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In Brief: Google Cardboard Is Low-Budget Virtual Reality

By Norman Chan

Nope, not a joke.

Google I/O began today, and there were a ton of takeaways from the marathon keynote this morning. We'll be recapping the announcements in this week's podcast, as well as getting some analysis from our Android expert, Ryan Whitwam. In the meantime, there's one bit of interesting news from I/O that didn't make it in the keynote. It's a project called Google Cardboard, and it's not a gag. Cardboard is a fold-out kit handed out to I/O attendees, which when assembled resemble a Viewmaster. It's actually a virtual reality "viewer"--a head-mounted frame, complete with 40mm lenses, designed to hold up an Android smartphone to view VR content. Just another type of Google goggles. The Android phone runs a special Cardboard app or runs a Chrome experiments site, for tapping into YouTube videos, Streetview, or even Google Earth. All in head-tracked VR. If that concept sounds familiar, it's what Samsung has been rumored to be working on with Oculus VR, except Google beat them to the punch with something anyone can build with off-the-shelf components. It's nowhere near Oculus-level VR gaming, but the idea is to bring the VR experience to the masses (anyone with a compatible smartphone) and to get devs started tinkering with the VR toolkit. I'm trying to get ahold of a Google Cardboard kit to test--they're already showing up on eBay.