Looking to build your own Google Expeditions kit? Not sure which headset to go for? Don’t worry; this post will go through the basics. There are a number of factors you need to consider when purchasing a VR headset for your school.
Price? Cardboard or plastic? Strap or no strap? Longevity? Certified? QR code? FOV?
I’ll briefly go through each of these so that you feel confident you are making the right decision.
Price (also cover cardboard or plastic in this subheading)
The first and probably most relevant factor for most schools is price. You don’t want to pay a fortune (because let’s be honest, schools aren’t exactly swimming in cash) but you don’t want a flimsy headset that’s going to fall apart within a week. I think it’s important to emphasise, these headsets are going to be used in schools, and so they need to be more durable than one you would use at home. The cheapest option is a cardboard, otherwise known as a Google cardboard. Even though they are referred to as ‘Google’ cardboard, this doesn’t mean you have to buy them from Google. Google have made their design open-source, which means any manufacturer can access their templates and replicate it. The first thing you need to be aware of when researching cardboards is the difference between V1 (version) and V2. Version 1 was Google’s first cardboard design and fits phones up to 5.2 inches. It takes 1-3 minutes to assemble and is easily recognisable based on the two pieces of velcro on opposite sides at the top of the headset. The V2 cardboard on the other hand only takes 5-10 seconds to assemble and they have one piece of velcro centrally located on the top of the headset. This headset also fits larger phones with screens up to 6 inches. I would recommend going with Google’s latest design, the V2.
The second thing to be weary off with cardboard headsets is a really cheap price. As a general rule, I wouldn’t recommend going under the £5 mark. More than likely the headset will be flimsy and won’t last more than a term. The lens quality on the lower price cardboards may also be poor and therefore you’ll have below par image quality. The best quality cardboard is unsurprisingly Google’s own at £15 but you can get alternatives such as I am Cardboard (£6.99) and Knox Labs ($7 + delivery).
However, if you are looking for a long-term investment that is going to last longer than an academic year, your best bet is to go for a plastic headset. They might be more expensive but they will last longer. Another benefit of plastic headsets over cardboards is the safety of your phone; if the cardboards are not fastened properly, you run the risk of your phone slipping out of the side and cracking on the floor. There are hundreds of different plastic headsets on the market; some of them are good, some poor, some are really expensive and some are cheap. As you would expect, be cautious about the really cheap ones (under £10). The first thing to be aware of is does your headset have a recognisable QR code that can be scanned in the Google cardboard app? (I cover this subheading further down the article). Secondly, does the headset have a strap? Because this is going to be used in education, I would recommend going for a headset without a strap (I explain my reasons below). Some good plastic options to consider are Homido’s GRAB model (£23.99) and the Mattel View-Master (£23.49).
Homido Grab in White
Strap or no strap?
Students might moan if the headsets don’t have straps because it’s “too tiring to hold up” or “I’ve got a better one than this at home, it’s got a strap”. There are circumstances when a strap would be more appropriate but in general, for education, a headset without a strap is the way to go. Firstly, VR is a complimentary learning tool for classrooms and should be used alongside excellent teaching. Strapping a headset to a student’s face for a whole lesson will not encourage learning and it will remove the opportunity for discussion and collaboration. The sooner students realise that the headsets are a learning tool and not a gaming device, the better. VR should only be used over short periods of time, for example as a 10-minute starter to introduce a topic or as a plenary to put a concept into perspective. Students might begin to experience nausea or motion sickness if they look through for long periods of time. If students do begin to feel nauseous, it’s easier to remove the headset from your eyes by lowering your arms rather than having to unfasten a strap on the back of your head. Secondly, headsets with straps are bound to waste more time in your lesson as students are more than likely going to want to adjust the strap to make it more comfortable (this can take a lot longer than you would think). Of course, a strap might be more appropriate in some circumstances, for example, if a student has a physical disability that restricts them from holding up the VR headset.
Works with Google Cardboard (and QR codes)
If you are purchasing your VR headset for Google Expeditions, it’s important that you choose a headset that is compatible with the app. If you want assurance that your headset is definitely going to work with Google Expeditions, look out for a logo that states ‘Works with Google Cardboard’ (WWGC). These headsets have been approved by Google, which means that the headsets are configured to work with all Google Cardboard apps (they are also not allowed to include head straps). The headset will have a QR code, which you will be able to scan when you are in the Cardboard app in order to adjust your screen to meet the dimensions of the headset. However, most headsets should have their own QR code, which you will be able to scan in the Cardboard app in order to adjust the screen. The bonus with getting a headset that is certified by Google is that you know the headset is going to optimise your VR experience. Be careful with ordering unbranded cardboard and plastic headsets from Ebay or Alibaba as the QR code they provide might not always be recognised in the Cardboard app and the lens quality might be quite poor.
FOV (Field of View)
Field of View is all about how much of an environment you can observe at any given time. Basically, what can you see whilst using your VR headset? A higher FOV means a better experience. The more of an environment you can see, the more likely you are to feel immersed. The FOV specs for VR headsets can differ significantly and this can impact on your experience. The Google Cardboard V2 for example has approximately a 60° view. On the other end of the spectrum, the HTC Vibe and Oculus Rift both have 110 degree FOV. There are a number of VR headsets with exceptional FOV but these usually come with a high price tag. Two plastic headsets that are available with the WWGC certification are the Homido Grab and Mattel View-Master. The former has a FOV of 100 degrees and the latter at 98 degrees (an insignificant difference that you wouldn’t really recognise).
Work with glasses?
One of the key benefits about the cardboard is the fact that students who wear glasses can use it (without taking off their glasses). Whereas the plastic headsets, the Mattel View-Master and the Homido Grab both have a black rim around the lenses, which can restrict students from wearing their glasses. For students with poor eyesight, they are going to struggle to see a clear image. There are some headsets however (for example, the Mattel View-Master Deluxe) that include a focus dial, so that students that do have poor eyesight can adjust the lenses in order to match their eyes.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the various options that are available and what to consider when you finally decide to purchase. As a rough guideline, you want to be spending £7-£10 for a cardboard and around £20-£25 for a plastic headset. As I mentioned, look for a headset that doesn’t have a strap, as this will cause you less hassle and will also make it clear to your students that it is an educational tool rather than a gaming device. For that peace of mind look out for the ‘Works with Google Cardboard’ certification, as this will ensure your headset is fully compatible with Google Expeditions. Lastly, the FOV is important but it shouldn’t be the first priority when deciding on your VR headset.
If you are interested in VR, follow us on Twitter (@primevruk) for further tips and ideas for incorporating VR into your school. We also provide free resources such as lesson plans for Google Expeditions that can be downloaded here.
If you have any questions about VR, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.