Zeiss VR One Review
We got our hands on the Zeiss VR One a few weeks ago. Now this is a headset that is hardly new. It’s been available since last October, and is now $120 at retailers without the tray and $129 bundled with the tray for your smartphone. The apps for it are a mixed bag, there is no magnetic controller on it, and like other VR headsets, it is a bit on the bulkier side. But none of this matters and here’s why.
Just a few weeks ago Google rolled out Google Cardboard compatibility to their YouTube app. This means that anyone with a cheap Google Cardboard viewer can experience the growing amount of 360 degree video content available on YouTube. The only problem is, most people will be viewing this content with a small headset that they need to hold up to their head every time they are watching a video. Add to that the very small field of view most of those headsets have, and the sub-par lenses that are the size of a bottle cap in many cases. These cheap cardboards feel like you are looking through the smallest pair of binoculars in the world. It sort of detracts from the feeling of actually being there.
Enter the Zeiss VR One. It is rocking a 100 degree field of view. This is more than even the Samsung Gear VR. I could barely notice the borders on the edges of my peripheral vision. The quality of the lenses are top of the line. Would you expect anything less from a company that’s been in the optics industry since 1846?
That’s over 150 years of experience with imaging. Each Zeiss VR One headset requires a specific smartphone tray for the phone you have. Some would view this as a downside, given that it is not compatible out of the box with multiple phones, but it allows the phone to be in the optimal position for the best focus possible. You are not limited in the amount of trays that you can use with the same headset. Got a friend or family member that has a different phone? No problem, just order a smartphone tray for that phone.
Sliding Was Never So Easy
Viewing 360 videos on YouTube, Littlstar, Vrideo, and other video hosting sites currently requires the user to constantly select the video directly through their phone and play it before inserting it in their VR Headset. The Zeiss VR One makes this incredibly easy to do, as the smartphone tray slides into the headset quickly and easily. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you are sitting with your phone for an hour going through dozens of videos, the last thing you want to do is spend a significant amount of time placing your phone into the cardboard between each viewing.
Once you plop your phone into the tray and slide it into the Zeiss VR One, there is no need to slide it completely out to select new YouTube videos. Just sliding it 75% of the way out gives enough wiggle room to select a new YouTube video. I personally use the Zeiss VR One to view anywhere from 20-50 360 videos a day. It takes less than 5 seconds to quickly slide your phone into it.
If you don’t want to slide it out at all, you can always create a quick playlist of the videos you want to watch, start it, and then slide your phone into the Zeiss VR One and watch for as long as you like. Battery life is not an issue with a long enough charging cable for your phone, letting you charge your phone while using the Zeiss VR One. You can also plug your headphones into it while charging, as long as you have a straight headphone jack, and not the ones that form a 90 degree angle. If you have a bent kind of headphone jack, you can still use it, but there is not enough room to accommodate it along with the charging cable plugged in at the same time.
Handles Fog Like a Pro
Lens fogging on VR headsets is a result of temperature change, and some headsets deal with it better than others. A lot of Gear VR S6 edition users for example, have complained about how quickly it fogged up, and have resorted to using extreme methods such as leaving it running for up to 20 minutes before putting it on, using anti-fog wipes every other day, and so on. After 2 weeks of using the Zeiss VR One, we have yet to encounter a single issue with fogging.
This is due to the extremely flexible straps that come with the unit. The included straps are adjustable to accommodate even the largest of heads. This leaves a good enough amount of space for air flow, which in turn eliminates any fogging from occurring. In addition to the long straps, there are two openings on top of the Zeiss VR One which allow for even more air flow. This is just some ingenious design.
The only downside would be with the area around your nose, which leaves too much open space. If you look down while watching a video with the Zeiss VR One, you will immediately be brought back to reality as you have a very clear view of the floor below. This can be viewed as a good thing, as I was able to eat meals while watching content using the Zeiss VR One. Also, in most 360 videos you would rarely be looking down, as that is where they usually place a small circle with the production company’s logo.
I have to admit, upon receiving our review copy, I ripped through the packaging of the Zeiss VR One like my last meal was hidden inside. Included is the actual headset, the overhead strap, and a mysterious cardboard box. I had initially tossed the box aside, not realizing it was for use with their Augmented Reality App. I tried the AR App, which only worked when the phone was used outside the headset. It’s a very basic illustration of Augmented Reality in which you point the phone at the box and a character appears animated above the box. It’s a neat little demo that is over and done with in a few minutes. Since first using the AR app, the box has been stored away in a closet never to be seen again.
There is also a Cinema and Media app that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. The media app is a portal to open your VR apps, games, and experiences with, but it is no where near ready to be released to the general public, and it’s much easier just to load content straight from Google Play and plop your phone into the Zeiss VR One.
Cinema Plays MKV
Before I say anything else about the Zeiss Cinema App, all you need to know is that it plays .mkv videos. This is not advertised in the description of the app on Google Play, but I have tested it out with more than a few .mkv videos with great success. Video played close to 100% of the time. The audio played on some videos, but this is widely dependent on the codec used. Of course, mp4 is fully supported.
The Cinema App is far better than the Google Play reviews make it out to be. You are placed in a virtual cinema with other avatars inside so you don’t feel lonely. These avatars are not other real people, but it still adds a bit to the atmosphere. Looking at either door in the front of the theater opens up a menu, from which you can select videos to play from your phone’s media folder.
The size of the cinema screen is best described as the same as one of those small town movie theater screens. Due to the 100° field of view, the entire screen can be seen without the edges in your peripheral vision appearing blurry. The screen can also be centered by just looking at the door then gazing at the re-center icon for a few seconds. It’s great being able to center the screen without having to lift a hand up to touch any buttons on the headset.
The Zeiss VR One is a perfect fit for those looking for a Google Cardboard type headset to view YouTube 360 videos on. It has killer optics, a great cinema app that works with .mkv, and is hardy enough where you can just throw it in a bag and be on your way. Fogging is a non issue, and it works with a large variety of phones, given you order the correct tray. A couple of cheap magnets can also be attached for functionality with certain cardboard apps. For less than $100, the Zeiss VR One is the best cardboard device on the market right now.
It’s also a great choice for people who already have a Samsung Gear VR headset. As YouTube is now expanding their 360 content rapidly, Littlstar only has a select few videos available on Gear VR, and Vrideo has yet to release an app for the Gear VR, owners of this headset are desperate for some way to view cardboard content at a level of quality that is somewhat similar to the Gear VR. We have been testing it with the Samsung Galaxy S6 phone, and can assure you it works quite well. They haven’t released the S6 sized tray yet, but you can always get one 3d printed with the CAD file for it.