Google wasn't the first to strap a smartphone to your face, but it did manage to get the head-mounted display (HMD) production costs down to the absolute bare minimum with its Cardboard peripheral.
Hull-based manufacturer VISR is taking a similar approach, but is working to put some of the build quality back into a budget range HMD, and is in the last stages of a Kickstarter campaign to get its virtual reality device into production.
A material world
The VISR is the next step up the VR ladder from Cardboard. It's still made from a similar material (in that's it's constructed from card) but this is a much higher quality card. It's laminated, for one thing, which feels to give the HMD a lot more stability and strength.
And there are few places in the angular headset where the walls are single sheet card, so overall it feels rigid enough that it's going to last you a good long while.
The elasticated head strap is certainly no-frills, and has a tendency to pull itself out of the adjustment buckle, though this doesn't seem to happen when it's under tension around your head. Being that it loops continuously through the HMD, it's not going to come unattached from the front, either, so your smartphone feels safe while dangling from your face.
Looking at the optics
Bringing the screen into focus is a major aspect of VR immersion. The VISR has two rather thick, plastic lenses mounted inside that seem to be of decent quality. Once properly positioned there's no fish bowl effect, and no real signs of eye strain. At least, not for a good hour or more, which is fair.
The smartphone is inserted using a 'magazine', which is a choice of different pieces of card (for different sized screens) folded around the handset and then inserted into a slot on top of the unit.
It's low tech, but it works, and seems to hold the phone securely and without any danger of marking the screen or casing.
This is one of the few face cases we've seen that doesn't include a divider between the eyes, but neither does it seem to need one. Perhaps it's due to the large lens size, or maybe the divider is superfluous in all HMDs.
Either way, a split-screen stereoscopic image on the smartphone's screen doesn't suffer for the lack of it.
Focusing is accomplished by sliding the entire optics insert back and forward. The problem here is that the insert is, as you'd assume, on the inside. Once the VISR is in position you can't actually get to the side pieces to slide it back and forward, so focusing has to be done by guessing, holding the VISR up, taking it off, making a small adjustments, and trying again.
Nose no bounds
Comfort wise, it's hard to say right now how the VISR will perform, as the unit we've been given is marked as a prototype. The foam padding around the contact points (forehead and cheekbones) has evidently been manually attached by heat glue, but it's still a surprisingly comfortable fit.
Given its choice materials, the VISR is also lightweight, and blocks out external light extremely well. There's almost no light leakage, which helps a lot when it comes to that vital VR immersion.
But here's another issue that we hope will be limited to the prototype, though we can't say for sure. The headset has a very strong chemical aroma, and give that your nose is pretty much inside the thing, it gets pretty overwhelming.
And as there are plenty of nauseating VR demos out there, it doesn't help with keeping those deal-breaking bilious feelings at bay.
On its crowdfunding campaign, the VISR weighs in at just £15. Okay, so we wouldn't want to shell out £50 or more for this unit, but it certainly meets its goal of delivering a robust and very affordable VR experience.
It's not without an issue or two, but any complaints levied at the VISR feel somewhat pedantic at this ultra-low price point. There's simply no reason not to try it.