REVIEW / Merge VR (Mobile)

 

Ever since the announcement of the Oculus Rift a few years ago, the VR craze has steadily gained momentum as more and more information trickles out about the types of experiences that this cool new entertainment device will offer.  As one would expect, the price point of a device that will be able to totally emerge the user in a believable virtual world is going to be pretty steep when the Oculus Rift finally hits the marketplace.  In the meantime, if you just can’t wait and want a taste of what VR has in store for us all right now at an affordable price, there is the Merge VR from Merge Labs, Inc.  Built around the power of the mobile phone, these VR goggles allow you to experience a multitude of curated VR content that is compatible with this headset.  From games to 360 videos to many other immersive experiences, you can jump into Virtual Reality powered solely by your smartphone.

 

 

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You may be wondering how such an immersive experience can be had with just a simple smartphone and a special pair of goggles and you would be right to question these claims so let me break it down for you.  The Merge VR Goggles themselves are made from a soft foam material that can stand up to rigorous daily use while providing a fairly comfortable wearing experience.  The goggles stay on your head with the help of soft, comfortable Velcro straps that you can adjust to just about any head size.  The whole unit can be easily cleaned so that they are always ready for use.  In addition, the goggles are very light-weight so that there is virtually no strain on the neck whatsoever providing an almost lighter than air feel as you wander through foreign lands or watch live concert footage.

 

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The real magic happens when you download special VR games or 360 videos specifically created to work on an ever growing market of VR goggle headsets.  The Merge VR web site has a page (Merge Start) that links directly to this content so that you don’t have to fumble around media stores trying to find something interesting to experience.  If you have a smartphone that was manufactured at least in the last two years, you should have no issues finding games or VR experiences to run on your phone.  Just find something that you are interested in experiencing, simply install it to your phone and you are almost ready to go.

 

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Once you adjust the Merge VR Goggles to your head size, just slide your phone into the slot at the front of the goggles and your VR experience will begin.  The apps work by allowing your phone to track your head movement so that you are able to look up, down, and all around in a virtual environment.  In addition to the head-tracking feature, VR apps also split the screen into left and right images that appear to be in 3D when viewed through the Merge Goggles.  This 3D effect, together with head-tracking, create a feeling of immersion, making you feel as if you’re actually in the experience.

 

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Once you have begun you VR experience, the Merge VR has features that allow you to get the most out of whatever content you are enjoying.  There are input buttons on the left and right sides of the top of the goggles so that you can interact with your chosen content.  These inputs are also connected to the lenses inside the headset so that you can adjust the position of the lenses allowing for adjustment to your eyes.  These inputs will also allow you to do things such as pausing or starting 360 video as well as allowing for the control of your car in a racing game, for instance, or the flight controls in a space shooter.  A separate controller would have been nice, however, as holding my hands up to my face for prolonged periods of time did make my arms tired but not so much to take me out of the experience I was having.

 

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So how does the available VR content stack up quality-wise you may ask?  Well, most of the available mobile VR apps can be downloaded from the iOS Store and/or the Play Store, just like any other app.  While there is a good amount of apps that you can download, I had a hard time finding anything that would hold my attention for more than a few minutes.  The 360 videos are cool but you don’t necessarily need a set of VR goggles to view them and the Experience apps are mainly demo-like applications that just last for a few minutes.  In addition, the games that are available (some are free and some you have to purchase) are either iOS or Android with just a few of them being playable on both platforms.

 

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The Merge VR Goggles are top notch, are made with a quality material and are very ingenious in and of themselves.  The problem I have in recommending them to gamers is that there just isn’t any apps here that justify purchasing them.  Merge Labs, Inc. only makes the VR goggles and not any of the content so there is really no showcase experience to showoff just what is possible with VR in its current state.  The available games, concert footage and experiences just felt like demos and not completed products.  At a $79 price tag, I can’t recommend picking up a pair of these VR goggles with no real, knock-you-out-of-your-socks experiences available.

 

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