All About Google Cardboard 3D VR Headset for Android

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard. Adam Berry/Getty Images

Google Cardboard had a low-key introduction in 2014. Kits are inexpensive, easy to assemble, and fun. 

Google Cardboard turns your phone into a full virtual reality headset capable of viewing panoramas, watching movies and playing games, all for a low starting price. Compare this to expensive competitors, such as Sony's Project Morpheus and Facebook's Oculus Rift. Spend lavishly on proprietary hardware or just use the phone you already have? It doesn't seem like a hard choice. 

How Does Google Cardboard Work?

Slide your Android phone into a cardboard viewer. Hold the viewer up to your face. Move your head around, and enjoy your new virtual reality playground. 

Google Cardboard's viewer is really quite simple. It's nothing but a reimagining of the nineteenth-century stereograph. By showing your eyes two slightly different pictures at the same time, people with two functioning eyes can see the illusion of 3-D images. Combine virtual 3-D vision with the phone's external camera and ability to sense tilting and movement, and you have a full-blown virtual reality device with some amazing potential. All the cardboard does is hold everything in place - both as a physical device and as a platform for making stereoscopic projects. 

How to Get Google Cardboard

Option one: Make one. 

You can see these instructions if you'd like to do this old school. You'll need:

  • strong cardboard
  • an X-acto knife or box cutter
  • two plastic lenses (Google suggests this is the trickiest part to score)
  • a rubber band
  • a magnet
  • an optional NFC tag.  

It's a little fiddly, but the bonus is that you can decorate your Google Cardboard viewer however you'd like. 

Option two: Buy one. 

You can purchase a kit from one of many vendors, many of which are linked from Google's "Get Cardboard" website. Cardboard models are generally inexpensive, but you can also buy "Cardboard" made out of aluminum or other fancy materials. There's even a Google Cardboard compatible View-Master that would make a great Christmas gift. 

Cardboard Apps

Google Play has a variety of apps, games, and movies available for Cardboard already. Expect this list to grow. One of Google's apps is even an app designed to explain how to make virtual reality experiences. 

The Jump Camera Rig

As part of the Google Cardboard roll-out, Google is introducing a special camera rig designed for filming VR experiences. (As of this writing, it's still a "coming soon" item.)

The Jump rig is basically a giant crown of Go-Pro cameras in a circle. The images are stitched together with some high power processing - the sort of thing Google already had to develop in order to make Google Streetview possible in Google Maps.

YouTube will also eventually support Jump/Cardboard content for awesome virtual movies. 

Google Expeditions 

Google Expeditions is an educational initiative for Google Cardboard designed to make virtual field trips for school children. This project allows kids to experience field trips, not only to museums but to historical reenactments, literary worlds, outer space or microscopic biomes. 

Google Cardboard started out as a "20% time" project, where Google employees are allowed to spend up to 20% of their time on pet projects and wild ideas with manager approval. Sounds like it was a great investment.