will see a stream from those locations as if they were standing there with a 360 degree stream that your phone will pick up.

Taking advantage of the accelerometer in your phone, the app will allow you to spin around and look at Sydney as it crosses into 2015, seeing the fireworks and the people cheering as if you were standing there watching yourself.

Your phone can do this by itself, or you can pair it with a gadget called “Google Cardboard” which is a Google invention that takes cardboard, plastic lenses, velcro, and some magnets to create a budget virtual reality headset that takes its feed from a compatible phone.

We’ve played with Google Cardboard in the past and found it works best with screens at least Full HD (1920×1080) and higher, with the 2560×1440 screens found in the LG G3 working particularly well, though HTC’s One M8 (above) tends to be the best phone for Cardboard altogether.

Regardless of what phone you have, however, running the video feed through Google Cardboard creates a more immersive experience, sending out an image for each eye and having your brain (and the Cardboard headset) put the two together.

But of course you need a Google Cardboard headset to make that happen.

Fortunately, Telstra is stepping up this year and making it possible for Aussies to get in on the fun, providing free Google Cardboard units for people at least until it runs out.

To get the free Cardboard headset, you’ll need to grab the Telstra and City of Sydney NYE app, register for the free 50 SMS, and then send a message to a Telstra number to indicate whether you want the Cardboard picked up at a Sydney store, Melbourne store, or posted your way.

Right now, only one video is setup on the NYE app, allowing you to get a feeling of what it’s like on the Bridge Climb, but representatives for Telstra tell us more videos are coming in the app to take advantage of the technology.

Google Cardboard can do more, mind you, with Google’s own “Cardboard” app, but Telstra’s addition could make New Year’s Eve a little more interesting for people who don’t plan on being in the middle of the harbour.

Telstra’s NYE app is available now for Apple iOS and Google Android, while its supply of Google Cardboard headsets are available until stock runs out.

This is the way Google Cardboard looks. Then you open it up and assemble it using the included directions. It’s pretty easy, just make sure to bring your own phone for the not quite virtual reality to work.

UPDATE (December 5, 2014): So we’ve confirmed with Telstra that you can’t log in and watch it live from a 3D point of view. Rather, you’ll see the stream an hour or so after the fireworks have ended.