The Budget VR
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Of course, the real reason I bought the thing was to try using Trinus, the client-server setup that allows us to stream PC visuals to the phone.
My first stop was — of course — Elite Dangerous, because it has Oculus and stereoscopic support right out the box. Trinus is very picky about how the apps it streams are played. In order to get the app to work with the game, I had to reduce the resolution of the game and run it windowed. That right there threw some of the visuals out of whack, so the stereoscopic view made the text very hard to read when coupled with the “barrel view” that I was receiving on the phone. Trinus also has a setting called Fake3D which supposedly turns a non-stereoscopic app into a dual-paneled VR marvel and is supposed to be used with apps that don’t have their own 3D mode. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get either the natural or Fake 3D modes to work with any kind of reliability. In the end, I had to play Elite Dangerous in an acceptable-aspect window and use Trinus’ lens calibration features to get the screen to flatten out and cover the viewport. At that point, things worked pretty well, except the head tracking was set incorrectly and was giving me a minor head wobble when I moved. Setting up gyroscopic tracking is a whole other can of worms I didn’t want to get into until I got the visuals working, but it seems fairly robust if you’re willing to jump through a lot of open source hoops and run some additional ancillary software. Visually, things were a bit darker than normal for a space sim, and this caused me to almost smash into another ship on my way into a station because he blended in with the background. I am certain that I could get this to work with the proper (read: a lot more) time to dedicate to A) learning the jargon being thrown around on forums regarding VR setups, and B) some tweaking of the game itself.
Next, I tried Mechwarrior Online, which doesn’t have native 3D quite yet. The option is there, but disabled and currently unsupported (or so I read). This would be a great game to use with VR, and after some lens calibration, I got it working quite nicely, although again, not with actual 3D. Some of the finer aspects of the screen were a bit fuzzy, but this is streaming visuals to a cell phone over WiFi so I can’t really complain. There was some conflict between the number keys used to fire weapons and the calibration options of the head tracking which made every shot fired kick me to the right or the left, but nothing that a serious investigative session couldn’t fix.
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For $30 and about two hours of just playing around mostly to get the visuals acceptable enough to be able to read text, use menus, and not make myself vomit, I feel that the No-Name Brand VR Box 2.0 was a worthwhile investment. I don’t see myself using the VR Box for Cardboard smartphone apps, partly because they suck, and partly because I don’t have a way of controlling the phone while it’s installed in the visor. I could use it as a cool way to view photos taken using the camera’s funky 360 degree image feature, but that’s really only cool once before it becomes a PITA to take pictures that way.
I still want to work on mastering the Trinus application because I think I’m missing some key understanding of how to configure it to work best with applications. A game like Distance would be amazing with this setup, and I still want to try other apps like Guild Wars 2 and maybe some Call of Duty: Black Ops III streaming from the Xbox One. The caveat is that none of the apps I used were displaying in what I’d be comfortable calling 3D. At best, I felt like I was viewing a movie screen from about 2/3 of the way up the theater, which was pretty cool in it’s own right, but there has to be something I’m not understanding about VR and Trinus that I need to grasp in order to get the stereoscopic view working.
The biggest problem with VR is going to be brand independent, though: accessing physical controls. If playing with a joystick or a gamepad (or the custom controllers that work with the Oculus and Vive), then the controls are always going to be centralized and within reach. When you have to resort to using the keyboard, however, you’re going to have a very bad time. I had to place my fingers on WASD and my other hand on the mouse with the understanding that I could not move my hands away from those positions, but in MWO, for example, I also needed to recenter my torso (C and F keys), target an enemy (R), and fire weapons (1,2,3, etc). At one point I had to power up my ‘mech (P), and once I moved my left hand, I was totally discombobulated to the point where I had to peek out from under the visor to see where my fingers needed to be. Going forward, my plan is to fall back to the Razor Nostromo for my key clicking, because it presents a limited set of keys in a specific and easy-to-reach configuration.
The VR Box 2.0 can be a bit unwieldy on the face. When I needed to look out from underneath, I couldn’t rest it on my head like a pair of sunglasses because it’s too heavy to stay put. The foam is comfy, but after a while you understand that it’s not really foam, but rather some kind of plastic material that feels funny when you eventually peel it from your face. One of the best features that I didn’t expect from a cut-rate visor was that the lenses adjust independent of one another, so you can change the focal and interpupilary distance of each lens for the best focus and convergence. The 2.0 version of the VR Box has a cool feature that I’m not sure I’ll ever get to use: the front panel slides open to let you use your phone’s camera (assuming the phone’s camera is situated at one end of the phone’s body and it’s inserted into the visor properly) for augmented reality applications. Bring on Pokemon GO!
If you have an Android or iPhone (there are some limited stereoscopic apps for WinPho, but not official Cardboard because of Google’s political stance on Windows Phone), $30 for the VR Box 2.0 is a fair price for a nice distraction. Coupled with the Trinus, you might have some luck streaming PC games direct to your face for a while, but it won’t be a go-to setup for hardcore gaming even though Trinus performed like a champ in terms of framerate and even acceptable visuals. I managed to play with the setup for about two hours, but not two consecutive hours because I started to get a headache from having two lenses magnifying the LED screen so close to my face. I don’t know if watching a full length movie is a good idea with this thing on, or playing a marathon of World of Warcraft, but if you want to try out pseudo-3D, or to get the feeling that you’re playing on a 90″ TV, then this is a pretty good way to try out VR on a budget.