The New York Times has been on a roll lately and the new NYTVR app that works together with Google Cardboard is another brilliant new initiative. The app is pretty simple and for a lot of folks (like me) it may be the kind of no-cost, beginner VR (virtual reality) experience that has the potential to push VR to the mainstream beyond the cult of tech nerds and gamers.
My 6 and 9-year-olds enjoyed playing with the device and that is generally a good sign for the future of a technology.
NYTimes delivered Google Cardboard to their Home Delivery subscribers this morning. Google also sells the cardboard on their website for about $10 and has instructions on how you can make one at home for free!
You download the NYTVR app on your iPhone, you slip the iPhone in the Cardboard and follow instructions. The app downloads a video and you watch the video via the cardboard box. The box has a couple of eye pieces that kind of look like binoculars. And that's it. Thats your low friction virtual reality experience.
The overall experience was pretty good, I'd say. It is definitely an immersive experience. You do feel like you are 'inside' the scene rather than being an observer. You can move your head around - side to side or up and down - to get a different perspective - much like in real life. Technically though, the experience was lowbrow - you could clearly see pixels (which you never do on an iPhone) and the quality of the video was like your average crappy YouTube video.
However, the fact is that using practically nothing beyond your pre-existing cellphone - you can elevate your experience way beyond watching a normal video. This is a promising note for a technology - which, much like 3D, has so far largely been the proverbial hammer looking for a nail.
The unfortunately irony is that the first feature from the Times is the sad, heart-wrenching story of three displaced children from wars in Syria, Sudan and Ukraine. We get to use the most modern technology in the comfort of our homes watching reality that has largely remained unchanged through time immemorial.