View-Master: a fascinating VR experience

A clever reworking of old 3D viewers

Image: Hugh Threlfall

We need to talk about virtual reality. By the time you read this, it should be possible to buy the gold-standard VR viewers, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. There may even be a reasonable amount of content to experience – possibly. VR’s introduction has been tortuous to say the least.

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This is not to disparage VR; it is awesome. It’s just that the fanfare preceding its arrival has been a little extended. But if you are eager to get a taste of what VR is like, here’s an unexpected source. Remember View-Master, the stereoscopic viewer that, from 1939 until a few years ago, allowed you to see sights from around the world in 3D? Well View-Master has been revived as a simple VR viewer, with a bit of augmented reality (AR) thrown in. I’ve just been on a rather convincing snoop around the Parthenon, somewhere I’ve never been, and now I feel I know what it’s actually like up on the Acropolis.

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Born-again View-Master works by downloading the Experience app to your smartphone, which is then slotted into the viewer. It is billed as a gadget for children, but is rather more apt for adults. The content is distinctly non-kid-friendly (like the Acropolis tour); you’ll need to be at least 40 to get the novelty of it being a recreation of the old-school 3D viewers; and above all, it’s a really effective way of understanding what VR is going to be like. Commendable and fascinating. Just not for kids.

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