In addition to creating virtual-reality (VR) environments for display on computers and hand-held devices, students at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno are experimenting with immersive VR environments for use in a head mounted display (HMD). While HMD technology is still in its infancy, the acquisition of the Oculus Rift by Facebook in 2014 brought the attention of technologists, stock analysts, and the general public to this new frontier of mediated experience.
The conventional virtual tour, as deployed throughout All Around Reno, presents the user-navigable VR tours of the different sites on the screen of a computer or tablet. The user sees this as a narrow segment of his visual environment, and must stare at the screen and interact with it by using a mouse to drive a cursor. On a tablet navigation is accomplished by dragging a finger across the display.
The head-mounted display on the other hand, completely dominates the visual field of the user. It therefore isolates her from the distractions of the actual physical environment and encompasses the entire field of view, including the peripheral space, with the mediated visual experience. Navigation is immediate and intuitive; move your head and/or rotate your body to explore the 360° virtual space. Align the crosshairs target with the arrow to advance to the next scene.
There are other HMD hardware solutions that are or will soon be available, such as Sony’s “Project Morpheus,” the HTC “Vive,” and the Microsoft HoloLens. And there are other, more expensive, solutions for a HMD VR experience using a smartphone, such as the VR ONE.
Google introduced in 2104 a simple fold-along-the-dotted-line HMD VR solution, called Google Cardboard. This is not a complete HMD, with its own twin LCD screens, such as the Oculus Rift. With Google Cardboard, your own smartphone becomes the display screen. See the FAQ below for a list of compatible smartphones. You can download from Google a hardware list and a template that will enable you to assemble your own device from easily obtainable materials. Or you can purchase, as we did, a packaged kit with everything included, for around $15.
Once you have assembled your Google Cardboard, before inserting your smartphone, touch one of the images below to enter the HMD version of that particular virtual tour. Then touch the “Enter VR” button. Then you can place your smartphone into your Google Cardboard and explore. If there is more than a single node (VR panorama) in the scene, you navigate by turning your head to align the crosshairs target with the arrow.