Like so many lesser known companies from China, Baofeng, a video media platform, caught wind of the 2B USD cash and stock acquisition of Oculus Rift by Facebook and has followed the direction of the tide, producing its own line of Virtual Reality Head Mounted Displays.
Now on their third iteration of the device, in just two years Baofeng has attracted significant investment with their basic Mojing 3 Head Mounted Display unit and many commentators cite their product as one of the more well-thought-out devices originating from China.
A quick primer on VR devices:
VR devices can largely be separated into two discrete camps. At the high end you have the new generation VR pioneer Oculus and its Oculus Rift head mounted display (which notably is still in the development stage), Sony’s upcoming Project Morpheus and the HTC/Valve collaborative device the HTC Verve.
On the other side of the scale, you have Google’s famous “Cardboard” product and a plethora of low-end headsets that essentially provide a “Cardboard-like” experience but with greater degrees of comfort.
What distinguishes the two camps is that essentially the more expensive devices have built-in displays, a greater array of sensors and are dependent on an outside computer, smartphone or console device for processing and input. The cheaper devices, on the other hand, are simply contraptions built around 3D glasses that rely on user phones for motion sensing, displays and processing power.
The low end of VR in my opinion, is a great way to show off the potential of the technology and what can be achieved with a little bit more in the way of investment. In spite of shortcomings there are still a few cool things that can be done with budget style VR equipment and this alone makes purchases worthwhile for a few unique instances.
On with the comparison:
At this stage in testing, the author of this article has only tried Google cardboard as a reference point for comparison and this article serves more as a first impressions piece rather than a fully blown, point-by-point review.
The RMB 100 Baofeng device is a Google Cardboard-esque device that eschews much in the way of added sensors and specialized displays in favour of coming at a steep discount.
Google’s device is literally all cardboard, with a pair of circular glass inserts for eyes, providing the bare minimum of what is required for a ‘VR’-like environment
Because it is cardboard-based, it is perhaps not realistic to expect a great deal of comfort using the contraption and the experience is more akin, in terms of comfort, to using a pair of cardboard binoculars rather than a pair of nicely fitted ski goggles.
Straight off the bat, the problem with Google’s contraption is that it’s difficult to seal off your field of vision, with light coming in from the side. This continually takes you out of your “virtual” state and interrupts the flow of experience.
With Baofeng’s device the previous two points are nicely taken care of. The display is more comfortable to use and a fully-sealed effect is achieved thanks to the more complete design of Baofeng’s Head Mounted Display.
I will say that due to the cumulative weight of both the contraption and your phone, the Baofeng device can feel a bit like a small animal attached to your face, bearing down on you and causing some discomfort.
Additionally both devices – as is common with many of the Cardboard-esque style contraptions – are uncomfortable for wearers of glasses and produce nausea-inducing effects. I personally felt reasonably sick after sitting through the New York Times 360 Video “Take Flight” at only three to five minutes. In my opinion it is easier to stomach rendered environments than captured environments – computer graphics over live action videos just seem to feel better.
Where the Google device features a button in the frame to control and manipulate objects on the screen, the Baofeng device utilizes an external control device to achieve the same objective.
What this means for the end user is essentially a hands-free experience that could be awesome but in my experience seems to be limited to the Baofeng-provided app. Unfortunately I was unable to get the remote control device to work with the Google Cardboard app suite. Within the confines of the Baofeng app the control device worked as intended.
All in all, like so many accessories, VR devices in and of themselves are largely dependent on corresponding applications to take advantage of the new potential of added functionality. I like Google’s basic suite of apps: Photo Sphere allows you to explore through a 360 field of view user-captured photos, Street View allows you to experience still locations in a fully immersive environment and Google Earth allows yo u to literally fly around world locations rendered from contour maps of real locations. Whether you use the Cardboard or the Baofeng device, both are available to you.
I would say overall the Baofeng device is a more comfortable immersive experience but doesn’t truly overcome the shortcomings of the basic Google Cardboard contraption. Would I buy it over a Cardboard device? Yes, but mostly because its the same price – just under USD 20 – and bearing in mind its limitations in comparison to what is promised in the more expensive devices.
For both devices I feel they have some cool exhibition features that have a lot of potential, but are mostly only useful for single use purposes and at limited stretches of time per use.
(Feature Image: company supplied)