I first came across the Merge VR Goggles at this year’s E3 thanks to a meeting I had with the founder of the company, Franklin Lyons, who introduced the portable VR goggles to me with a few radical demos. I was instantly impressed with the device and realized its potential as an entry level VR solution immediately, and looked forward to getting more time with the goggles before they released publicly.
That time is nigh, so I’ve spent the past week putting the Merge VR Goggles through the virtual reality paces, and my opinion of it remains unchanged. This mobile VR solution is extremely impressive, and easily rivals a few of the much more expensive and tethered devices that have been showcased in the blossoming VR space. What’s even better is that it only requires you to have a device that you probably already own, a compatible iOS or Android smartphone (models made within the past two years are generally supported), so the barrier to entry is extremely low when compared to the high-end goggles that snag most of today’s VR headlines.
Its lightweight foam design provides for a super comfortable viewing experience, as well as giving the goggles a level of ruggedness that other VR goggles simply don’t offer. It’s like wearing a soft and squishy Nerf ball on your face, so it doesn’t feel nearly as heavy as the Oculus Rift while wearing it. This allows for longer sessions with the device before any sort of fatigue sets in, and makes the sometimes jarring VR experience much more comfortable overall.
The foam design also makes the Merge VR Goggles ultra-portable and safe from harmful drops, scuffs, and other damage that can occur while transporting a device in your backpack. While I wouldn’t recommend it, but you could technically use the Merge VR Goggles as an actual Nerf ball, that’s how durable they are thanks to the foam design.
In addition to the unique foam design, the Merge VR Goggles also feature another innovation for mobile VR goggles, which is the inclusion of two buttons on the top of the goggles. When pressed these buttons can interact with your phone’s screen, effectively giving VR app developers additional inputs to work with when designing apps for mobile devices.
They’ve already come in handy on a few of the apps I tested that required a touch of the screen to start. Rather than having to pull my phone out of the headset to start the app’s experience, I just hit the buttons on the goggles to proceed to the next screen. When you consider that the Merge VR Goggles require apps running on your phone that typically need some sort of touch interaction to begin, the built-in buttons can save a lot of time by not requiring you to pull your phone in and out of the device every time you start a new VR app.
In terms of rendering a coherent VR experience, the Merge VR Goggles are on par with the other VR goggles I’ve used, which include the Oculus Rift and the PlayStation VR. You can easily adjust the lenses to ensure your pupils are lined up to create a seamless image, which allows the mind to immerse itself in the experience without making your eyes feel cross-eyed, or always having to squint.
The image quality itself is somewhat dependent on the app, because the VR apps don’t run natively in the Merge VR Goggles, they run on your device, which means they’re typically in HD resolution. With that being said, the lenses do distort the overall image a bit to create the virtual reality effect, so it’s not like you’re looking at pristine HD imagery, but if the app is designed correctly, the experience is pretty top notch.
I’ve found VR games or simulated thrill ride experiences to look the best, with the Cedar Point VR, Roller Coaster, Crazy Swing, and InMind VR apps being stand outs among the plethora of VR apps I’ve tested with the Merge VR Goggles. Although, the Paul McCartney virtual concert, and Google’s Street View apps also provide pretty solid looking virtual reality visuals. What’s more important though is that all of the above mentioned apps, and most of the others I tested, all managed to suck me into their respective environments, making for a very immersive virtual reality experience with the Merge VR Goggles.
Outside of the gaming and tech communities, not many other people have come in contact with all of these new VR goggles popping up in both industries, so to get feedback from fresh minds, I took the Merge VR Goggles to a kid’s birthday party for everyone to try. This allowed me to get feedback from people without having previous VR experiences to cloud their judgment, and it was invaluable in regards to the selling potential of the Merge VR Goggles.
Let’s just say that the goggles became the hit of the party, and had kids and adults lining up to check them out even though there was plenty of Halloween candy, birthday presents, food, and adult beverages to keep everyone entertained. The reactions from the kids were priceless. It felt like watching someone discover sight for the first time as their mouths would drop, and cries of, “Oh wow this is neat!” would ring out every time someone new put the goggles on. The adults weren’t much different, in fact their reactions were more along the lines of shock, because I don’t think many of them really thought the goggles could pull off the VR experiences I was telling them about.
There are two downsides to the Merge VR Goggles though, as well as other smartphone enabled goggles, but they’re not really in the hands of the goggle manufacturers. The first issue is app navigation on the smartphone itself. The only way to change to a new app is to pull your phone out, kill the current app, launch the new app, and then when it’s ready, quickly jam it back into the goggles so you don’t miss much of the experience. When you factor in the ability to hook up a wired headset to your phone, this process can get cumbersome as you have to weave the device in and out of the headset each time you switch apps.
In an ideal VR app world I would appreciate some sort of hub app that can house all of the other VR apps you have installed in one location or library. This way you could use head tracking, or the built-in buttons on the Merge VR Goggles to switch apps, therefore not needing to pull your phone out each time you want to change things up. The Merge VR Goggles are supposed to have a complimentary motion controller at some point in time, so it too could possibly be used to switch between apps like the Wii-mote can do on Nintendo’s consoles.
The other issue I found with the Merge VR Goggles is that they do solely rely on app developers to create content, which quite frankly could be said about all of the emerging VR goggles. This leads to both crappy and stellar experiences being shipped, but it also can lead to a potential drought of content. If app developers don’t see VR as a profitable venture, they won’t keep developing apps for devices that can take advantage of the gimmick, which in turn would make the Merge VR’s library of available experiences limited. I don’t see that happening in the near future, because VR is all the rage these days, but if the fad dies off, many of these goggles will be rendered useless.
If getting into VR is on your mind, but investing hundreds of dollars into the experience is preventing you from going all in, then I strongly recommend looking into the Merge VR Goggles, which only cost a very reasonable $79. The cost is more than fair for the types of experiences the goggles can introduce to your entertainment life. You can play games, visit far off lands from the comfort of your home, or watch concerts on stage with the talent. The Merge VR Goggles also support AR (alternate reality) experiences, which allow you to see projected images in the real world (think R2-D2 playing a message for Ben Kenobi) thanks to the removable window on the front of the goggles. This particular mobile VR solution is a gem, and the experiences it can provide rival those found on much more expensive VR devices, so if you want to take a dive headfirst into the VR revolution, I recommend doing so with the Merge VR Goggles strapped to your noggin.
I’ve also provided a curated list of VR apps to check out down below if you do take the plunge with Merge VR. All links are for the App Store version of the apps, but many should also be on Google Play.
YouTube also has a nice selection of VR/360 degree videos to use with the goggles too. Try the one for The Hunger Games.
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Review Statement: The author of this review received the VR goggles from the manufacturer for the purposes of this review.