I’m of the opinion that all in one VR headsets won’t be around for long. I have had the good fortune to try out both the Vive and the Occulus and while I was greatly impressed with the quality on offer, I felt like there had to be a cheaper way to do this. I looked around, did my research and was eventually led to mobile VR solutions. I bought a cheap cardboard set up and tried out a few apps. It was good, not great, but at the very least it effectively approximated the experience offered by full VR devices. But there was something missing. I decided to try out a more expensive option, with a head strap and everything. I got my hands on the Virtoba X5, and I have to say I was greatly impressed with it.
My first cardboard VR headset was a simple thing, a pair of lenses in a box. It was unwieldy and nothing could be adjusted. I tested out a few of the games in the store, google street view and a wonderful little bridging program called Trinus. The Virtoba X5 is easy to fit, has a high quality three strap set up, adjustable lenses and, best of all, it fits with my phone, the Nexus 6. The issue I found when looking for a VR headset was finding one that was big enough for 6″ phones, which is somewhat irritating as I bought the phone, with its large size and 2k display, specifically to play games in jury-rigged VR.
So let’s take a look at the device itself.
Virtoba X5 VR Headset Build Quality and Features
Built in Headphones
Most phone VR designs out there skimp in this section. You get a small brick to slot your phone into and that’s all she wrote. A quick look at the design of this thing will reveal quite a bit. Thought went into the construction, and they went the extra mile to make this little solution feel like one of the big boys. The head phones are connected to your phone at the front and they can be adjusted easily, they slide in and out. Granted, they could be closer to your ear, but I never found myself straining to hear what was going on in either the apps or during the 2 hours I spent exploring Rapture in Bioshock.
The audio quality itself is fine, nothing to write home about. When you’re spending under $40 you can’t really expect much, and I was actually surprised with the clarity. They aren’t mandatory either, and while you won’t be able to fit a full sized set of headphones on while you use the Virtoba X5, you should have ample room to slide a pair of ear buds in.
The volume controls are on the bottom of the device, and next to that is the button. There is just the one built in button on the Virtoba, and it’s useful for selecting things you look at, pausing video and little else.
Field of View (FOV)
I don’t get the FOV limit on the Vive and Occulus. I mean, we can see 114 degrees of binocular vision, with a further 60 to 70 degrees in peripheral vision. Why they have a 110 degree limit is beyond me. The Virtoba allows up to 120 degrees of vision, thus accommodating the full range of human binocular sight. The caveat is that this is limited by your phone size. I tested three devices, my own 6″ Nexus, and my friends Samsungs, 4.8″ and 5.3″. There phones, whilst more than adequate for a good time, did have the lower FOV.
As I mentioned, I bought the larger phone specifically for VR purposes, and if you are looking to get into mobile VR I would suggest you buy your next handset carefully. My biggest issue with visual clarity is the refresh rate on phones. I have yet to find a phone with more than a 60hz refresh rate. It’s not a huge issue, but I like the frame rate to be as high as possible when playing a VR game, and being limited to 60 fps is a bit of a drag. That isn’t something that the Virtoba can do anything about though.
The design of the Virtoba X5 is fantastic. The quality of the materials used is high, and it has a nice heft to it. many of the VR headsets I have tried out feel a little light, toy-like even, but this is thankfully not true of the X5. It weighs in at 0.7 pounds, and with a Nexus 6 in it it weighs 1.1lbs. That might sound like a lot to have hanging off your head, but the Virtoba offsets this with its three link mounting strap. Too many of the cheaper headsets use a simple strap and forces all of the weight of the device onto your nose. Here the extra strap on the top of your head, when combined with the comfortable foam inlay, creates a nice even pressure. I was able to comfortably play my game for a little over two hours without feeling any kind of strain.
Putting your phone in is simple, but I admit it took me a few minutes realize how to do it. You place your phone right near the lens and close the cover, a small lever keeps your phone flush with the headset. Do not put your phone behind that lever, as I foolishly did. I didn’t damage my phone, but opening the flap was pretty hard after I made that mistake.
The biggest downside is the lack of space for glasses. The foam inlay sits nice and tight to your face, so the screen fills your world, but if you have particularly bad eyesight you may have trouble seeing anything at all. If you have merely bad eyesight then I have some good news. The adjustable lenses will allow you to see clearly.
The lenses are a big selling point here. In cheap designs the lenses are static plastic things, they barely create the 3D effect some times. Here we have some high quality 35mm PMMA lenses, and they are a joy to behold. They can be moved in two directions via a pair of handy dials. The lenses can be moved to compensate for poor eyesight. I am short sighted, so I had to make adjustments, there is a 0°-800° myopia and 0°-400° hyperopia.
Overall these lenses are wonderful. They are crystal clear, once you remove the plastic cover, and you have plenty of options to make them work for you, between myself and my two friends we have this thing certified to work with the vast majority of glasses wearers.
Lastly a quick look at the price. You can get a cheap cardboard set up for under $20, and I would recommend you try one out. It’s pocket change, and the effect is good enough to let you know if you’d like to delve deeper into this new and exciting world. When you want an upgrade then shell out for a Virtoba X5. It matches the best of them in terms of features, and the lens quality is probably the best out there. You can pick one up from Amazon for $39.99, which again is pretty cheap for what you’re getting.
Next up let’s take a closer look at the apps and programs I tried out on the Virtoba X5
Virtoba X5 Apps Test
VR Jurassic Land
I loved Jurassic Park when it came out, well, not when it came out, but when I watched it several years after it came out. This little app simulates driving around looking at dinosaurs, and it is great for showing off the 3D capabilities of modern phones. The graphics aren’t much to write home about, and the sound quality is little better, but it has a nice sense of depth and I had a great time. They might have been able to make a Pokemon Snap-esque game out of this, but it’s good for what it is.
VR Silent Home
I played a few horror titles in VR with the Virtoba, but Silent Home was probably my favorite. So far there isn’t what I would call a seminal experience in the app store, but if you’re in the mood for something scary this is a good bet. Graphics are a little better than the others in the store, and the sound effects are great. It does its best to create atmosphere, the degree by which it succeeds depends on how jumpy you are. I am very jumpy, my friends are less so. Give it a go at the very least.
Google Street View
It might sound a little boring, but out of all the apps in the cardboard store I spent the most time with Street View. I love Street View on my computer, and now I can stomp around the world as a ten foot tall monster, chasing cars and hogging the road. Everything looks great, the images are clear, and while there is no movement to speak of, and the transition between shots is a little jarring at first, it still feels awesome to Godzilla your way through Tokyo. Check it out, you’ll get lost for hours.
SBS 3D Video
I really enjoyed the video playback on this. The button at the bottom pauses the action, and the various trailers I downloaded all looked amazing in 3D. Next to Street View this was my favorite of the core experiences in VR. Up next is my actual favorite though.
I’ve mentioned Trinus briefly already, but I’ll go into more detail about it here. Trinus is an app that connects your PC to your Phone, and streams 3D video to your handset. Pop your phone in a headset, like Virtoba, and you have a makeshift Occulus. Set up is a little involved though, and there are plenty of settings to tweak before you have something functional you can play, but after a few hours playing around with it I was very impressed.
I decided I really wanted to see the underwater city of Rapture in 3D. So I set everything up and ran Bioshock. At first I was a little disappointed, there was little in the way of a 3D effect going on, and the resolution was a little cut off. Going back into settings I found an option for adding depth on the fly, and customized the resolution to make it 3D friendly. Still I wasn’t pleased with the result. I found that the limitations of WiFi were holding me back, so I plugged my phone into my PC, the Virtoba X5 has a handy hole for your mini USB slot, and Bam! Plane crash as clear as day, and a near drowning that left me genuinely unsettled.
The rest of the two hours was spent admiring the scenery, killing degenerates and soaking in all that Randian Rhetoric. The biggest issue I had was the slight delay in registering movement, and not being able to set the resolution to the max my phone can handle. It’s a tech and bandwidth issue, and when those two things are sorted out I expect phone VR solutions to dominate the market.
Virtoba X5 VR Conclusion
The Virtoba is a such a cool piece of tech. The core design of the device is fantastic, and while it fails in a few areas, the bridge of my nose wants a word, it is never so extreme for me to want to stop playing. The future of VR tech, in my opinion, is in machines like this, not the big budget monsters of the Vive or the Oculus, but the phone, tethered to a computer for graphical horse power, and one of these things. The Virtoba has shown me that, and I dare say it can show you too.