The Race to Virtual Reality: Google Cardboard and Sony’s Project Morpheus

Chris Price

In the realm of “virtual reality,” whatever that is, several companies are making strides in procuring for themselves the front spot as the face of the fairly new industry.

By saying “fairly new,” although the idea of somehow perfecting human-digital interaction has existed since before the 1960s science fiction tales of Star Trek, the likelihood of any prototypes’ functionality being worth putting on the market has been anywhere but a reality.

Nonetheless, there are two companies worth mentioning who are attempting to strip the field of virtual reality of its “useless and unrealistic” stigma, and they are doing it by merely modifying their old technology.

Google Cardboard

For $10 and the installation of the free app, your Android smartphone can turn into a virtual reality headpiece. What is the $10 for? It’s for a cardboard box with magnets, plastic lenses, and dotted cutout lines for user assembly.

Nvate 3-D Google Cardboard Sony Project Morpheus Virtual Reality

Credit: Fox

When merely explaining its design, it sounds almost ridiculous at first. The classic mockery of television addicts comes to mind. But upon further hands-on experience, the user will realize that it’s much more than a mere square box cutout. And the developer’s use of cardboard has its specific reasoning.

At Google’s annual I/O software developer conference, David Coz, software engineer at Google’s Cultural Institute in Paris; Christian Plagemann, senior research scientist at Google; and Boris Smus, prototype software engineer at Google, spoke on the new project.

The purpose of the June 26 session, titled “Cardboard: Virtual Reality for Androids,” was to “discuss how to build immersive 3-D experiences for Android … [and] dive into 3-D side-by-side rendering, head tracking, and user interaction principles,” according to the official event description.

Nvate 3-D Google Cardboard Sony Project Morpheus Virtual Reality

Credit: Google Play

During the first portion of the session, while Smus was assembling the cardboard viewer, Coz stated a few reasons why cardboard specifically was used.

“We wanted the viewer to look and feel really simple, [and] everybody’s familiar with cardboard,” said Coz. “Your phone is really the piece that does the magic.”

The smartphone is to be placed horizontally, within the compartment directly in front of the lenses, so that when the app is turned on, the split screen will be as close as possible to the eyes. It then adapts the graphics of the smartphone’s camera and screen to make it seem like the picture is three-dimensional, according to a video on YouTube by user Tested.

It’s intended to optimize the viewing capabilities on apps such as YouTube, and other video players; Google Maps, for street view and satellite view; and other Android Camera apps.

The Cardboard app has over 100,000 installations, and with over 7,000 reviews, it’s been given an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 by its customers. Only time will tell, though, if this invention is useful or frivolous.

Sony Computer Entertainment: Project Morpheus

With an audience consisting mainly of gamers blind to the possibility of “frivolity” when enhancing computer performance, Sony’s new virtual headset, albeit more expensive and not as “simple” as Google Cardboard, is seeming very likely to pioneer the video viewing community into the new world of virtual reality.

Nvate 3-D Google Cardboard Sony Project Morpheus Virtual Reality

Credit: Project Morpheus

In bringing to life the science fiction ideas of the Wachowski Brothers, Sony created their first ever virtual headset, where players can feel as though they’re physically inside the virtual world of a game, according to a CNET video on YouTube.

“Morpheus enables developers to create experiences that deliver a sense of presence,” as stated in a Sony press release. “Presence is like a window into another world that heightens the emotions gamers experience as they play.”

Morpheus features a visor style head-mounted display and works with PlayStation Camera to “deliver a unique VR experience right before the player’s eyes,” the press release also stated. Sensors built into the unit track head orientation and movement so that, as the player’s head rotates, the image of the virtual world rotates naturally in real-time.

At the 2014 Game Developers Conference, one of the presenters for Project Morpheus was asked about its capabilities possibly being utilized in schools for educational purposes. Although Sony’s virtual reality headset is geared toward gamers as a product for entertainment, “we hope that our hardware will be useful for those efforts too,” said senior software engineer Anton Mikhailov.

With virtual reality appealing to innovators in the smartphone and video game fields, everyone who owns either will eventually experience the benefits of these creators’ initial work.

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