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

| Dr. Mac's Rants and Raves

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…

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I hate to say it, but I think nausea is actually the common reaction to VR. My friends and I have been playing around with it in its various incarnations for decades (yes, we had a Virtual Boy!), and all of us have had the same experiences, if not outright barfitude, we had horrendous migraines. Given that, not to mention the sheer amount of gear, dollar, and space investment required, it is tech that is still just not ready for prime time. Let’s face it: though a cool trick, in its current form, VR is useless. I personally expect that after this hype cycle, it will go the way of AR a few years ago.

It’s great to dream and strive, it’s better to not hurl every time you use a device for more than a few minutes. wink

Bob LeVitus


Well said.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think everyone has a bad a reaction, I do think VR still makes many/most people sick.

I’ll try again in a couple of years. Maybe.


I suspect that the implementation of VR has a lot to do with it.  I worked on a lot of VR projects in the 90’s (!), and have spent a lot of time in HMD’s.  I’ve also put a lot of people through VR in HMD’s and motion platforms with very few problems.  Your issues are almost certainly due to the developers not really understanding what they are doing, though older people do have more problems than younger people, and I don’t think that even I ever spent much over 15 minutes in an HMD, since what we were doing didn’t require it, and you can’t really code in an HMD.

I think the issues are going to be how well the image tracks the head, the fact that the image doesn’t track the eyes, and that the inexperienced like to have the images “pop” by exaggerating the stereo effect.  The head tracking problems are called lag, and are largely due to the complexity of the virtual world.  The eye tracking is a very difficult problem, though you might be able to use the camera to do this for one eye, and the intersection with the virtual world of that eye should permit predicting the other.  The exaggeration of stereo effect is harder, as the only real way to fix it is to make sure you comment on how bad a given app is.

Bob LeVitus

sed: This is why I strap things to my head every few years… I’m willing to go to great lengths for my readers. Plus, I know that if/when they get it right, I’ll be able to hang glide through Jurrasic Park without yakking on a velociraptor.

I remain hopeful. grin


Maybe 25 years back, Silicon Graphics had a hang glider demo at SIGGRAPH where you could hang glide with pteranodons.  They had a hang glider harness to control your flight.  I think it was through a city scape, but it’s been too long.


It is definitely a cool technology! I just don’t know that for now it would be all that useful for anything beyond occasional entertainment, and the older I get the less patience I have for that sort of thing, personally.

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