The NOON VR Headset; VR Goes Mobile
The future of virtual reality looks bright. The first purpose-built consumer VR headsets are coming onto the market over the next six months, and PC users have been promised a whole new world of interactivity. Yet big advancements are also being made on the mobile side, with new devices that take advantage of the better processors and high-res displays of the latest smartphones to give you VR on the go. But with the big divide in computing power between desktops and smartphones, are we ready for mobile VR? The Noon VR is an attempt to answer that question.
Virtual reality headsets use a pair of lenses to focus the viewer’s eyes on a screen a few inches from their face, and display a separate image per eye to give the user the perception of looking in three dimensions. Head tracking is also important for VR, and while desktop versions such as the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift use separate cameras to track your movement and adjust the image accordingly, the Noon VR and other mobile VR devices use your phone’s gyroscope to accomplish that feat.
Unlike the Samsung-only Gear VR, the Noon is compatible with many kinds of smartphones including Android and iOS devices ranging from 4.7 inches to 5.7 inches in size. The front protector cover snaps off easily to allow you to insert your phone, and a flexible band secures it in place. One nice addition is the rotatable clips on the bottom of the device, which allow you to secure smaller smartphones in place while still leaving room for larger ones.
Unfortunately, with the protective cover installed you have very little access to the buttons or ports on your phone. This is presumably because the Noon is designed to work with multiple smartphones with different outputs, but it could be a problem for some users.
With your phone installed the 230-gram Noon feels surprisingly heavy—the next version could stand to slim down and lighten up, especially for those who want to travel. Worse, the uncomfortable rubber and foam that surrounds the headset doesn’t do enough to offset the weight. Much of it ends up on your nose—and the thin padding and small opening mean the headset isn’t usable for longer sessions.
Mobile VR is taxing on smartphones, and the Noon headset has plenty of cutouts to let excess heat escape. That’s a nice feature, but some of the cutouts can let in light in bright environments. That isn’t great for creating a sense of immersion. In all, the design of the headset itself probably needs to go back to the drawing board.
The lenses on the Noon are quite good, with a wide viewing angle of 95 degrees and a focus dial that made it easy to avoid eye fatigue. One issue with the lenses, however, was dust—particles remained even after cleaning, and that could lead to problems of dust build-up in the future.
The Noon app, which we tested on Android, works well and has intuitive controls. The bigger issue is a lack of content—something that speaks to the paucity of VR content in general in these early days. Yet the recommended content in the Noon app is all user-created. Samsung has purpose-built demos for the Gear VR, and it would be nice if Noon had done the same. Thankfully there are other apps available, such as VRSE, with more professional content and outstanding quality. Latency and resolution were only okay, but that’s down to the phone you use, not the quality of the headset.
Mobile virtual reality will be a big deal, it’s just not quite a big deal yet. The Noon VR headset needs to be improved, but it points the way to an interesting world that many companies are exploring. It certainly won't be a replacement for PC-based VR anytime soon though.
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