One minute the world was normal and the next it had a trippy depth that made me want to see more. Thankfully, this wasn't the result of any psychedelic drugs. Instead it was all thanks to Elsewhere, a newly released iOS-exclusive app that, when paired with a special pair of lenses, can turn any video or screen into an augmented or virtual reality experience.
The glasses, which have a slot cradle your smartphone, cost $50 with a QR code for the app printed on an included sheet.
The app is fairly straightforward that consists of two modes: AR and VR. In AR mode, you look at the world through your smartphone's camera. Paired with the lenses, everything in the conference room around me seemed to gain another dimension. When I watched the intro to the 1980's version of He-Man on a computer screen, Adam seemed to pop off the screen, as did the lightning effects as he began his transformation into the titular character.
The effect is even stronger when looking in a mirror. Elsewhere gave the Purch ladies' room bathroom mirror an eerie liquid quality, complete with realistic ripples when I worked up the courage to touch the glass. It's fun, but a little disconcerting. Elsewhere also allows viewers to adjust the contrast and 3D depth with simple swipes or zoom in or out with a pinch-zoom.
The app's VR mode can add an immersive 360-degree effect to images and videos captured on your smartphone. It should be noted that this isn't VR per se. The more apt categorization would place it under a form of stereoscopic 3D.
I quickly shot a photo of me waving my fingers back and forth in varying distances from the phone. Elsewhere aggregates your videos and images, making it easy to find my freshly shot video. Watching in VR mode had the desired effect of making it appear that my hand was reaching out to me through the display. Similar to AR, VR mode allows people to adjust how pronounced the 3D effect is, zoom in and out and control the contrast. You can also use your finger to pan around.
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Elsewhere creates this customizable depth by packing encoded depth information into a pair of images and video (one for each eye). When watched through the frames, the brain interprets this as depth. The app creators claim that Elsewhere only takes 2s seconds to process these images, which is a much lower latency than most VR/AR programs on the market.
As fun as Elsewhere is, it's not pushing the needle as a virtual or augmented reality product. Instead, it delivers a fun twist on 3D that will elicit its fair share of oohs and ahhs, but it isn't immersive like VR or create an overlay like you'd see in AR.
As far as the hardware itself, I really want to use it without having to hold it up to my face -- after 5-10 minutes your arm can get tired. Ultimately, Elsewhere is a trippy 3D experience masquerading as VR -- for true virtual reality, you'll have to stick to the likes of Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.