Entering the brave new world of virtual reality is easy with the new Kaiser Baas VR-X headset, though the experience can’t compete with Oculus.
Decades ago, virtual reality seemed like the next big thing. But the vision was far beyond the technology of the time, and it was only recently with the massive success of the Oculus Rift on Kickstarter that consumer-grade VR has begun to arrive en masse.
A big part of the success of today’s VR vision is not in high-end VR devices like the HTC Vive, but instead in the Google Cardboard approach to virtual reality. Cardboard uses the screen and gyroscope of your smartphone to provide the visuals and motion tracking, and throws a cheap and cheerful frame and lenses into a head unit to make experiencing virtual 3D worlds a reality.
The Kaiser Baas VR-X headset is definitely geared towards the entry-level VR market. At $49.95, the VR-X is significantly more expensive than Google Cardboard, but still significantly cheaper than the likes of the Samsung Gear VR.
Of course, simply holding the VR-X in your hands makes the difference between it and a piece of cardboard abundantly clear. The Kaiser Baas unit is built with a robust plastic frame with plenty of padding in the face and head straps for comfort. The phone mount slides out to accept any phone between 4 and 6 inches running iOS 8.0 and above or Android 4.1 and above.
There are easily adjustable focus controls for the VR-X’s lenses, a magnetic control button on the side and a slide-open front panel that grants access to your phone’s camera for potential augmented reality situations.
Upsides: Why you’d want the Kaiser Baas VR-X
- Affordable (and fairly comfortable) VR. It might cost a bit more than Google Cardboard, but if you’ve ever tried sticking Google’s budget solution to your face for longer than a few minutes, you soon realise the benefits of padding. The Kaiser Baas is easy to put on and take off and feels fairly comfortable to wear as well.
- Multiple phone support. The Gear VR is the market leader for phone-based VR solutions, but only if you happen to own a Samsung phone. The VR-X will take any modern smartphone with a screen size between 4 and 6 inches, as long as it’s running an operating system from the past 2 years.
- Keep your phone powered. As you might expect, VR is a pretty battery-draining experience for your smartphone. Fortunately, the design of the Kaiser Baas unit allows for power cables and headphone cords to connect to your phone, so long as the location of those ports is on the bottom. The Galaxy S7 Edge, for example, could be charged via USB, but the headphone jack was a few millimetres too far to the right to allow for easy access.
- Supports YouTube’s 360 videos. Given the haphazard approach to content (more on that below) with the VR-X, the fact that you can watch YouTube 360 videos in a virtual 3D environment is a welcome use for the technology.
Downsides: Why you might not want the Kaiser Baas VR-X
- Doesn’t fill the field of view. Despite accepting phones up to 6 inches in screen size, the VR-X doesn’t actually fill your field of view when using it. Instead you end up with black bars all around the viewable area, which can result in a sense of motion sickness for some people.
- Lens adjustments feel flimsy. You can adjust the locations of the lenses on the Kaiser Baas unit easily – both left and right and forwards and backwards – to try and get the perfect position for your face in order to experience the VR effect in full focus. The catch is that the lenses don’t lock in place, so the slightest bump to the headset will slightly adjust that position.
- Phone grip doesn’t suit every phone model. The design of the grip for the Kaiser Baas VR-X is fairly versatile, but the design doesn’t work for all phones. When used with a Nexus 6P, for example, the location of the top grip meant that it was impossible to insert without pressing on the phablet’s power button. That issue was amplified by the fact that some of the VR apps we used didn’t auto-rotate, meaning the only way we could play certain VR games was to turn the phone upside down and fly around the wrong way.
- No centralised app store. One of the real strengths of the Gear VR is that Samsung has created a dedicated app store that makes finding VR experiences easy. The VR-X instead relies on the Google Play and iOS App Stores to supply virtual reality apps, and the experience isn’t the best. While the VR-X does support Google Cardboard (and Cardboard-enabled apps), finding the best VR apps is a case of trial and error, and there are some key experiences missing from the Play and iOS platforms (Netflix’s VR app being a key example).
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
The Kaiser Baas VR-X is a virtual reality headset targeted for those wanting more than a piece of cardboard, but are happy using their phone as the core component of the experience.
The most obvious alternative is Google Cardboard, which is a much more basic option for the VR experience. Depending on your phone, the Gear VR headset is a viable alternative for certain Galaxy phone owners, while the View Master Virtual Reality starter pack is probably the closest rival to Kaiser Baas’s offering.
And if money is no object, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are both worth considering as well.
Where can I get it?
The Kaiser Baas VR-X headset is available for $49.95 from Officeworks stores.