The View Master is a collaboration between Mattel and Google. It’s based on Google’s Cardboard technology and aims to bring virtual reality to a younger audience.
The design offers just the right amount of retro to pay homage to the 75 year View Master brand’s history. This combined with its affordable price, and wealth of education focused apps, help the View Master hold its own amongst the increasingly competitive VR pack.
The View-Master isn’t the most sophisticated looking VR headset currently available, but I’m a fan of the ski-goggle styling and the kids I showed it to were also suitably impressed.
As it works on the Google cardboard platform the headset offers access to a growing number of VR experiences for free, as well as a selection of paid for bespoke ones created specifically for it.
The starter kit includes a sturdy smartphone holding headset that connects the View Master to your wrist. The fact it’s attached to your wrist means, slightly annoyingly, you will always have to hold the View-Master in place when playing with it.
I’m certain this is a purposeful omission to prevent kids using it for long periods, but a head-strap option as a grown-up accessory would be welcome.
Inside the box is also an adaptor to dock phones into the View-Master. People with older phones should note, View Master content isn’t optimised for 4-inch screens. The headset’s been designed with the larger Apple iPhone 6, plus a decent list of the latest Android devices in mind.
The official Mattel approved list includes the latest Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and Nexus smartphones and offers a disclaimer that other 5-6-inch devices could well work too.
If you want to delve outside of the basic Cardboard experience the starter pack comes with demo versions of the Space (351MB), Wildlife with National Geographic (291MB) and Destinations (351MB) iOS or Android apps.
After downloading the apps the demos are launched using old school looking “preview discs”. The Experience pack for each app unlocks additional content via add-on reels. Each pack costs a slightly hefty £7.99.
Related: Best Google Cardboard Apps
The full versions' up front cost may sound pricey and like the View Master is money grabbing, but the preview reels provide a reasonable amount of content. When I tested the demo wildlife app I was seriously impressed. With the headset on I was transported to the Acropolis, where I was able to wander around the Parthenon and enjoy some stunning 360 degree imagery.
The detail of the view is stunning. I opened a bottle of ouzo picked up on my last trip to Greece and, despite the climate here in blighty, felt completely immersed in the virtual world. The app also provides on-screen information about the place you're visiting. The information is mainly designed for kids, but is at a high enough level for you to get some background knowledge – and potentially points in your next pub quiz.
With the full experience disc for Destinations you can head off to a variety of locations including New York, London and Mexico. In each location you’ll be treated to outstanding 360 degree tours. For those that prefer a gentler pace, the apps also let you stop and gaze like a tourist at specific points along the way.
In every tour I tested I found there’s just enough information to keep things interesting as an adult. My 13 year-old scored his View-Master experience a ”pretty cool” – which is about as high praise as you can expect from a teenager.
Over in the wildlife app In preview mode I jumped into the savannah, a rainforest and the Australian outback. The largely digitised landscapes all have very good depth of field and, by working with National Geographic, offer a truly immersive experience.
Each area offers video content pertaining to one animal, as well as a selection of real world animal imagery.
The full version of the app offers more immersive selection of walks, more animals to goggle at and an enhanced safari mode. The safari mode is immensely enjoyable and sees you take the role of a wildlife photographer. In each safari setting you’re challenged to take pictures of three animals. From there you’re free to freely wander the digital world looking for your illusive subject matter. This mode will be a blast for kids and is full of nicely authentic ambient sounds that really help set the tone.
The space preview area on the reel is the least populated with taster content. There is a static VR space shuttle suspended in the dark starlit sky. You can manoeuvre around the shuttle and click on information symbols to learn bite-size facts about some of its attributes.
Luckily the space mini-game is a little more entertaining. In it you’re tasked to pull certain levers to fire up the shuttle, get it into the sky and ditch the boosters. It is simple enough but the detail of the cockpit is impressive and makes each task suitably enjoyable.
The full version unlocks a wide selection of spacecraft to explore, an entire solar system to interact with and a selection of old View-Master images – which I remember fondly from the eighties. My five year old squealed with excitement as she visited the sun, moon and earth.
For an affordable VR experience I’ve no hesitation in steering anyone toward the buy button. The content has been carefully crafted to offer enough information and settings to cater for kids and adults alike.
The headset, despite its lack of strap, is ideal for viewing the bespoke and other VR content on offer and I’m eager to see what reel sets are released next.
An ideal gift for curious kids, keen to explore the universe.