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Mattel announced an update to its iconic View-Master handheld 3D-viewer toy in New York on Friday. The new View-Master was developed in conjunction with Google and its Cardboard project, and it turns the retro slide-viewer into a modern virtual reality headset.
Basically, the new View-Master is a plastic toy version of the Google Cardboard headset first revealed last June. Instead of inserting disks of stereoscopic images, as the original View-Master requires, you simply slip a supported smartphone into the headset, which will provide the gyroscopes, processor, and screen needed for immersive VR.
Besides the fact that it’s made from plastic, there’s going to be one major difference between Cardboard and the new View-Master: The main action button will be moved from the left-hand side to the right side of the headset, and has been turned into a “capacitive touch” lever, which better matches the historic View-Master lever you might remember from bygone years.
In fact, there are so few differences between Google Cardboard and the new Mattel View-Master that the demo I received was on a Google Cardboard headset with a mounted Nexus 5 phone, not the promised headset.
Mattel wanted to show off its new View-Master app, which will be available from Google Play this fall. The View-Master app uses Google Cardboard APIs to produce immersive, interactive worlds, although much of the interactivity is still under development. Users will be able to buy experiences online, as well as in stores, in the form of “experience reels,” sold in packs of four for $15, which contain exclusive content you can’t download from online.
When in the View-Master app, you load an experience reel through a nifty augmented reality interaction. Taking advantage of your smartphone’s rear camera, the app passes whats in front of you to your screen. When your gaze falls on an experience reel, figures from that reel pop up into your line of vision. For instance, the San Francisco experience reel projects a polygonal Golden Gate Bridge. Simply click on the AR images and you’ll be transported into a 360-degree virtual world. I travelled to the moon as well as the time of the dinosaurs.
Mattel says there isn’t a social aspect to its worlds so parents can safely send their kids to the moon without worrying about the trolls that pop up online. The company is also conducting studies which certify that virtual reality is safe for kids as young as seven.
There are other Cardboard-compatible headsets not made from Cardboard. Other Cardboard headsets — like the recently-announced VR for G3 from LG — should be able to run the View-Master app as well, and the new View-Master will work with any Google Cardboard-compatible app. Mattel didn’t elaborate on which specific devices will work in the new View-Master, but noted it should be a lot of them, including big phones with 6-inch screens.
Mattel says that the new View-Master should be in stores by October, and will cost around $30 — not counting the smartphone you need to use it. Although Google Cardboard is largely exclusive to Android at the moment, Mattel and Google representatives confirmed that they’re working to bring it to iOS devices.
Although the new View-Master is directly aimed at kids (and nostalgic parents) its low price and wide availability might make it the Google Cardboard headset of choice for overgrown kids — early adopters and virtual reality enthusiasts.