Virtual reality (VR) fans are waiting for the launch of both the Gear VR and HTC Vive head-mounted displays (HMDs) before the end of the year but, while that wait continues, another HMD worth your consideration is arriving in the UK this week. Merge VR, a new mobile-based HMD that’s compatible with all Google Cardboard apps, has launched today via major UK videogame retailer, GAME, for £49.99 GBP. VRFocus got to try the kit out earlier this month and found it established a compelling middle-ground between the Google Cardboard and Gear VR.
We also got to speak to Executive Vice President Dan Worden about the device. In the interview below, Worden talks about the run up to launch for Merge, and some of its unique features. He also discusses how the HMD fits into the current market and how it compares next to the Gear VR ahead of Samsung’s consumer launch next month.
VRFocus: Merge is entering what’s already a crowded market. What makes it stand out from the rest?
Dan Worden (DW): Well it’s interesting because actually we came up with this when we were showing the first mock ups, far before this manufactured product. We were showing around at early VR meetings before Google Cardboard announced. So we’ve been around for a while. And as we started doing that of course everyone’s saying, you know, ‘you need to be plugged in, mobile’s not going to work’. After Google Cardboard that changed.
So until – I want to say – late last year we were out making the rounds at industry events doing demos, showing people the comfort level and ease of use and ease of cleaning the product. So this year we’ve gone through the manufacturing process. This is probably our seventh or eighth version of the headset this year on the truly moulded product side. So we wanted to come out with it. We announced, I think, in April of this year that were out over [in the UK] and had arrived and were already in the process of tooling. So we’re excited that we’re on the shelves this year. That’s awesome.
VRFocus: You’re the first VR HMD to sell at a major UK gaming retailer in GAME. How did that relationship come about?
DW: So that started earlier this year. We were introduced to them and had a very good first meeting and a very good follow-up meeting after that and they in a sense said ‘Hey, we’ve tried these other headsets out there, we really likes yours, we’d love to make you a deal.’ So we prioritised that and came over here, qualified the opportunity and have been just racing to get that done and ready so that they can bring the product to shelves this year.
VRFocus: Merge is made of a material not seen in other HMDs. Talk about that, because it feels like nothing else.
DW: Yeah, right? So this material is a high grade polyurethane foam. So it’s similar to like a memory foam and it’s a very unique formulation. So it’s very tough, it doesn’t break, it’s very durable and we chose foam from the very beginning because we felt that it was very– we’ve really been thinking about the customer’s experience, right? Consumers for the very first time are going to have this VR experience. We want it to be comfortable, we want it to be approachable and we want it to be simple and fun.
VRFocus: The other major feature you’re showing is the dual input. How does that change interaction with mobile VR?
DW: So up until now there’s been very few applications for mobile developed that really use an input that you could interact with the application, whether it’s to choose something or to go somewhere, you normally have to stare and wait for this dial to go through and bring you into this next window or next scene or something. By having 2 inputs it allows the developer to help the user interact with the virtual environments. Instead of waiting and staring you can select and by pushing one of these buttons it allows you to do that.
But you have 2 different options so you could also be running and jumping or you could be crouching and shooting or you could be doing multiple actions with this. So it does allow a lot more interactivity for the consumer and these new apps that will be coming out. There really hasn’t been this real solid input and no one’s had a dual input, so we feel like that’s going to be really great for VR in general for apps and the coming apps that support it.
VRFocus: So which developers are you working with at the moment?
DW: So we’ve got a number of developers that we’re working with and I’m going to say that they’re more third-party content developers. We’re doing some of our own work inside, in-house, but these are guys that are interested in VR, we’ve identified them as ‘Hey, they’ve got good content’ and then we’ve asked to work with them. We’ve got some developers that have signed on as a launch partner to start using inputs. And maybe they’re already doing something that’s a basic ‘no input’ style. And then we’ve also got well over a dozen of different developers that are creating content specifically for the dual input in Merge.
VRFocus: You’re launching at the end of this month. That’s just before Gear VR. How do you think Merge stacks up next to Gear VR and what do you think its chances are going up against Samsung?
DW: So first of all I think Gear VR is great kit, it’s a great product. It offers a good experience. The challenge is that it only works with brand new Samsung phones, right? So if you’ve got a brand new Samsung phone and you’re willing to shell out $99. I don’t know what the price is over here?
VRFocus: It’s not revealed yet.
DW: So if they keep that price the same, it’s a great experience but we want VR to be available for everybody. So that’s Android, any phone from the last couple of years including Samsung. Apple, any Apple iPhone from the last couple of years. As small as a 5S, as big as a 6+ will fit. So we’re, I would say, phone agnostic. We just want it to be a good experience in general.
VRFocus: You’ve also got a motion controller. Can you take us through the release plans for that right now?
DW: So we’ve pretty much finished the development of the controller. It’s a great piece of kit. It’s a motion controller that also has acceleration in it. So you can compare it to– it’s similar to the Wii-like type of experience only it doesn’t use cameras, it’s Bluetooth connected. It’s a 9-axis motion controller and it’s got 8 buttons and a joystick. So it’s fully functioned, it’s light in the hand, it’s easy to use and very intuitive in the feel of it as you hold it to point and click or drag. So we’re really excited about what that will offer and it will offer just a whole new level of interaction with virtual reality.
In terms of release we’re focused right now on finalising and tuning it and then getting that out as a dev kit for our controller developers to use to really start developing apps that will take the full functions of this and really make it fun.
VRFocus: And players will be able to use 2 of these?
DW: Yeah, eventually you’ll be able to use 2 controllers.