If you're of a certain age, then you might have fond memories of the View-Master. Pop in a disc, hold the device up to your face, and enjoy some 3D images of, say, the latest Muppets movie or climactic scenes from Chips or The Dukes of Hazzard. Today Mattel and Google announced an update that tries to merge the classic device with modern virtual reality.
76 years after the first View-Master was unveiled, the new View-Master skips stereoscopic film images in favor of Google Cardboard-based virtual reality. While the reels from the classic device were lined with tiny photographs, the new version's "reels" instead unlock digital VR content.
Like all Google Cardboard headsets, you get started with the new View-Master by sliding in a compatible Android phone. Instead of being instantly "transported," though, this experience starts by using the phone's camera to give you an augmented view of your own environment. This is where the "reels" come in: look at one of the discs, and you'll then enter their corresponding virtual environment(s).
The View-Master's content is designed to take children on virtual field trips, where they can "explore famous places, landmarks, nature, planets" and more in (Google Street view-style) 360-degree photospheres.
It sounds like it's designed more for static 360-degree photos than it is immersive VR videos or games, but with a smartphone powering the experience, there's no reason the headset couldn't eventually support those as well.
Apart from the disc novelty, this isn't anything new to the world of VR. Both the Oculus Rift developers' kit and Samsung Gear VR already offer static and moving 360-degree "experiences" like the ones Mattel is pitching. But it is an interesting marketing move nonetheless: reviving a nostalgic product and aiming VR specifically at young children.
It's also a move to expand on the budding Google Cardboard platform. What was announced as a deceptively low-grade developers' kit is showing its true colors as a clever way to bring VR content to the Play Store. Cardboard is showing more signs of moving into the consumer space, with LG using a Cardboard headset as a bonus for G3 buyers and a popular Cardboard assembler crowdfunding a consumer-grade headset.
The new View-Master will retail for US$30 (including one "reel"), and is set to launch this October. Additional reel packs, which will each include four experiences, will cost $15 a pop. Just don't hold your breath for Boss Hogg or Erik Estrada showing up in any of them.