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What’s new in smartphone virtual reality?

May 13, 2015

Smartphone virtual reality has become surprisingly sophisticated and powerful.

While consumers are still anxiously awaiting the releases of Oculus Rift and its competitors, there are many virtual reality options available to try out now—using your smartphone.

Google stepped into this vacuum at the last Google I/O conference by handing out Google Cardboard kits. Google Cardboard is the cardboard phone cradle that turns any smartphone into a VR device. Smartphone VR has moved incredibly fast since Google Cardboard was made available.

The two main areas of smartphone virtual reality progress are the headsets and the apps. The headsets ranges from the cardboard holders you can make yourself for pennies, through to $200 headsets with sophisticated optics. The apps are slowly gaining pace as developers come to grips with the hardware. At the moment the available apps are mainly games and demos, but there are some standouts.

Samsung’s Gear VR is an advanced VR headset, made specifically for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Gear VR isn’t a simple phone cradle with lenses, like Google Cardboard. Samsung and Oculus partnered to create a device to work closely with the Galaxy Note to provide an experience close to the Oculus Rift. The problem with Gear VR is that it is only compatible with one Samsung smart phones. It also comes with one of the highest price tags at $199.

If you don’t have a Galaxy Note 4 there are other companies that are creating high-quality VR headsets for smartphones. Zeiss, a high-quality optics company, has used their optics experience to create VR One. The VR One support a range of smartphones, as long as they are between 4.7 and 5.2 inches. It currently sells for $129, about $70 cheaper than the Gear VR.

If you’re looking for a better deal or different styling you can try Homido or Durovis Dive 5. Both support a much wider range of phones than the VR One, but don’t have the optic pedigree. The current generation of smartphones has the power that can run the software needed to give users a VR experiences.

Oculus Cinema, which comes with the Gear VR, gives users the virtual experience of watching movies in a movie theatre. Movies and videos play on a movie screen and you can turn your head to look around the theatre. You can watch videos recorded on your phone on the big screen. The same app will be available on the Oculus Rift once launched, giving you some context of the power that smartphones can bring to VR.

VR is moving quickly, and high-end consumer headsets are just around the corner. Smartphone virtual reality isn’t just a novelty gap-filler to fill the time while we wait; it’s a strong category that will continue to grow. The devices are powerful enough to deliver immersive experiences. Imagine what will be possible as smartphones get better screens, and the imaginations of smartphone vr app developers push the technology to its limits.

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