Thursday, June 26, 2014

Google Cardboard - A Perfect Start for Virtual Reality

Man, it seems like I've been on a VR rant these past two days now.  Let's cut straight to the point on this post: Google Cardboard is the exact thing virtual reality needs right now.  It's cheap, it's (fairly) high quality, and anyone can get it right now.  This kind of access is the perfect push for anyone who wants virtual reality to succeed, and while the Oculus Rift and Control-VR might have a nicer case, Google has managed to blow them both out of the water.  Let's go ahead and review everything really quickly.

The Screen Resolution

Much simple.  Very free.  Wow.
This is a huge leap from what both Oculus Rift and Control-VR offer, and is a much bigger deal than I think people realize.  The screen resolution is already as high as the second Oculus Rift development kit (1080p split between two eyes), and with a better phone, you have a better screen resolution (I'm looking at you LG G3).  This means that the screen door effect will be mostly gone a lot more quickly than it will with other headsets (Unless there are major hardware changes soon).  There isn't much more to say about that other than that it's already better in terms of screen resolution by what could potentially be a large margin, and that end users can easily upgrade the hardware with new phones they will inevitably get.

Cost and Portability

It's a piece of card board that folds up and a phone that fits into your pocket.  No special hardware, no heavy desktop, not even a laptop, nothing.  Just pull out your phone, unfold your cardboard, and you have virtual reality ready to go.  Both the lenses and the magnet could stay in the cardboard while it's folded potentially, meaning you don't need anything extra.  The portability available with this is mind-boggling to me, especially since it's so simple.

Another factor though is the cost, which is yet again mind-boggling low.  The lenses are the most expensive, at $25 depending on the kind you get.  This means you can make one for under $50!  The Oculus Rift's current iteration is $350 for comparison.  This is a huge point, as it makes VR much more accessible to everyone.  On top of that, you can go out to your local hardware store and make one right now, no waiting for the pre-order to come.  This means that if you develop for it too, you'll have a much wider audience too.  This of course does still come under the pretense that your users have Android phones, but that's still not a bad deal, and a much bigger audience then what the Oculus Rift has currently.

While basic, you can already see some pretty effects in this small demo.
Imagine what other developers could do!  Demo by Google, NOT ME!

The Power

This is the part that excites me the most.  Because Google writes the operating system for this hardware effectively, they can add in a better rendering solution than just outputting everything twice to the screen, down at the OS level.  This means that a 60 frames-per-second game is now feasibly for virtual reality.  What makes this even better though is that it is on a portable device, which means no lag from a wireless or wired connection either.  Essentially, your phone becomes a virtual reality game system, and with things like Project Tango coming out, you could potentially get a device that is fully aware of where you are exactly, allowing you to walk around with this on, and still maintain control in-game.  For those who don't know what Project Tango is, Project Tango is a new type of smartphone and tablet hardware Google is working on that is aware of where it is in 3D space and can map out 3D spaces too.  Essentially, it is the equivalent of having a Kinect that you can carry around with you at all times, and yet it is even more powerful than a Kinect.  This means it could potentially solve a good portion of the controls issue I mentioned in my previous post, without extra hardware.  Palpatine would be proud.

End Thoughts

While this of course still has some of the similar issues to other virtual reality devices such as how to deal with hands and such, I feel like this is a much bigger leap forward than what other technologies have shown.  Google came out of nowhere with this today, and it really has the potential to shake up virtual reality as we know it right now, especially with the price point that it poses.  I'm currently in the process of making my own now, and when I have it finished, I'll probably do another post about it, as well as making a few games for it.  Until then, feel free to leave your comments below!