Virtual reality, depending on who you talk to, is either a revolution about to happen, or isn’t ready for showtime just yet. We’ll know better when the first high-end headsets for gamers, led by the Oculus Rift, hit the consumer market next year.
In the meantime, there’s Google Cardboard. Almost as a lark, the software giant last year introduced a cheap, do-it-yourself headset that could turn an ordinary smartphone into a passable VR experience. Purists will tell you this isn’t the real deal, and nothing like the truly immersive experience the Rift is promising. Then again, it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. You can buy a kit to make your own Cardboard headset for a couple of bucks, or get a plastic, pre-assembled one for under $20.
And it works pretty well—certainly enough to give you a taste of what VR might become in the next decade or so. More than a million cardboard sets have already sold, and new, Cardboard-friendly pictures and videos are being posted every day. YouTube now has a whole channel devoted to 360° videos that can be viewed in Cardboard, immersing you in a scene more convincingly than any medium has to date.
At the recent 2015 Abbotsford International Air Show, Lyle Jansma, the Washington-based photographer who creates our online gallery of inside-the-cockpit scenes, placed a 360° video camera behind Greg “B.A.” Anders, who was piloting the Heritage Flight Museum’s P-51D Mustang “Valhalla.” The camera captured the view all around, including Major John “Taboo” Cummings piloting the Air Combat Command’s F-22 Raptor in close formation.
The scene is cool enough in the YouTube frame below (grab the picture with your mouse to look in any direction). But get yourself a Google Cardboard headset (we’ll wait here) and view it on your phone (tap the little cardboard symbol in the lower right to format it properly). Then tell us what you think in the comments below.