There's all sorts of furor over VR when it comes to the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, and for good reason: they're really cool experiences. But SuperData Research suggests that they won't be where VR goes mainstream: in fact, they think that "light mobile VR" solutions like Google Cardboard will make for the significant portion of VR usage, up to 71% in 2016. While SuperData thinks that PC VR will be the bulk of 'serious' VR usage, mobile still might play a significant role, what with the Samsung Gear VR taking 7% of the market, and more than the PlayStation VR. You can read the entire SuperData report on their site.

SuperData Virtual-Reality-Audience

While how it all shakes out remains to be seen, the point about "light mobile VR" makes a lot of sense if you think about it. VR headset screens are actually literally phone-sized. The trick comes in with the software and hardware needed to make VR work. While something like Google Cardboard is definitely an inferior experience to the Vive, the gap really isn't that huge. Like, you get a good enough experience that should sell you on the capabilities of VR. I've used Rift and Vive, and Cardboard still caused me to have amazing feelings of presence with some of its demos. There are shortcomings, and perhaps the best experiences will come with the best hardware, like Oculus Rift's recommended specs, but mobile VR solutions are cheap, accessible, and will most likely be the spark that convinces people of the value of VR. The best VR headset is the one you have.

[Develop Online]

  • err404

    Playing "Zombie Shooter" on a nexus 6p is really amazing. The 500+DPI screen makes a huge difference in VR. Also by comparison the iPhone motion sensors don't seem to be as fast good as many Androids. Leading to significantly more lag.
    I understand that Google may have made certain hardware design considerations in favor of VR, while Apple hasn't. Still, the end result is iOS is quite far behind. A good Android phone feels like a viable VR platform for casual gaming, while the iPhone versions feel a bit more like a gimmick/toy.

    • Adams Immersive

      As an iOS VR developer, I happily disagree! The lag you experienced must not be universal. Maybe it's like the Pencil: the devil is in the software details of a particular app.

      I've seen no evidence of Apple using inferior sensors, and iOS has performance advantages, from the chips to Metal.

      (The 6+ is what I personally use. I've also tried Gear VR and been unimpressed. I have not used the Nexus you mention, and don't doubt it's great as well.)

      • err404

        I'd like to be wrong. I've compared just about every app I could and the nexus was consistently far better. Every app I tried with my iPhone 6s showed the same lag (same with friends 6s plus)
        What would you consider the best showcase app so far?

      • Adams Immersive

        It's time for me to dive back into an App Store search, or seek recommendations... but as of late last year, I was disappointed in the VR selection I've found: too many that pre-date Cardboard 2.0 and don't perform well (especially, failing to adapt to different headsets unique geometries, resulting in weird perspective distortion). There were a surprising amount of VR apps for iPhone that emulated Cardboard and stated Cardboard compatibility, but did NOT use Google's official iOS SDK, because they pre-dated it!

        I'm sure Android has the lead over iOS in Cardboard app selection, simply because Cardboard supported iOS far earlier. It wouldn't surprise me if some very good Android apps have "halfway sort of" iOS ports.

        The two things I've been showing VR newcomers are ones chosen for simplicity of control: Google's own cave panorama, and a simple game called InMind VR. I'm unable to perceive any lag (which I know is unscientific) and I also perceive no VR sickness, which would result from lag on the Oculus Rift.

        (People use "lag" to mean two thing: a constant slight delay despite smooth framerate; or a low framerate. Neither has been a problem in my experience.)

        But my primary experience has been with making my OWN VR stuff using Google's SDK plugged into the Unity engine. (I wonder what tool chain was used for those laggy ones you tried—and whether it was optimized well for iOS or just casually ported from Android. I'd be happy to compare if there's a particular "bad" demo you'd like me to test.)

        None of the apps I've tried--not even Google's own!--has proper NECK modeling. I added that, and the sense of 3D is SO much better. I can't believe Google omitted that, because it's not difficult to do. The sense of stereo AND body presence is so much enhanced, especially for nearby objects (which are also the sharpest, naturally).

        I also applied techniques I came up with for removing motion sickness from scenarios (rapid first-person movement) than even a lag-free HMD typically suffers from.

        Success! My first VR game/demo has been tested by dozens of people and nobody has gotten ill—but it's the kind of "advanced" VR that would normally be unsuitable for beginners. You're flying around a randomly-generated city at high speed.

        It's more fun and more "3D" than other demos I've tried, and it will be free. But I'm holding back release until my first REAL iOS game (Scree) is done, so I can use the VR demo to promote the real game. Couple months away?

      • err404

        By lag I do not mean frame rate. Rather the one to one translation of head movement to the screen. The reason I was thinking sensors poling was the issue is that a 6 and 6s show similar lag despite a 6s having a slightly smoother frame rate.
        I have not tried too many games yet, but I found "Zombie Shooter" to be fantastic on the nexus 6p. All games I played on the nexus demonstrated very little lag. While the iPhone ones showed similar higher motion lag.
        All that said, you are right. These apps do not appear to be using the cardboard SDK since they do not respect the lens configuration from the cardboard app. I tried "Sisters" last night and it indeed seems to track much closer to one to one. Hopefully the next batch of games will show similar improvements.
        It is important for mobile VR to succeed. It will be the introduction to the current state of VR for most people, and a bad first impression will really hurt the resurgence we are seeing.

      • Adams Immersive

        Yeah, bad "first tries" worry me too! But it's awesome that this is finally happening.

        Ughh!! Just tried Zombie Shooter on iOS. Yeah, that lag is intolerable. Nodding up and down really shows it. Sisters seems cool but with a bit of lag (low enough to be acceptable for some kinds of games).

        Try InMind VR on your iPhone--much better in that regard (low poly but neat sense of motion).

        So I think software is the factor. Optimizing polycounts and shaders framerates for the device (as in any game) may be the answer, or it may be Zombie Shooter's toolchain. Zombie Shooter and others say they are for "FIBRUM" headsets, and presumably using FIBRUM software. Maybe those are to be avoided on iOS--or will all get a nice software update one day.

        I favor apps that specifically say they use Cardboard V2.0... but those are still rare.

  • iPhallex

    I've been considering getting a Google Cardboard for my iPhone 6. What are some games/apps you guys recommend and why are they worth checking out?

    • skylerolson

      Sisters is really cool

    • Reydn

      Kino Console - you can play PC games with your iPhone and Cardboard.

    • Niclas Johansson

      Proton Pulse is the coolest Cardboard game/app I've tried so far. Vanguard V from the same dev is pretty cool too.

  • Adams Immersive

    Cardboard on the 6+ is a lot of fun. I haven't shipped a title yet, but being able to build a world and then be IN it is awesome. And for free, since I built my headset out of Legos!

    • lonestarcarper

      I use a iPhone 6s+ and have ordered several of the plastic "Google cardboard" devices from Amazon when I compare them to the Samsung VR it's not even close the gear is so far ahead of the cardboard it's unreal - I hope apple makes a comparable head mounted unit to Samsung

      • Adams Immersive

        Gear is neat, and I'm glad it exists; and plastic Cardboard headsets vary WILDLY, especially the FOV and build quality. (You want light isolation and a comfy strap, ideally, and you want the optics to be precise.) But my time with Samsung Gear did not impress me, other than being VR which is always cool! I'm sure Gear VR is better than a bad Cardboard headset... but not enough for the high price.

        Main Gear advantage: control pad on the side. But it's a very limited control pad, vertical (IIRC) rather than horizontal which makes it unsuitable for steering a vehicle, and besides, holding a hand to your head is tiring and awkward. VR is bets controlled by your head alone, or by a Bluetooth controller, so that pad on the side is a "neat extra" but not worth spending so much money to get. And then having it not work with your next phone. It's too tied to certain models.

        Secondary Gear advantage: it doesn't look/feel cheap. Some Cardboard units do (which is one reason I've been slow to pick one). However, again... it doesn't justify the price and lack of broad phone support.

        The primary future of VR, I predict, will be Android... but not phones. It will be a self-contained headset platform. I say Android because Android gives developers the tools to make such a thing. (I know Apple has been patenting VR stuff for ages, but I have no idea what niche if any they will pursue, so my bet remains with Android for now.)

        However, that will take time for such a platform to emerge. In the meantime, a phone in a slot is the perfect transitional tech! And it won't go away because more people will own phones than choose to own a standalone VR platform.

    • Reydn

      Legos is an awesome idea - where did you get the lenses?

      • Adams Immersive

        I got the lenses from my Oculus Rift (DK1), which came with 3 sets. But lenses can be bought cheap.

        Google has neat online tools where you teach it the specs of the headset you've designed, and it generates a QR code which Cardboard apps can read to configure themselves automatically for your specific HMD. So I measured my Lego contraption using dental floss and away I went! My main complaint is that the Legos are a bit heavy.

        (I have photos of my Lego VR headset on Twitter you can find--same username--but I think I won't post an actual link; might seem spammy.)

    • Modjular

      Wow. I think most people who want to try VR will end up doing what you're doing: strapping together their own version of a header with parts they have. I think the experience is the main draw, and it's too early for people to be picky enough about their VR experience to want the quality Oculus provides.

      • Adams Immersive

        Maybe so! Although the cheapest actual Cardboard headsets are VERY cheap, and the measurements will be more precise (you would hope) than my home-brew method! But I didn't want to wait for a Cardboard headset to be mailed to me, and it wasn't clear on Amazon which ones had the best FOV and supported the then-new Cardboard 2.0 (with it's simpler button mechanism)... and besides, I like Legos 🙂

  • Reydn

    One last comment: saw a CNN story today about how an iPhone and Cardboard saved a baby's life

  • Mamaw

    There is several versions of cardboard. What is the best option to buy for a iPhone 6S plus? Do you have to remove your prescription glasses?

  • Steven Lewis

    I have found cardboard to be a pretty mediocre experience. Although I have yet to try it, I understand there is no comparison between a full blown PC-based VR HMD and cardboard. Perhaps the Samsung Gear is a better example of decent mobile VR that could gain a wide audience.

    In any case, in 3 or 4 years a great VR experience should be available at very friendly prices. I would argue that cardboard is not close to that.

  • Rain1dog

    What is a good plastic Google cardboard clone? I've just been doing the trick where you bring the screen close to your face and cross your eyes and slowly pull away until it's 3D, but it's highly distracting not having your sight blocked.

    I'd like to find a nice decent set of plastic VR goggles for the 6s plus.

  • Cheuk Seto

    I have a pre 2.0 version of Cardboard and played around with the current bunch of VR apps. The major issue i have encountered so far is that 1080p screens are not high def enough as the horizontal pixels are split between each eye, essentially halving the resolution. Games/demos that would otherwise look gorgeous would become quite pixelated, which takes me out of the experience. After rigging a headstrap on to a Cardboard, I enjoy the apps that take me to places where I don't really have to interact with anything like virtual tour apps or 360 movies, where I can just sit back and enjoy the content. Games so far are disappointing, not only due to the above "issue" (that may or may not be solved in future generations of hardware), but also controls. Gamepad-type controllers should serve the purpose adequately, but Oculus rift's controller or PS4's Move controllers where each hand gets its own would feel more immersive and natural. However, that would mean more stuff to buy.