Anyone who has tried an Oculus or Vive VR headsets knows that VR is an awesome technology whose time has finally come. The problem is that it’s very expensive to have a go at that sweet PC-powered VR experience and no such thing as a truly cheap VR headset.
How expensive? There have been many estimates, but you are looking at $2000 in total ownership cost easily.
What if it was possible to make a cheap VR headset yourself to connect to a PC?
The hype surrounding the premium VR headsets have inspired a wave of cheap mobile-phone powered VR products. Basically, these are plastic headset cases which use the hardware and screen from your smartphone to provide the computer imagery.
These can range from a moderately pricey product such as the Samsung Gear VR to $10 cardboard cases inspired by the Google Cardboard project. Whatever system you use, you still have to contend with relatively weak hardware. Compared to a good mid-range PC of course.
It’s now possible, thanks to a clever piece of software called Trinus VR, to make your own cheap VR headset.
So how does it work? Well, there are two pieces of software at work. One is on your computer and the other is an app on your phone.
Using either USB or WiFi, rendered images from the computer are sent to the phone’s screen. Motion data from the phone’s sensors are then, in turn, sent back to the computer for head-tracking.
The software acts as a bridge between these devices and basically lets almost any VR app think it’s running on something much more expensive. Even apps that have no VR mode can be used with Trinus’ “pseudo” VR mode.
What You Need
In order to complete this project, you need the following:
- A recent iPhone or Android phone with at least Snapdragon 800 performance
- A PC with a 4th-generation i5 CPU and GPU suitable for the VR software you want to run
- A wireless AC router with the PC connected by ethernet or a long USB cable.
- A mobile VR headset, at least a Google Cardboard with head straps
- The Trinus client and the demo version of the app.
Yes, the full version of Trinus does cost money, but you don’t have to pay anything to see what it’s like or if it works. It’s certainly hundreds of times less expensive than an Oculus!
Step Into Our World
Getting everything working can be a little tricky, but once you have the basic steps down you should get your cheap VR headset going in minutes. We’ll be going over the major steps, but there are some options that are going to apply only to certain people using certain programs.
Trinus is pretty intuitive and there’s lots of good documentation, however, so you should have no issue figuring out specific settings.
Step 1: Install it All
The first step is pretty obvious and pretty easy. First, head to the Trinus website and download the PC client. Then install it on your phone either by going to your relevant app store or directly via a link from the Trinus download page.
Step 2: Run Trinus
Start off by starting the PC client.
Step 3: Run the App
Now start up the app on your phone.
Step 4: Check the Settings
Since this is the first time you’re running Trinus you have to adjust some basic settings.
The first and most important setting is the type of head mount you have. This will influence how Trinus displays the picture and if the optics in the head mount will work properly. If your specific mount is not on the list you can experiment with similar ones or put in custom details.
It shouldn’t be necessary to go over every last setting now but do take the time to read up on what they do. For now, we just want to make sure that it all works. Fine-tuning can come later.
Step 5: Choose Your Connection
You can connect Trinus through your WiFi router, directly through a hotspot or with a USB cable.
The best performance is from a USB cable, but it can be tricky to get working depending on the USB driver for your specific phone.
The easiest setup is to connect the PC to the router with an ethernet cable and connect the phone to the WiFi network. That usually gives the best mix of ease and performance. On top of that, having no cable makes things much more comfortable.
Step 6: Start it Up
Click on the “power” both in the app and on the PC client and the connection should be established. The picture on your phone will chance to a side-by-side image of whatever’s your currently active window.
Step 7: Run Your VR App
Now you’re ready to start up the app you want to use. In this case, I’m using The Elder Scrolls Skyrim, which does not have native VR. So we’re making use of the “fake VR” feature.
Step 8: Saddle Up
If everything on-screen seems right, you can slip the phone into the headset and put it on.
Free Your Mind with a Cheap VR Headset
Obviously, the demo version will only run for a few minutes, but it will allow you to fine tune everything and make sure that this is a setup that actually works for you.
Remember, although this is going to be better than plain mobile VR, this is still a cheap VR headset. It’s not going to compare to an Oculus, but you may be surprised at how close you can get for only a few dollars.
This is a good way to dip into VR. There are quite a few reasons why you might want to hold off buying an expensive headset. Rather create your own cheap VR headset and make sure you really know you want to make the investment.
Lead Image Public Domain via Pixabay
All Screenshots by Kees Friesland