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Google Cardboard


How to get started with Cardboard, Google's DIY virtual reality headset

Google, one of the largest and most influential tech companies on the planet, decided to enter the virtual reality space with a smartphone shell made of cardboard. True story! It gave away a kit to Google I/O attendees in 2014, and then posted the plans online so anyone with an empty pizza box or stray shipping carton could hack together a lo-fi VR device with a handful of cheap parts.

Cardboard might sound silly, but it has caught on in a serious way: the plans have been downloaded more than 500,000 times, there are dozens upon dozens of compatible apps, and now LG and Mattel are creating plastic versions. You can even buy a standard cardboard viewer from third-party companies if you don’t want to make one yourself.

Whether you plan to build or buy, it’s easy to get started with this entry-level, ultra-affordable VR experience. Here’s how.
Why bother?

It’s Paul McCartney! The image is split on the screen, but through the Cardboard viewer, the two sides merge to become one seamless image.


Current Cardboard apps are largely short, straightforward experiences, but it’s incredibly cool to be able to try out VR without a significant investment of money or time. You already have an Android smartphone, right? Assuming it’s recent enough to run the app and fit into a shell, your expense shouldn’t be more than $20-25 for a basic viewer, or less if you decide to build the thing yourself.

It’s not as immersive an experience as the strap-on Oculus Rift, which requires a PC and is still in development, or Samsung’s Gear VR headsets, which cost $200 and only work with the Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, and Note 4. But it’s an easy way to get a feel for what’s possible with modern virtual reality, and beyond the low cost of the headset, most of the available apps are free.


What do I need?

Change is afoot. In May 2015, Google unveiled the second-generation viewer, which swaps the janky magnetic switch for a cardboard, foam, and capacitive tape-covered button that works with any Android phone (and even iPhones, viathe iOS app). The 2.0 viewer also makes various design tweaks, including flexible cardboard between the lenses that's less likely to chafe your nose.


The viewer can also accommodate phones up to six inches in size—namely the Nexus 6, which replaces its predecessor as the phone seen in Google's current Cardboard marketing materials. It also works with Galaxy Note phones, the iPhone 6 Plus, and other phablets in that size range. Curiously, the new viewer eliminates the passthrough opening on the back, which let apps use your camera to pump in images from the world around you.

It's unknown whether Google will release those plans for home crafters, but for now, the company is pointing people towards partners who sell the headsets. And while some companies are selling pretty straightforward versions of Google's template, others are making their own tweaks to the design. For example, Unofficial Cardboard sent me the 2.0 Plus model seen above, which lets you shift the placement of each lens for a clearer image—and potentially less chance of motion sickness.

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