23 March 2016

REVIEW: View-Master VR

A room with a view (master).

Remember the View-Master, the set of goggles into which you inserted disks of small pictures to click through? Look! Eiffle Tower <CLICK> Big Ben <CLICK> Empire State Building. Why, it was almost as if you were there. You're kids probably don't remember it, but thanks to the updated version of View-Master (and your smartphone) they soon will. We review the Mattel's reimagined View-Master VR.

Before we dip into what exactly has been done to bring the View-Master into the 21st Century, we need to get clear that the physical product itself is basically just a VR headset, similar to ones we've reviewed in the past. You insert your smartphone, running a VR app, game, or video, into the headset, and then pop it on your face to enjoy fully 3D and immersive content. Great fun. Physical differences between this and other headsets is that the View-Master doesn't feature a head strap (so you have to hold it to your eyes with one or two hands) and there is an orange pull trigger, just like the original View-Master, with allows you to flip through content on screen.

Where View-Master really stands out from the competition is in the software. Die-hard fans will be happy to hear that the View-Master wheels, the disks which held small microfilm-like images, have survived into this updated version... but now they trigger Augmented Reality animations. To begin with, download the free app (for both iOS and Android) fire it up, place your phone in the viewer, and look at the included wheel. An object will spring into being, be it a space shuttle, animal, or famous building – depending on which if the free starter demo apps you installed. Because the front of the View-Master is transparent, your phone's camera can still 'see' the wheel, and therefore AR, as well as VR, is possible.

Interacting with the object will launch the app proper, and as our first experience was of the NASA-themed space app, we were launched into space to explore the space shuttle. Here the View-Master acts like a more conventional VR headset; allowing you to look around and 'click' on certain things to bring up more info (as well as playing a short educational mini game). The trigger here is great, as it is an actual physical rubber 'finger' that jabs at a special section on the screen of the phone – far more reliable than the NFC trigger on the likes of Google's Cardboard.

Once you (and your kids, we suppose) have explored the smaller free demo apps, you can purchase additional packs. The physical wheel packs give you access to all the content in the full paid-for apps, but also include another wheel to bring 3D AR objects to life. As fun as the virtual reality stuff is, it is with the AR objects that we had the most fun. The quality and realism of the AR was fantastic, and the tracking of the image, as well as it's quality, was the best we've ever seen from an app. Available for purchase is (at time of publication) the Space, Destinations, and Wildlife packs, but others are promised for the future. We're hoping for 'Strip Club'.

As an updated product goes, the new View-Master is great. It retains just enough of what the original was all about, while expanding it to take advantage (and do so very well) of the latest technology.

Starter pack with headset £12.79

Available from www.amazon.co.uk

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