I spent some time testing out the Merge Virtual Reality (VR) Goggles over the past few days. These goggles are an interesting way to get started with virtual reality, and I’ll describe my experience while trying to use them with various VR media.
Disclaimer: These goggles were provided by the manufacturer free of charge, but we are providing an honest review that is not influenced by the manufacturer or anyone else. Now on to the review.
(No time to read the whole review? Then jump straight to our Conclusion)
First of all I’m no VR expert – in fact I’ve never used any type of VR hardware before at all. So my review is coming from the point of view of a true novice, who is most likely the target market for these goggles.
There are two general classes of VR hardware available:
- VR goggles that use a smartphone inserted in them to provide the visual experience. These are less expensive, usually well under $100. The most basic of these is the Google Cardboard.
- Dedicated hardware like Oculus, Gear VR or Vive. The full VR experience with these products can cost from $200 to $1500
The Merge VR Goggles are clearly a step up from the simplistic Google Cardboard goggles, with the following features:
- They are made from a comfortable foam material, as opposed to, well, cardboard
- Secure and comfortable head straps
- Adjustable lens controls
- On-screen Smartphone controls
- Anti-fog vents
- Support for camera operation during usage
360 VR Media Selection
Regardless of what model of VR goggles you use you need a source of 360 degree VR media to view. I found that the quality of this media was a big factor in my enjoyment of the goggles.
I started with the Merge website Vrstart.com, as suggested by the product packaging. This site lists a selection of Apps and YouTube videos that support VR viewing. This website is a convenient starting point, but this is not the only way to find VR-supported media. E.g. You can go directly to YouTube.com and search for 360 enabled videos.
I had a range of experiences with the Merge VR Goggles, to some extent driven by the quality of the media I tried. But for now let me stick to the goggles themselves.
The first issue I ran into is that my personal phone is a little too small to work in these goggles. I have an older Samsung Galaxy S4. So I had to borrow an S5 from a family member for this testing. So if you want to buy these goggles make sure you have a more recent smartphone (within the past two years).
Inserting the phone was a bit difficult – it was a tight squeeze. This often caused me to press a button accidentally on the phone which forced me to take the phone out and get back into the proper mode. It took a while to figure out how to insert and then later remove the phone from the goggles without pushing a stray button. Once the phone was inserted properly I was good to go.
The adjustable lenses worked quite well. They allowed me to set them just right for a sharp viewing experience.
The control buttons were useful, but only for certain media. When experiencing 360-enabled YouTube videos a button press would allow us to control the video (pause, restart, mute). When using the Google Streetview app we were able to move our position by pressing the buttons. But other media did not seem to react to the buttons, so these were not as rewarding to experience.
I tried a couple of free apps but I was not particularly impressed. One app would not run on my Samsung S5. Another app was of surprisingly low quality. Also the goggle control buttons did not seem to do much good with the apps. I’m sure if I tried some more apps I’d find some that I liked. Although there is one I did like …
Google Streetview App
I really liked this app. There are two kinds of media available here: user-submitted 360-degree photos, and Google Streetview scenes. The Streetview scenes allow you to walk through international tourist destinations, like Amsterdam and Rome. All of the media that I watched is high-resolution and very sharp. Once I’m done writing this review this is the first app I’m going to go back to since the opportunities are almost endless.
I enjoyed watching 360-enabled YouTube videos on the goggles. The goggle controls allowed us to start and stop the video and to adjust the volume. There is a huge variety of high resolution 360-enabled videos on YouTube so this source of VR media alone may be worth the price of admission.
Considering that this is our first VR viewing experience we enjoyed using these goggles. They are somewhat higher priced than the bare-bones Google Cardboard, but far less expensive than dedicated hardware. Plus the foam construction is certain to last longer than cardboard. Using these goggles with certain media is a very rewarding, and as an entry-level selection we give a THUMBS UP to the Merge VR Goggles.