Early next year, consumers will finally be able to buy virtual reality (VR) headsets from the likes of Oculus, Sony and HTC.
These wearables are unlikely to be cheap. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe has said it would cost about US$1,500 (S$2,000) for an Oculus Rift headset and a PC powerful enough to support it.
Samsung's Gear VR costs $298 and requires a compatible Samsung handset such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 ($998).
But there is a cheap VR headset available now: Google Cardboard. The cardboard headset works with a number of smartphones.
It has been improved since it made its debut at last year's Google developer conference.
It will now support phablets with screens of up to 6 inches.
It is also compatible with iPhones, since Google took the Cardboard app to iOS.
You can buy the materials and make it yourself by following online instructions. Or purchase a ready- made one from manufacturers.
I got a version 1.0 Cardboard from local firm Secret Lab ($20). A QR code on the Cardboard lets you pair your smartphone with it quite easily.
To start, install the Google Cardboard app on your smartphone and slot it into the headset. Run the Cardboard app tutorial to learn the basics, and then jump into the app's VR demos.
Head to YouTube and check out the 360-degree videos at www.youtube.com/360. These videos are captured using special cameras that record 3D footage.
They can be viewed without the Google Cardboard, with a smartphone or compatible browser. Swipe the phone screen to change the point of view in these videos.
When viewing them using Google Cardboard, you simply turn your head to change your view, just like in real life.
Here are some more apps to try with your Google Cardboard:
Android and iOS
If you are new to virtual reality, the best way to experience it is by watching videos specially made for this new medium.
While YouTube's 360-degree videos are great, the Vrse app holds a collection of high-quality VR-optimised videos. They range from a computer-generated 3-D movie to special episodes of Saturday Night Live. It takes a while to download these videos (some of them are over 1GB), but their quality are topnotch.
Android and iOS
What could be better than a frontrow seat at a performance by former Beatle Paul McCartney? Well, how about being right next to him as he tickles the ivories?
This Paul McCartney app places your virtual self on the stage during his concert performance of Live And Let Die. A moment later, I am in front of a cheering crowd with fireworks going off behind me.
Turn your head and your viewpoint of the concert changes. Even the music sounds different when you do that.
It is an awesome example of what is possible with 360-degree videos.
TITANS OF SPACE
Virtual reality can be used to teach. A good example is Titans Of Space, basically a 15-minute guided tour of the solar system.
You start off in space near Earth, then travel to other planets and nearby stars. There are informative notes about each planet. Your virtual journey is accompanied by an epic soundtrack.
While I knew that the sun is huge, I did not realise the full extent of it until I had to crane my neck and turn my head completely just to take in its size in the app.
Also available, as an in-app purchase, is a narrative track for your solar tour.
A CHAIR IN A ROOM
Don't let your children get near this game. In fact, steer clear of it yourself if you even remotely dislike horror movies.
The game puts you in a dark room. You get a torch, which lets you glimpse the newspaper articles around the room, which are about a missing girl.
The torch has to be turned off periodically to recharge. And that is when you begin to hear things moving around you.
This is a short and scripted game with little replay value. But the immersive nature of virtual reality makes it even scarier than watching a horror film.
This space-based shooting game does not require a game controller. Like many VR games, it is designed to be hands-free. Move your head to change your character's flight direction, or to track and shoot the bad guys. It is that simple.
The 3-D graphics looked decent on my phone and the soundtrack is suitably epic.
Downside: The game's single level is over before you know it.
This article was first published on July 15, 2015.
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