Most major VR headset makers might have stamped 13+ age recommendations on their products, but you can bet there are going to be a lot of younger children that still put one on their Christmas lists this year. If I was a smarter man that I am, then, I might have been the first to get permission from DC to slap a Bat-symbol onto the front of a moderately cheap smartphone-based headset and ship it out in time for the holiday season. Sadly, Skyrocket beat me to it.
The electronic entertainment company is releasing two headsets this season, one themed after Batman and another after Jurassic World, both recommended for ages eight and up. Both work as you’d expect, supporting a range of Android and iOS phones that slot in front of a pair of lenses with the phone’s gyroscopes allowing you to rotate your head in a virtual world, but not physically move it through space. Interestingly, both also come with themed motion controllers and — even better — free VR games based on their respective brands that activate when said controller is connected to your phone.
We’ll get to the Batman app in another article but, for now, let’s take a look at the caped crusader’s very own headset. At $69.99, you might consider it a stocking filler for the younger Bat-fan in your family, but the shoddy overall experience letdown by lackluster optics would lead us to recommend better, cheaper alternatives much sooner.
The Batman headset is made from a strong plastic with a leather-like lining for your face and tightly elasticated head straps. It’s important to point out that the headset is designed for smaller heads; the bridge of my nose was pushed up against the area carved out for it and even at their loosest, the straps felt much tighter than I would use on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. That said, it was never unbearably uncomfortable and I wore it for up to 30 minutes without huge issues. Two sliders at the top allow you to adjust the distance between the lenses and your eyes.
Your phone is held in place on a tray that slides out of the front of the kit with a clamp that keeps it held in place. You’ll need to position your volume buttons on the bottom of the tray or the clamp will press down onto them. Your phone will be held securely inside the kit with several layers of plastic that should take the shock if it gets dropped, though I wouldn’t make it a habit. A vent to one side gives the phone some air and allows you to plug in headphones.
Overall the build quality gets the job done without going the extra mile. Crucially, it feels like a toy; a lump of plastic that you won’t be as protective over as a Rift, Vive, or even the premium Daydream View and Gear VR mobile headsets. It’s something a group of kids could easily pass around and you wouldn’t have to worry too much about and bangs and knocks it received along the way. That said, the nature of VR itself means you should never leave them entirely unmonitored or let them play for long stretches of time. If you’re an older Bat-fan hoping for state of the art design worthy of Wayne Enterprises, though, that’s not what you’re getting here.
The controller, meanwhile, comes out of the box looking like a shorter, chunkier Wii Remote. Using two AAA batteries, it’s got a power button, trigger, home button and an A button. Instead of the trackpad seen on the Daydream or Gear controllers, there’s a simple d-pad like you’d find on an Xbox or PlayStation gamepad. There’s also a wrist strap, which feels especially essential given the target audience.
The Batarang casing seen in the pictures fits like a shell over the top of the controller but doesn’t serve any real function. Though I haven’t tried the Jurassic World headset, it appears that the controller is identical. Within the Batman app, the controller didn’t appear as it would in a Daydream or Gear VR experience, instead only used to simulate throwing a Batarang with a flick of a wrist, while aiming was based on where I was looking. This leads me to question just how advanced the motion sensing was, though I doubt a child would raise the same queries.
Blind As A Bat
While the design of the device itself might seem suitable for children, I was pretty disappointed with the experience it offered. I don’t have specifics on the headset’s stats, but it had a noticeably smaller field of view (FOV) than any VR headset I’ve used in recent memory (including standard Cardboard kits), and was strangely framed so that the screen appears more like a box several centimeters in front of you. It felt like I was looking into an obtrusive window to another reality rather than actually stepping foot into these new worlds and doesn’t even begin to communicate the true power of the immersiveness of VR.
In fact, after playing in the headset for an hour, I took the phone out of the tray and instead placed it in my Daydream View. This made a world of difference, and I could start enjoying the Batman game as if I were actually immersed in it. It’s a shame the app isn’t available for other headsets without the motion controller.
Again, your child may not have much concern for what’s an otherwise glaring issue for VR enthusiasts and older audiences, but it does give pause for thought. For $19.99, a whole $50 less than this kit, you can get Mattel’s View-Master Starter Pack, designed with Google’s help and offering a far more immersive experience and AR support to boot. Crucially, View-Master also has its own age-appropriate Batman VR app and there are countless other dinosaur-themed VR apps you could enjoy on the platform, which negates the importance of these ‘exclusives’.
Though its build quality might mean children can use the VRSE Batman headset without much concern for damage to the headset or smartphone, the list of positives pretty much ends there. A kid in love with Batman or Jurassic World might be oblivious to the limitations of this hardware, but there are less expensive and higher quality headsets available that offer a similar VR experience. Not to mention a system with problematic optics like these is probably not the type of thing you’d want to let a child enjoy for any length of time, let alone unsupervised.