It’s taking the Oculus Rift so long to get to market, the knock off products are hitting the shelves before the number one contender for a Virtual Reality-led future even has a solid RRP. Given the buzz about VR though, we’re eager to try kit we can.
To be fair, this isn’t quite a competitor to the like of the Oculus Rift or Sony’s Project Morpheus. Instead, the Immerse Virtual Reality headset is designed for your smart phone. So you won’t need an expensive PC rig or console to use it. You may have heard of this tech before with Google Cardboard, which placed phone handsets into a box with some lenses to replicate 3D imagery via apps that show two images, much in the same way the Oculus works.
I’ll admit, when I first saw Google Cardboard, I thought it was a joke. I mean, you’re strapping your phone to your face for Pete’s sake. Then I saw the price and was convinced Google were laughing at us all (about $30/£19).
The idea didn’t go away though, and before long other companies were cashing in on the VR buzz ahead of Oculus by releasing their own mobile headsets and, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed with the images already, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the now Facebook-owned headset.
The Immerse headset costs around £30 in the UK, which seems quite reasonable when compared to Google’s cereal-box effort. There are two things this device needs to be a success though. A quality headset build and decent apps to go with it.
The build quality is terrible. Despite looking the part, as soon as you wear the headset, you’re faced with multiple issues. There is padding around the eyes, cheekbones and forehead, but none around the nose groove. Thanks to the very tight straps (even on the loosest settings), the headset’s harsh plastic lines aggressively push into your nose throughout and is uncomfortable to wear for more than a few seconds. Wearing with glasses is absolutely not an option either.
The phone slots into a drop-down flap at the front between two springy platforms that are supposed to hold the phone in place. I often found the phone getting loose inside the headset when tilting my head upwards. Better still, the squeezing plates holding your phone fail to take into consideration that many phones have power, sleep or volume buttons on the side of them. So you’ll fire up an app and have to gently ease it in there to avoid turning your phone off. I spent half the time in apps looking at the volume meter as that would pop up as the phone slid around in the holder.
The Immerse Virtual Reality headset can take phones up to 3.5 x 5.7 inches (without additional covers), but note that not all apps on the stores are compatible with every handset. So if you’ve opted for something like the Moto X for that lush screen on a budget contract, forget it, as the gyroscopes and accelerometers aren’t compatible. I used a Samsung S4 Mini for the majority of this review.
The lenses are of very low quality and while their spacing can be adjusted for different sized-faces via handy switches on the outside, lens focusing is laughably poor as the rotational parts are on the inside, meaning you’ll need to stick your fingers up the mask, or remove and experiment. Except you should do neither as I didn’t notice the images get any clearer.
There are two slots on the sides for poking a headphone wire through, which should help add to the immersive experience. They’re not really slots though; they’re chunks of plastic attached by sprues, which you have to break off. I mean, for fuck’s sake, what were they thinking? This gaping hole is akin to being at the cinema with the fire escape door by the screen being open showing the sunny day outside.
Let’s talk about the picture. It’s a very square image (as opposed to rectangular widescreen) with acres of black space around the sides, so you’re never really in danger of losing yourself in the on-screen action. As to be expected, the quality of the software isn’t particularly high on the Google Play store. In fairness, mobile VR is in its infancy, so I could hardly expect the same wow factor as the first time I put an Oculus on.
You’d think there would be some free software bundled into the box, but you’re just going to have to brave the messy jumble that is your local app store. And as we all know, quality control on those things is non-existent, so you’ll have to wade through a lot of garbage before finding something approaching enjoyable.
A rollercoaster demo (VR Rollercoaster), had basic graphics, but I was fully able to look around in any direction from my seat, even behind me, which was admittedly quite cool. There’s not much longevity to the demo after a few laps, but it’s worth downloading from a tech demo perspective if you wanted to show off the device to visitors. VR bike tasked me with dodging traffic on a busy highway. Instead of turning your head to look around, slight tilts controlled the steering. There’s something of an endless runner feel to the game and again isn’t going to hold your interest for long.
The best game I played was Lost Kismet (pictured above) which had you looking around one room for different items to unlock some puzzles. Simply looking at an item long enough would bring up an interaction prompt, which was all the control input needed. This lasted a bit longer than the other games, and was a fantastic demo for the tech as it required you to look everywhere for clues by spinning around and looking up and down. Here’s a developer that clearly understands how to use VR in an interesting way and I hope we’ll see more of them on VR’s future platforms.
There are some 3D videos (with split screen images) on YouTube that are compatible, but as you’ll have found on numerous expensive and disappointing visits to the cinema, 3D is often poorly implemented. I managed a few decent scenes during the end sequence of Despicable Me 2 with the minions blowing party rollers, but the images are just too blurry to enjoy. I certainly wouldn’t watch a whole film with the Immerse anyway as the overall experience is just too damn painful.
- Some of the VR apps’ interactions are fun
- Occasionally a bit of 3D works
- Headset looks the part…
- …But is damn painful to wear
- Phone comes loose. A lot.
- Most of the apps are poor
The Short Version: Mobile VR could well become a thing and there are some encouraging signs here. But the physical design of the Immerse Virtual Reality Headset is exhaustingly uncomfortable on the nose and the headaches are never far away thanks to the blurry images. The phone getting loose or the holder pressing power/volume buttons is a constant annoyance too. Don’t pay the price of being an early adopter. Someone else will do this much better and sooner than you think.
We don’t currently score tech or peripheral reviews.
If you want to try the Immerse Virtual Reality Headset for yourself, they’re in stock at Hawkin’s Bazaar.