Smartphone mountable headsets are nothing new. In fact, the marketplace for early adopters in virtual reality (VR) is literally flooded with them at present, with new ‘me too’ products arriving on a near weekly basis. So what is it that sets them apart? There are 3 discernable differences: price, comfort and quality. NOON VR, NextCore Corporation’s entrant into the market, offers a gold standard in at least 2 of these differentiators.
NOON VR is so very clearly inspired by Samsung’s Gear VR, in everything from it’s packaging design to the removable and utterly inconsequential faceplate. However, it’s significantly lower retail price point – $89 USD opposed to $199 – and it’s compatibility with a multitude of smartphone handsets do offer it an audience unavailable to Samsung due to their linear approach. NOON VR boasts immediate compatibility with all smartphones from 4.7′ to 5.5′ in length, and offers an adjustable mount for iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, S5, Note 3 and Note 4, as well as LG Optimus G3 and G3a.
The headset is lightweight, proposes a field-of-view of up to 95 degrees (dependant on smartphone screen) and is well configured to carry the above smartphone devices. The rubberised grip that holds the smartphone to the unit is a good substitute for the Gear VR’s Micro USB port, but as there’s no connectivity between the handset and headset it does mean that head-tracking is dependant on the gyrometers included onboard the smartphone, akin to Google Cardboard. Noticeably inferior to the Gear VR in that respect, NOON VR is presented as a mid-tier head-mounted display (HMD) and, as stated above, is priced to match.
In support of the launch of NOON VR, NextCore Corporation have developed their own app, downloadable now via the Google Play Store for Android and Apple’s App Store for iOS devices. After authenticating (the code included with the NOON VR headset allows for 2 devices to be authenticated) the app immediately searches your storage for any existing video material that can be displayed using the headset and informs the user of how it will be presented – stereoscopic or mono – and offers the increasingly common Google Cardboard logo for those who wish for a 360 degree experience. It’s a simple and quick introduction to VR, which is essential for newcomers to the field.
Obviously the quality of the video presented will depend greatly on the content viewed and the resolution of the screen on your chosen smartphone handset. Videos recorded using the device itself will obviously be inferior to film trailers or those which are available via the Oculus Home app for Gear VR – which NOON VR’s app does support and immediately recognise – as well as support for many YouTube based 360 degree videos, including the likes of Visit Hamilton Island and The Neymar Jr. Effect. Additionally, all of these video experiences can be either streamed or downloaded directly through the app, allowing for use when not connected to a data network or Wi-Fi.
The NOON VR application also allows for direct uploading of content, via KOOM. Essentially NextCore Corporation’s content provider for NOON VR, delivered in a similar fashion to YouTube, when users upload stereoscopic 3D videos defects such as camera lens distortions and stereo-rig misalignment are automatically corrected by the KOOM VR server. It’s an interesting addition and currently serves a decent amount of content, however growth will surely be determined by not only sales of the NOON VR headset, but also by the percentage of that audience that has the capability to record stereoscopic 3D or 360 degree content of their own.
Sadly, at this point there are no videogame experiences currently available via the NOON VR app. The headset boasts compatibility with Durovis Dive and Google Cardboard apps, significantly increasing the content library available, but NOON VR is significantly more costly than either of these devices.
As smartphone mountable headsets go, the NOON VR is an easy recommendation. It remains a significant downgrade from Gear VR, but at less than half the price that is to be expected. Competing headsets are typically more unwieldy – bulky or uncomfortable – and the lower end Google Cardboard variants are significantly less durable. Those wishing to jump onboard the mobile VR bandwagon but not yet comfortable with adopting a new smartphone and splash out on a Gear VR until the ‘full consumer’ launch of the device may well find NOON VR an approachable, enjoyable mid-term solution.