The world of virtual reality is at an interesting crossroads right now. On one side of the coin, you have powerful PC and console setups like the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus, and on the other side you have cheapo mobile units like Google Cardboard. both serve a completely different purpose, and with VR being what it is right now, it’s hard to imagine the technology ever becoming something that every household has, like the television or DVD player. There’s no one “universal” VR, and I think that’s something that needs to happen if this tech is ever going to become anything other than a quirky, niche, conversation piece.
Until that day comes, the best and most affordable way for you and I to enjoy virtual reality is with the cheaper of the two options; mobile VR. This means getting your hands on something like Google Cardboard or any number of its imitators. Price-wise, these options are going to be hard to beat; you can generally get them for free or just a couple of dollars. Setting them up is a breeze, and for the most part, nearly every phone (with the exception of some larger phablets) should fit fine. My Cardboard unit even has a nice magnet “switch” that acts as a button.
The downside? You’re stuck holding the Cardboard unit with your hands, as the ones I have did not come with any sort of headstrap. Those that did come with one had really cheap, uncomfortable options that ended up warping the cardboard material. Not that I NEED both my hands free while Cardboarding, but it sure would be nice to not have to prop the unit up with one hand the whole time. On top of all that, there is simply the fact that most Cardboard units are cardboard and adhesive…something that isn’t going to last too long.
Thumbs Up! has created a mobile VR headset that is considerably beefier and more comfortable than any Cardboard unit I have ever used. Is it more expensive? Oh yes; compared to a free Cardboard unit or one that you can get for a few bucks, the Immerse headset is $40, many times more pricey. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s worth the $56 price tag, but for something of this quality, I would gladly pay into the $20-$30 range. After all, at the end of the day, it IS sill a mobile only VR headset, which restricts it to only some tech demos and 360 YouTube videos at best. I suppose hoping for PC compatibility was a long shot, since that would have jacked the price up even more, potentially to Oculus prices.
The first difference that you’ll notice between a Cardboard unit and the Immerse is the fact that the Immerse is made of a dense, hard plastic as opposed to cardboard. Also, the Immerse comes packaged with a headstrap…a comfy one at that. It’s not just a strap that goes around your head behind your ears; it also has a third straps going across the top of your head, and a nice thick piece of padding along the back. It’s very comfy to wear, and the fact that it’s adjustable means many different head sizes will be able to use the Immerse. I happen to have a pretty big head, so even on its loosest setting, my eyes were being pushed into the lenses. But it wasn’t something that happened all the time, and only really occurred when I looked straight up and the weight of the phone pushed the unit into my face.
The front of the device has a hinged door where your phone rests. Rather than just shoving your phone in and hoping it fits, the inside of the phone housing contains a mount than can be adjusted to fit various phone sizes (think of the “plunger” type of grip that in-car phone mounts have). Not only does this allow for more phones to fit, but also provides a secure hold on your phone. Once your phone is mounted, you have two dials along each lens to adjust your field of view. This helps with people of different eye widths, and also different phone sizes. Already you have a boatload more options than a standard Cardboard, making the higher price appear to be more justifiable.
Depending on the type of phone you have (size, weight, whether you have a case or not), the Immerse is either going to be feather light, or you’re going to have a giant weight in front pulling the whole unit down. With my testing, I used my Moto X 2nd gen, both with and without my rather bulky case. Without a case, things were quite comfy. The Moto X isn’t a huge phone by any means, and the difference in weight with the phone mounted was barely noticeable. The curved back made mounting it in the “grip” a bit tricky, but I ended up working just fine. With the case on, mounting was much harder, and ended up gripping only the edges. Despite that, the Immerse still maintained a pretty solid hold on the phone. The added weight actually (surprisingly so) had a positive side-effect; when looking straight on, the weight pulls the entire unit down, making the Immerse seem much more solidly mounted on your head. The moment you turn your head up, however, and the added weight will literally push the entire unit into your face, causing the lenses to press right up against your eyeballs.
The most glaring omission from the Immerse, and something that the Cardboard DOES have, is some sort of button. My Cardboard unit has a small magnet on one end that can be toggled to replicate a screen tap, thereby enabling me to pause/play video, activate switches in games, etc. Seriously, why doesn’t the Immerse have something like that? Am I missing something? I’m literally looking around the unit as I’m typing this and there is nothing resembling a switch of any kind. This means I have to start a video, then quickly mount it to the Immerse and strap the whole thing on while the video plays. Not ideal. Also (and I know this is a small nitpick), I wear glasses, and while it’s not MEANT to do this, at least with the Cardboard, I can warp the sides or cut out holes so my glasses fit. Since the Immerse is solid plastic, no such luck. Bummer.
At the end of the day, $40 is a lot to pay for something that’s basically a glorified Cardboard unit with less functionality. If you simply MUST have a mobile VR headset, then more power to you…the Immerse is a solidly made piece and fits very comfortably. Keep in mind the size and weight of your phone, with and without a case as this will affect the way the Immerse feels.