Mattel hopes mixing nostalgia and virtual reality will hit pay dirt with shoppers this fall. The company has partnered with Google to bestow its age-old View-Master stereoscopic picture machine with Google's Cardboard VR technology.
The result is a new viewer that does a lot more than display 3-D images.
Mattel originally unveiled the first View-Master at the 1939 New York World's Fair, according to USA Today. The new View-Master was revealed at New York's annual Toy Fair today, on Feb. 13. The original device relied on circular reels with images running around the outer rim. Users inserted the reel into the viewer and pressed a lever to advance from one image to the next. Looking into the viewer revealed 3-D pictures, which were often culled from popular culture, including movies. The new View-Master uses an Android smartphone instead of the old-school reels.
Google first debuted Cardboard at is I/O developer conference last year.
Cardboard is a virtual reality viewer that, as the name implies, is made from Cardboard. It includes special lenses and a slot for holding an Android smartphone. Paired with Google Cardboard apps from the Google Play Store, users can explore 360-degree landscapes and scenery. It's a masterful combination of low- and high-tech. There are about 200 Google Cardboard apps in the Play Store today. Mattel's new View-Master will work with these apps.
Mattel isn't giving up on the reels entirely.
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With the new VR-enabled viewer, "experience reels" are part of the ecosystem. These reels give people the opportunity to explore places such as Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, or to walk on the moon and fly through the solar system. People will be able to move their heads to explore different landscapes and environments. Mattel didn't explain exactly how the reels work. They aren't inserted into the device; instead, they're placed nearby. The system requires the viewer, a phone, and the reels to work fully.
"It's a strange hybrid of a system, combining 360-degree photos, computer-animated environments, textual overlays, and tiny square original View-Master images," explains The Verge, which spent time with the new View-Master. "The reels are standard augmented-reality fiduciaries, which bring up virtual icons when you look through the headset and get close enough to them."
The Cardboard-infused View-Master will reach stores this fall. The viewer will cost $29.99 and three-packs of reels (i.e., content) will cost $14.99.
Mattel's move underscores the race to provide more immersive entertainment. Earlier this week, LG announced plans to ship a Cardboard-based viewer with its own G3 smartphone. Samsung has been working on a Galaxy Note 4-based viewer for months. Google's own Cardboard efforts continue to attract attention from developers, as well.
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