Yes, you can have a View-Master with your virtual reality

The re-vamped View-Master for VR from Mattel, and one of the scenic discs that accompany it
The re-vamped View-Master for VR from Mattel, and one of the scenic discs that accompany it (image: Mattel Inc.)

Alongside all the the news and hype surrounding VR in 2014, there were a lot of witty / dour comments relating to the old Mattel View-Master system, and how people would prefer to have that, rather than strapping a plastic brick to their forehead.

Well, it looks like the laugh might be on those cracking such jokes, as Mattel have announced that the View-Master brand is to be revamped as a virtual reality headset system utilising Google Cardboard software.

Announcing the move at the New York City Toy Fair, which opened to the public in – wait for it – New York City on February 14th, 2015, Mattel’s Senior Vice President of Global Brands, Doug Wadleigh said the aim of the partnership is “to create the View-Master brand for the next 75 years,” and offer kids the chance to have “a collectible they can keep in their room.”

The iconic View-Master has been through many iterations during it 75-year history
The iconic View-Master has been through many iterations during it 75-year history, but has always had the same basic functionality (image: doyouremember.co.uk)

The original View-Master, which incredibly celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2014, was once a staple part of many children’s toy boxes. With it, kids could load circular reels of 3D images into a hand-held, binocular-like device with a lever on the side which is used to flip through the pictures, providing the user with a stereoscopic views of landmarks, scenery, historic events, and so on.

The new system announced at the NYC toy fair retains much of this original functionality. It comprises a hand-held  device into which a mobile phone running the Cardboard software can be fitted.

Like the original, it is designed to use special scene “reels”; only rather than being placed in the unit, the disc-like reels are placed on a flat surface in front of the user. When viewed through the device, they generate AR-style navigational environments which the user then “enters”. This allows, for example, the key locations in a virtual “tour” to be visualised AR-style, and then individual locations within the tour selected and viewed immersively, with additional information on sights and locations being provided by pop-up text boxes.

In actual fact, the “reels” are optional, if people prefer, they will be able to download the immersive experiences directly to their smartphone for us with the new View-Master. However, the reels are being provided to maintain the “collectible” aspect of the original View-Master system, which Mattel see as an additional selling-point for the system. They plan to grow the range of available reels over time to provide many different types of experience, some of which – in a possibly canny move – might be built around the company’s other products.

For example, Mattel is already talking in terms of a video shot from within one of their “Hot Wheels” toy cars as it races through a “Hot Wheels” track, putting the person watching “behind the wheel” of the car.

Commenting further on the re-vamp, Wadleigh said, “The View-Master was first introduced in 1939, giving consumers access to spectacular 3D worlds by simply selecting a reel and looking through a device. By working with Google’s Cardboard platform, we are now able to take that experience even further, bringing the discovery and immersive viewing experience of the View-Master to the digital age.”

Google are also delighted with this further move into a broader VR presence for Cardboard, which comes hard on the heels of LG launching their VR for G3 virtual reality headset. Commenting on the partnership with Mattel, which doesn’t include any licensing arrangement or revenue sharing for Google, Cardboard Product Director Mike Jazayeri, said in a press release, “We developed Google Cardboard as an open platform to inspire companies like Mattel to rethink how to deliver new user experiences through technology. Many of us on the Google Cardboard team grew up playing with View-Master, so we were excited to collaborate with Mattel and to see the viewer evolve and work with Google Cardboard.”

The new View-Master is due to go on sale from autumn 2015 at a suggested price of $29.99 (£19.50) for the headset (sans smartphone), and the company hope to have it available for both Android handsets and iPhones. One image disc will be supplied with the device, and additional discs will be sold at $14.99 (£9.75) each.

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