We’re still in the opening days of the VR revolution; PlayStation VR is coming this fall, and both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have found audiences across the country. I’ve already reviewed a couple of VR headsets; I own an Oculus Rift 1 SDK, and I’ve taken a some of the phone-based headsets for a spin, including the cheap-but-lacklustre Google Cardboard. The latest to come across my desk is NOON VR. It’s not actually spelled NOON, it’s N-infinity symbol-N, but we’re going to call it Noon for the sake of our sanity. How is it for getting VR out of your phone? Read on to find out.
Unboxing the Noon
The packaging for the NOON is pretty straightforward: slide the top off the box and meet NOON. It’s lighter than most of the other headsets I’ve held; one of the reasons that I can see for that is that the whole front comes off, allowing you to use the rubberized band to snap your phone into place.
There are a few things I like about this: it means I don’t have to take my iPhone 6 out of the leather case that I bought for it from Apple, and it’s much easier to get the phone in and out when you want to. The “toaster” style slots where you slide your phone in seem like they’re asking for trouble to me.
The rubber band sets the phone quite securely, and the NOON-branded plastic fascia fits over it quite comfortably. This highlights one of the first limitations of this (and other phone-based VR Headsets): notably that they are designed for 4.7” phone screens. That means that despite the affirmation “Any Smartphone” there are going to be models that simply don’t fit. Your mileage may vary, and check the NOON website or the Best Buy forums to see if your phone is compatible before you take the plunge.
Putting it on
Similar to the rubber band used to secure your phone, the headset uses a seres of elastic bands with Velcro to fit over your head. There are three adjustment points: one beside each ear, and another by the crown of your head. The device is light, made mostly of plastic, so these bands slide easily when you need to adjust them. I found the best fit was achieved by putting the device on, then adjusting the straps while wearing it.
The way it works is similar to all of the other phone-VR headsets: there are two fresnel lenses inside the headset, adjusting the image to make it comfortable for stereoscopic 3D for our eyes. The phone’s software splits an image into two, allowing you to get that 3D effect. It uses your phone’s gyroscope sensor to orient the image to where you’re looking; one of the best features of the NOON is the ability to recalibrate it by tapping once on the back of the phone, or to go to the control panel by tapping twice. You can do this in real time even while you’re consuming content on the headset; it’ll re-orient based on where you’re looking at the time.
There is foam around the nose and eye-piece, and this is where my major issue with the headset is: it’s not that comfortable for me to use for long periods of time. I have a small ridge of bone above my eye sockets; it’s a fairly common identifiable trait for Irish Canadians. The plastic of the NOON is relatively unforgiving for that forehead shape, despite the foam. If I were to use this for long periods of time I would need to add some padding up there.
Which might not be an issue; NOON recommends you don’t use this unit for more than 20 minutes at a time, suggesting that your vision might fail temporarily if used for long stints. A slight amount of vertigo when watching some of the sample videos combined with the tough plastic up top probably means I’d max out at 20 minutes anyway.
The NOON App experience
VR is mostly about content though, so what is NOON doing to give you access to stuff? The NOON app is an interesting phenomenon; in an era when everyone is working hard to give VR content away, NOON has a 5-device activation limit on their app. This must be tied into licensing for some reason as I can’t think of a customer-friendly reason to have this limit; it seems like it will be a customer service nightmare for them as they eventually have to support people who bought new phones, have more than five members in their family, or who like to share the VR experience with their friends. Honestly this app limitation is boneheaded and it needs to go.
Getting into the app gives you access to watching your videos from your photo roll in a projection-booth style of VR, where it’s put out there with a 3D effect in a virtual 3D space. Interesting, but not a killer app.
There’s also a whole host of videos starring what appear to be b-movie actors in weird story vignettes. These stories are predominantly horror-ish; the first one I watched puts you in the place of a patient on a gurney waking up in a hospital with a soft-spoken nurse who promptly leaves the room, kills someone (you can see the shadow and she comes back with blood on her American Psych-style poncho) and says “you’re next”…what I’m trying to get across here is that the content doesn’t appear to be that appropriate for younger children.
There are no games in the NOON app, which surprises me, as games are the dominant vector for delivering a VR experience. I was really surprised by this. That said, games do work with this headset.
I had a great deal of difficulty trying to adjust the view so that it was in focus all of the time, which I believe is a problem with my eyes; that said, there aren’t any individual lens adjustments that can be made, so if you do have some vision issues this may not be the headset for you.
All in all, it’s light, it’s easy to adjust from a fit perspective, and it does the best job of quickly and conveniently seating your phone. For me, the lack of included content and too-thin padding on the forehead portion makes it less appealing, but those issues may not matter to you. I would recommend that the NOON be on your list of VR headsets to consider; see if it’s right for you before your pull the trigger and buy one.