Quick and Dirty Impressions: Jakku Spy and Google Cardboard Drops you in the GFFA

A little earlier this week, I got a nifty surprise courtesy of Lucasfilm and Verizon: a set of four Star Wars-themed Google Cardboard viewers. I’ve been reading about this initiative from Google for a while. The Virtual Reality scene seems poised to explode, with development initiatives such as Occulus VR and Samsung Gear VR aiming to bring the science fiction future we’ve been dreaming about since Tron to your home.

Kylo, BB-8, Stormtrooper, and Artoo designs

Kylo, BB-8, Stormtrooper, and Artoo designs

Google Cardboard is, far and away, the most affordable and accessible option for folks who want to see what all the fuss is about. Essentially, these are modern Viewmasters. You know, those plastic binocular looking things that you shoved the little paper discs with film into? Similar idea here, except instead of paper discs, you slide your smartphone in. And it’s on steroids. You’ll see what I mean.

The Front. If you lift the lip (which is held on by velcro), the slot you slide your smartphone into opens up.

The Front. If you lift the lip (which is held on by velcro), the slot you slide your smartphone into opens up.

The back, where the glass optics are that provide the 3D experience

The back, where the glass optics are that provide the 3D experience

Why did Verizon send me this? Well, this week Lucasfilm introduced a new feature to the Star Wars app that was born in the ILM xLAB. Jakku Spy is an immersive, 3D adventure that’s part of the leadup to The Force Awakens. If you have the app downloaded on your phone, you can download new Jakku Spy videos that release every few days.

Within the app itself, you have the choice between playing the video in Google Cardboard mode, or just viewing it on your smartphone. Trust me, you’re going to want to head to your Verizon store to pick up one of these (if you’re a Verizon customer), or head to Amazon and hand them over a measly $12 to try this.

Once the video is downloaded, select the mode you want to play it in, tap the video, and follow the directions on screen to insert the phone into your Google Cardboard viewer. The first video starts by dumping you right in the middle of a star field where you see the classic Star Wars text scroll, then takes you to Jakku. If you’re not impressed yet, you will be after you move your head around and head tracking shows you this is a 360 degree video environment you’re in.

That’s right, you’re on Jakku and you can look around at your environment in stereoscopic 3D.

How exactly does this work? Well, it’s remarkably clever. Take a look at this screenshot from my phone from the video released today:

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The screen itself is split into two slightly different video segments. The perspective between the two is just different enough to create a stereoscopic 3D effect. The glass optics in the Cardboard viewer isolates what image each eye sees (similar to the glasses you use at a movie theater), which allows your brain to see the environment in surprisingly immersive 3D. Turn your head, the video turns with you. Turn in a circle, the video turns in a circle. It’s constantly following your movements.

As of right now, there are only two Jakku Spy videos that have been uploaded, but I can promise you that there’s tons of replay value just by rewinding to spot little details all around you that you might have missed. It’s shockingly delightful and fun. Both Nanci and I had grins on our faces we couldn’t wipe off as we were transported from star field to Jakku. If this is just a taste of what the ILM xLAB is up to, we’re in for some great treats moving forward.

Note: Thank you to Verizon for providing us with the Google Cardboard sets to try.

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