Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard?

When I started thinking about using gaming tech to further my research, teaching and outreach, one of the first bits of kit I wanted to use was the Oculus Rift. These motion-sensitive, immersive virtual reality headsets are perfect for putting a user inside a model and allows them to interact with it, and what’s more, they are cool.

Being cool is important. They draw people in at events. They see someone wearing one of these weird, techy headsets, like something out of a science fiction movie and want to have a go themselves. For me, I can then talk to them about my research whilst they check out the groovy tech.

This is fine for a Science Festival type event where all you require is a couple of decent laptops and a couple of headsets, but what about a classroom. The commercial version of the Oculus Rift isn’t available, or even announced yet and there are waiting lists for the developer version. When the commercial version does arrive it will likely be £200 to £300 a unit, and even for a small class this would represent a significant investment. But there is an alternative.

Upon prompting, we bought my brother-in-law one of these for Christmas (he works for a visual effects company, and is on the credits of such films as Gravity and Paddington). It’s Google’s version of the Oculus Rift, called Cardboard. If I hadn’t had seen one in real life I would have sworn it was a Google April Fool joke, but it does actually work. All you need to do is slot a smart phone into it and run one of the apps. You can pick one up for between £10 and £15, or even make your own.

I imagine most students will have a smart phone of some sort so it would just be a case of downloading the app and off they could go. This also opens up the use of the app to a much wider audience than would be possible with the Oculus, although the final product will need to be less flexible. There are pros and cons to both and I will be trying to work with each at some stage.

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