Dr. Mac's Deeper Look into Budget-Priced VR Headsets

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves

Episode #172


Last week I told you I bought an $11 knock-off of the $15 Google Cardboard—a pretty cool virtual reality headset made entirely of cardboard that uses your smartphone as its brains, sensors, and screens. For $10.99 I got a cardboard headset with a pair of embedded plastic lenses, plus a Velcro strap to secure it to my face, which I rarely did since it felt awkward and looked dorky.

It was uncomfortable and I looked like a gigantic dork.

So I spent most of my time with it holding it up to my face with one or both hands.

By the way, last week I said my Google Cardboard knock-off looked like a an old-time plastic View-Master™ stereoscopic viewer right down to its cardboard clicker button…

My $11 Google Cardboard knockoff VR headset.

Well, as it happens, View-Master makes an inexpensive VR headset made of red plastic, just like the old View-Master.

The VR View-Master looks like the old ones, but it’s Google Cardboard-compatible

You can pick up a View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack for under $20 at Amazon.com.

There are also View-Master branded apps including the aforementioned National Geographic Wildlife, plus Destinations, Space, and Discovery Underwater. They’re all free to download, but that only gets you a short demo. You’ll have to pony up $14.99 to unlock the actual content, but since I’m cheap and was still kind of nauseous, I didn’t do it.

And, in fact, there are dozens of different makes and models of Google Cardboard-compatible VR headsets on Amazon.com that aren’t made of cardboard, with prices starting around $20. Alas, since I’m relatively certain that changing headsets won’t fix my VR-sickness, I didn’t try any of them, so caveat emptor.

The first app I tried was the official (free) Google Cardboard app, which shows the basics, but was kind of a snooze otherwise. Then, I grabbed a couple of dozen free Cardboard-compatible apps from the App Store including VR Flight Simulator, Infiniti Driver’s Seat VR, View-Master National Geographic Wildlife, MazeVR, VR Car Driving Simulator, and Vrse, to name just a few.

Flight Simulator VR simulates flying and shooting stuff.

Which brings up my biggest gripe: In some of the apps an ad appears for no reason, launches Safari, which launches the App Store so you can buy the advertised game. So you take off the headset, take out the iPhone, tap your way back to the VR app, put the iPhone back in the headset, and strap the headset back on. It was annoying the first time; by the third or fourth time I was ready to strangle the developer.

Anyway, all of the apps and games I looked at were interesting, but most felt more like a demo than a real app or game. The games were mostly simple and controlled by (super-imprecise) head movement. But there was one—called Vanguard V—that was so cool I didn’t mind that it wasn’t fun.

Vanguard-V looks great but isn’t much fun to play.

I’m glad I only risked $10.99 on my VR experiment, ‘cause every time I tested an app or game I started feeling nauseous within 10 or 15 minutes, tops. I’ve concluded that I’m still not ready for VR, or maybe VR’s not ready for me. Either way it’ll be a good, long time before I strap on a VR headset again.

On the other hand, since VR-sickness doesn’t affect everyone the way it affects me, it’s entirely possible—and even likely—that VR won’t make you sick. Then again, on the other, other hand (and yes, I know that makes three hands; deal with it), it very well might.

Good luck, have fun, but most of all, don’t blame me if it makes you barf. 


Google Cardboard. Google. $15, or 2 for $25.

Google Cardboard V2.0 Virtual Reality DIY 3D Glasses for Smartphone with Headband - Easy Setup (V2 Black). Febrite. $10.99.

View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack. View-Master. $18.24.

And that’s all he wrote…