3D VR for a pound!

I just popped into my local Poundland store today for some crisps and I saw these for sale

3d Viewer for £1!

I have seen relatively cheap(ish) “VR headsets” of the sort that take your mobile phone on sale for a while now but like a lot of people did not want to spend out on something I might not have any long term use for. The packaging says “Smartphone not included” – come on Poundland you disappoint me 😉

The Viewer is mostly cardboard, plus some foam, Velcro and a couple of plastic magnifying lenses, held in place by the 3 layers of cardboard sandwich. There were clear instructions.

What you get in the bag, considerable assembly required!

And about 10 minutes later I had the finished article.

The completed 3D glasses. The phone fits in the box.

I have a Samsung Galaxy S4 phone that fitted snugly in the box. If you have a phone considerably larger than this then you may need to look for something more upmarket to house it.

The viewer claimed to be compatible with Google Cardboard this being a standard for base level VR hardware and software that works with it. However the one aspect of the official Google design missing is any way to press a button, thus unless you want to spend a little more money on a fancier handheld controller like this one, you are limited to experiences that involve just changing your view (i.e turning your head) rather than interacting (like playing a game). There is I am sure you are pleased to hear a very simple and cheap solution to this. If you have a USB mouse and one of those OTG usb adapters handy – the sort that lets you plug full size USB keys, keyboards etc. etc into a mobile phone you can use this with Cardboard. The support for mice in Android is such that a button click is the same as a touch event on the screen. Cardboard does not care where the touch event is on the screen, just that there is one, so a mouse connected to the phone and held in the hand does the job! If you have a Bluetooth connected mouse, or keyboard with track-pad ability, then you do not even have to have the trailing wire coming out of your phone – a slight damage risk to your expensive phone if you are blundering about with a VR headset on! However if you have to buy one you may as well get one of the purpose made Bluetooth VR controllers, designed to be used by touch alone and only a few pounds.

Apart from the lack of a button to press the ultra cheap headset works well. I am short sighted but without my glasses the screen image through the magnifier is clear, although with the magnifying lens unavoidably slightly pixelated. Looking at the specs of more expensive headsets what you get is the ability to adjust focus, but for me at least the default seemed fine. Getting a picture less pixelated would require a higher pixel density on the screen of the phone itself. In fact this application is the only real practical use for super high resolutions on a phone screen.

I do not know if prolonged use would result in headaches. It is all rather unnatural for our brain so common sense on how long you use this for in one session would be needed!

There is already quite a bit of software available in the App Store for Google Cardboard, as it a simple baseline for VR expecting just a single click control. I was rather limited not having any way to interact but still managed to enjoy a simulated roller-coaster ride and watching the fish swim by in an aquarium. I could tell my now 3 generations old Galaxy S4 was struggling a tiny bit with doing the graphics. VR is an area where an up to date phone would show the extra value.

I did feel rather vulnerable to real world dangers (like tripping over) while using the headset. Attempting to use it standing up I felt my knees buckling slightly as my balance and sense of motion was being messed with. To feel secure while experiencing a VR world the safest arrangement would be a sturdy swivel char positioned well away from desks or any other obstructions. For people with more space (and money) something like this would be great fun!

Just seen this story on BBC news that 3D TV is pretty much a bust now – interest from manufacturers has all but vanished. The public just did not go mad about it. VR shares some characteristics with 3D cinema in that the trick of giving each eye a slightly offset image trick our brain into conveying depth to a scene. However this whole ‘binocular vision’ thing has evolved for predators catching prey – requiring very keen spatial awareness in the space directly in front of them.

The problem with 3D cinema is this binocular vision trick is the sum total of what can be provided. the far stronger effect is that if we turn or nod our head the scene changes in a way we have evolved to expect. This gives our brains information about what objects are nearer than others, without needing binocular vision even. A prepared film cannot do this, the entire frame moves as one. It is like going through life with your head locked into position with a neck brace. The binocular effect on its own is not very satisfying.

The big experience value of VR through a headset like this is that the image occupies almost all the available field of view and responds to head movement. Without the latter is is nothing more than a very big 3D cinema screen you can carry with you, so in the end just as unsatisfying. The fact that you have to loose visual contact with the ‘real’ world limit the places where it can be used. Maybe what is needed is a harness so that the person with headset on can either stand up, but not able to wander into danger, or float freely away from any obstructions?

 

Look out Apple, smartwatches are now a commodity item!

Just a quick post. Was filling up with petrol yesterday and I my eyes went to the adverts on the pump for the various “super value” products that they sell from the shop. I noticed an ad for a Bluetooth smartwatch for just £20. The manufacturer was InTech – one I know from a previous happy purchase of a DVR dashcam for the same sort of money, also from a petrol station. The dashcam has been working just fine for over year so I thought I would take a punt with the watch and share my findings here.

They had just one left! A white one.

Look out Apple smartwatches are now a commodity item!
An InTech smartwatch on sale at my local filling station.

Initially the watch was totally comatose but an hour of charging into the micro USB port on the side and it woke enough to show me the battery charging icon at least. Some mobile phones can be the same – if you let them run down too far they seem totally dead until they get at least a few minutes of charging juice into the battery. Another 30 minutes and the watch appeared to be fully charged. The instruction booklet says changing can take up to 3 hours.

Like the iWatch you have to use this in conjunction with a mobile phone, either Android or Apple but the manual warns not all feature are availble with an iPhone. Unlike and iWatch you are stuck with the set of functionality that the watch manufactures provide. There are 3 different watch faces to choose from, 1 digital and 2 analog (traditional). The watch face does not stay on ALL the time – the battery would be drained in no time if it did. You can choose a timeout from seconds to up to 3 minutes. Touching the button on the side of the watch wakes it up.

The ‘Smart’ features are:

  • Calendar.
  • Calculator.
  • Viewing text messages.
  • Making/answering calls as a (not very loud) speakerphone (including phonebook access).
  • Controlling shutter on your phone camera – you even get a preview window so you can take high quality selfies with the main, front facing, camera. A remote shutter release is also great to avoid camera shake when using a tripod.
  • Controlling music player forward/back/volume – the way I had my phone set up the music also came through the rather tinny speaker on the watch – it is probably possible to send music somewhere else such as to headphones with a bit of tinkering.
  • Pedometer.
  • Sleep monitor.
  • Stopwatch.
  • Alarm clock.
  • Setting reminders for rests and drinks.

The watch is operated very much like a phone, mostly through the touch screen. With my fat fingers I found this rather fiddly but a phone stylus I had handy works a treat.

The watch has the sort of build quality one would expect from a £20 non smart watch. I doubt it is waterproof or would stand much rough treatment but looks good and performs some useful functions. You do not need to bother getting your phone out of your pocket or bag just to answer a call is the most useful part of it. And you look less like a secret service agent than you would with one of those Bluetooth earpieces!

As I said I got mine from a petrol station, so keep a look out if you want one.