Travelling Around The Globe In Your Cardboard
It’s hard to say which sensation is more impressing when you put on your Google Cardboard. There are apps and games dwelling in their own virtual environment, digital to the bone and as artificial as can be. And, on the other hand, there are real places you can visit like you would in person.
And these trips are completely free if you have already purchased Google Cardboard DIY set or a more advanced edition.
In this trip around the world and back, you will have to move slightly, anyway, we’re no Depeche Mode to promise that “you won't have to move, you just sit still”. Yet there’ll be a real world in your eyes as you trip along the VR tours. So where do we begin? Turn off your lights and put on your headphones to get the full surrounding experience!
Even if you have never been to Paris, you have certainly heard of its POIs with even their names sounding majestic. Eiffel Tower, Louvre, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Conciergerie… All those places are presented in Paris app by 360Image, a developer specializing in making these virtual excursions.
All the app does require is a VR head-mount and good earphones. You won’t need an external wireless controller, and even more, you won’t have to pull a magnet button. To access the menu you’ll only need to look down and hold your aiming point at the menu. Then it rises and you can select the location you want to visit.
When you aim at any location, you can hear its name. Hold the point at Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame de Paris, Louis Vuitton Foundation, other locations. Each of them has inner transitions marked by an arrow, so you can view the object from different points. The “i” button above the building is used to display brief info about it, like it would in Augmented Reality with Google Glass.
The images are static, so the whole picture looks a bit unnatural, as if you’re in a Matrix world (heh, but aren’t you?) People around you are standing still, there’s no traffic, no wind, not a single move around. But there’s music and sounds, like famous Parisian bells.
Most parameters are adjustable, as well as in other apps by 360Image. You can manually select the devices you use, both your phone and your Cardboard model. There is an option of calibrating the whole system so the image doesn’t tilt.
By the way, using Cardboard is not necessary, but without VR devices the experience is almost the same as Google Street View, and Google’s image base is much richer.
The New York app is organized almost in the same way as Paris one. Still you have several locations you have to switch between in this very way. The places selected by developers are Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero Memorial, 230 Fifth rooftop, Dumbo Bridge, and Empire Fulton Ferry.
Of course, it’s hard to concentrate all the spirit of a big city in its several locations. So the developers did some tricks. The music is selected in a right way: when in an art center, you’re surrounded by easy jazz sounds, on the rooftop you hear pulsating funky beat, and so on.
There are also some filters implied. Times Square looks overcolored, Brooklyn Bridge looks monochrome and industrial, and, for example, 230 Fifth rooftop is all night dark and neon bright.
Maybe these methods are polishing reality a bit, but, whatever they say, the virtual New York looks even more like itself after applying that.
The third and the last app by 360Image brings you to the Caribbean sea. This time turning your lights down low won’t do, you’ll also have your heater on to get the full experience.
No need to say it’s designed the same way as Paris and New York VR trips. The only difference is locations being one level deep, without inner arrows to follow. But still, Carribean VR is the richest in locations themselves. You can visit four magic places not so taken over by tourists: Pinel Island, St Maarten, St Barts and Sandy Island. All of them have several points to visit in your VR.
Green grass and trees, white sand, blue sky, chocolate brown girls, rainbow-colored birds and transparent sea wait for you. When you look down you may expect to see your own toes in the white sand.
The surrounding effect is completed by exotic tide sounds, birds singing, wind blowing and all the other sounds making the perfect accompaniment. Being static is the only problem, even a rotating animation would make the landscapes come alive.
The picture quality is perfect, though you’ll need to use a 5.5 or large screen with Full HD or higher definition to appreciate it.
The Oriental wisdom tells us to enjoy static moments as they come. If a Caribbean trip in VR looks like a video clip, then Tokyo VR moments look like visual haikus. You’re caught in the stillness of today’s Japanese mayhem and still find a moment for meditation. The places selected by developers seem chaotic but each of them has its own mood. You can see some of them (like Tokyo Tower or Akihabara) in daytime and nighttime separately. There are also shrines, parks, even a pub from the outside and from the inside. The old Japan fans would appreciate three Edo era locations.
The only thing that Tokyo app lacks is sound. To our Western taste, even a little bit of shamisen or koto sound would make the pictures come alive. But maybe this silence behind grand views is an Oriental hint that there’s always something to be unsaid. Anyway, a little-spoken story would add much.
The navigation is even easier than in Image360 apps. Find the arrow and hold your aim on it to move to the next location, look down to find the exit button.
The final app we review doesn’t concentrate on some certain city or country. It contains multiple VR trips around the world, constantly adding new cities. Now there are Heidelberg, Paris, Berlin, Cannes, Ibiza, Venice, Frankfurt available, other cities are to be added soon.
Each of the cities has several locations you can visit, and, as you look around, there is music that suits the picture well. The format seems quite easy and logical. The navigation within VR cities doesn’t require a wireless controller or even the magnet button. Just look down under your feet to see the menu. Then you can jump to the next location, return to the previous one or exit to the main menu.
The only inconvenience is language support. It’s logical to name German places in German and French ones in French. But a little explanation still should be international. It doesn’t even have to be spoken out, a text over an object would do.
The word when we’re home
It seems to have no sense to select between these apps as they’re all different by content and not replaceable by each other. But we can point out some common drawbacks or, rather, features we’d like to see:
- More depth. Static locations are easy to render but it would be great to take a step forward or back and move in your virtual environment like you do in real life.
- Movement. Even a short cycled video would make the environment totally different, more alive, like it in a paradox way does in an artificial gaming environment. Yes, we’re aware of how greater in size these environments would be. And yes, we know how harder it is to edit 360 videos, even short ones. But the impression would be much greater as well.
- More info. Adding text (unlike video) doesn’t seem that much of a job to do. And 360Image is the developer that already does it. We’d be insolent enough to wish there were such info bubbles above each object worth knowing about.
But even now, with all these things to wish for, VR trips themselves are a good reason to purchase this Google Cardboard or some of its more advanced versions.