If you’re Generation Y or older, there’s a good chance you’ve used a View-Master in your childhood. Now, the old school toy returns with a new school angle.
Long before virtual reality was a thing, a toy was built to show the world through stereo photography, or 3D images. Called the “View-Master”, it was basically a small slide image viewer that would read two images taken from a left and right view point at once, and when paired, would immerse your eyes in a slightly three-dimensional world.
These images were stored in View-Master cartridges, which were basically circular pieces of cardboard holding together 14 images set in 7 pairs.
Back when we were kids, the images used in View-Masters were often about places you could travel to, or scenes from movies, and these little experiences would act as a sort of early virtual reality, even though there was no movement or momentum inside the world.
But when video games started taking over, the View-Master took a backseat, because it just couldn’t compete with the digital world.
Toy maker Mattel hasn’t given up on its gadget, though, and has been working on a way of bringing it back.
Now it’s 2015, and over 70 years later from when the original View-Master popped up in 1939, the way of bringing this toy back from the dead will be with phones.
Specifically, it will be with Android and iOS-based phones, and a special set of View-Master cartridges. There’s no paper in this cartridge, and no film. Rather, these are plastic discs with little coloured squares inside of them, and a label on the top.
When a phone is loaded in the special View-Master viewer with the app running, you’ll find an augmented reality model appearing on screen, showing up for your eyes to see.
From here, you can touch the screen by pulling down on the View-Master release trigger, which is the same style of orange release mechanism that the old View-Master used to use to skip forward.
When you pull this mechanism down, the 2015 View-Master will let you get up close and personal with a digital representation of what’s on the cartridge, and will let you see more models.
And really, that’s the crux of this budget VR system, with it taking advantage of the phones many of us rely on to deliver a not quite virtual reality system to let you explore digital recreations of locations, animals, and even bits of space.
“A portal for children to explore the world and beyond, View-Master provides such an unrivalled way to learn and have fun,” said Chedney Rodgers, Marketing Director at Mattel.
“It’s a great honour to be able to bring the iconic View-Master to the digital age here in Australia,” said Rodgers.
“To continue to expand offerings on the View-Master platform Mattel will begin to curate and create new experience reels with other Google Cardboard developers to offer users even more unique content to enjoy.”
That’s the thing really worth knowing about the modern View-Master because technically Mattel has just produced an upscale plastic Google Cardboard, albeit one without a strap to attach the device to your face. There’s no magnetic touch mechanism either, because the View-Master trigger touches the screen, though it is close.
With no official Google Cardboard release channel in Australia, the release of this plastic View-Master concept could even fill the gap for people keen to try out Cardboard and its budget type of virtual reality, which it definitely orders.
At $49.95 for the View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack, it is indeed an easy way to try out the technology, though you will need to bring your own phone, accepting most devices sized 4 inches and higher, though Mattel does say it should work best with Samsung Galaxy products from the S4 and onwards, LG’s G3 and G4, the Motorola X devices, HTC’s One, and the Nexus 5, 6, and higher, as well as any iPhone from the 5 and higher.
“We’re so excited at Mattel to be able to infuse technology and innovation, with this classic toy, into fun and play by developing an immersive digital experience for kids,” said Rodgers.
While the starter kit is out now, you’ll find experience packs alongside it for roughly $20 each, with the entire collection arriving at Kmart, Big W, Toys R Us, and Target from this week.