What was once a mere science fiction dream and a Hollywood movie plot device decades ago, virtual reality is now fast becoming a mainstream phenomenon.
With the unprecedented demand for the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive computer rig, we’ll likely see more receptive audiences joining in this trendy bandwagon of visual immersion.
But did you know that you don’t have to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get a decent virtual reality experience?
In fact, the main component that you need is likely one that you already own – yep, your smartphone!
In case you’re wondering, your smartphone already has the necessary sensors for VR like gyroscopes and accelerometers and all you’ll need is a viewer to stick your phone in.
You can get fancy gear like the Samsung Gear VR or Google’s Daydream View but you don’t have to. The $15 Google Cardboard will do just fine.
Cardboard is surprisingly simple. It’s a low-cost, low-tech contraption you slide your phone into, and with a use of two 45 mm focal length lenses, turns it into a usable VR system!
Google even released Cardboard’s schematics to the public so anyone can create their own DIY versions. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time. There are plenty of cheap Cardboard compatible options available online.
Google Cardboard app
To complement your no-frills VR viewer, I recommend the official Cardboard app from Google as a starting point. This app has everything you need to take the smartphone VR experience for a spin.
It has virtual tours, exhibits, 360 videos, and other fun VR demos. It also compiles all your installed Cardboard-ready apps in one convenient section called My Library.
YouTube 360 videos
Since you probably have the YouTube app installed on your phone, why not try it for VR? Google added Cardboard VR support to the YouTube app for iOS and Android last year.
With the Cardboard contraption, you can search for and view YouTube’s 360 videos the way they’re meant to be watched – in wraparound view!
YouTube’s VR Cardboard experience doesn’t end with 360 videos. In fact, all YouTube videos can be viewed in Cardboard mode by activating it through the app’s option menu (tap the three vertical dots in the upper-left corner).
In this mode, non-360 videos will be rendered as if you’re watching them in a dark movie theater. It’s a pretty cool effect and it’s worth a try!
GoPro VR App
For the action sports crowd, GoPro aficionados have been creating 360 videos using VR rigs with multiple GoPro cameras and special tripods. With the GoPro VR app, you can immerse yourself with 360 videos of activities you may never ever do like skydiving and paragliding across exotic locales.
There are hundreds of spectacular videos in the GoPro VR app, organized in 14 different categories ranging from Underwater to Flying.
GoPro VR is available for iOS and Android.
Chair in A Room
Chair In A Room is a horror game that’s designed specifically for Google Cardboard. By using Cardboard’s immersive properties, virtual reality takes this rather straightforward game to terrifying heights.
If you want to get a taste of what VR gaming is all about, Chair In A Room is a great springboard. Play this game at your own risk, though. It can get intense!
Unfortunately, Chair In A Room is only available for Android right now.
Must-try Cardboard apps
Other notable Cardboard VR apps you need to try are Inside Abbey Road and Apollo 15 Moon Landing VR.
Apollo Moon Landing VR for Android commemorates the 45th year anniversary of the Apollo 15 mission. It is a virtual reality recreation of this mission’s moon landing.
The process is similar to how panoramic photos are stitched together but when viewed in Cardboard VR mode, the photos take on a whole new immersive dimension.