Virtual Reality

Jill and I enjoyed “Ready Player One” at the theater last week. We didn’t set a very high bar for its plot (and we weren’t disappointed), but the idea of wearing a VR system and interacting with other people in an imaginary world really caught my interest. I’ve also been watching the anime “Gun Gale Online” (a spinoff of “Sword Art Online“) that has a similar concept about donning a headset and becoming a different person in a different place. I believe that VR is the future of how people are going to interact with computers, and I think we’re only now seeing the very start of the technology that’s going to do it.

And I want to get in on it.

The three major VR systems available these days are PlayStation VR ($200 and requires a $300 PS4), Oculus Rift ($400, best suited for sitting in front of a gaming PC with an Xbox gamepad), and HTC Vive ($500, best suited for a room with a dedicated gaming PC and a 3×3 meter space to move around in). Looks like Apple plans to get into the game, too. I’m leaning toward the Vive, but any of these are a nontrivial chunk of money for a technology that’s still in its early stages. So I was wondering if there were any way to get a taste of this on the cheap…

And of course there is. Run VRidge on an Android phone and SteamVR on a PC, and the phone becomes a VR display. Mount the phone in a Google Cardboard headset, and you’ve got a poor man’s VR system.

But I don’t know anything about Android. I have Jill’s old Galaxy S2 that I played with some years ago, but it can’t run anything recent. So I did my research and decided I want a phone that can run LineageOS (formerly “CyanogenMod”), a vanilla distribution of Android that’s available for a wide variety of phones. It can be used to update a phone beyond the version of Android that the vendor has made available, and it doesn’t include any of the cruft that vendors put on their phones. The basic smartphone that the LineageOS community recommends these days is a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, which is largely a clone of an iPhone 8 Plus but which sells for $169.

I ordered it from Amazon and had it in my hands on Monday. Before I can install LineageOS on it, though, I need to unlock it, which is a two-step process. First I needed to request unlock permission from Xiaomi by filling out a form on their web site and telling them why I wanted to do this. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I found my way through the Chinese site to the English-language forms (full of warnings about all the scary things that could happen to my phone if I removed the vendor’s original software from it) and figured out what they want. They responded almost immediately by granting permission to my account.

Tuesday night I associated my new phone with my Xiaomi account, launched the unlock app, and ran into the second step of the process: the unlocker told me “Couldn’t Unlock – After 72 hours of trying to unlock the device”. A few minutes of digging through the message boards explained that this means I need to wait 72 hours after linking my phone with my account until I’ll be able to unlock it, and there’s no practical way around this time limit. So I’ll wait!

Tomorrow I’ll unlock the phone and put Android Nougat onto it, and start getting familiar with how it works, and set up the VR stuff. And I also found something called QooApp that’ll let me install Asian games on it such as the Uta Macross rhythm game that I’ve been wanting to play (but not enough to create a Japanese iTunes account with a fake Japanese address, which is what I’d need to do on my iPhone).

This weekend shall be epic.

1 thought on “Virtual Reality”

  1. Pingback: More adventures in virtual reality | enchanter

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