I recently wrote a post about a VR arcade in China and today’s article is also on virtual reality, but this time it is something that you can actually buy at a really affordable price. The device I am talking about is no other than Xiaomi’s Mi VR Play 2.
Xiaomi makes two types of VR headsets, with the costlier ¥299 one featuring more advanced features, but only support a couple of Mi smartphones. The one we will be taking a look at today only cost ¥99 in China and works with any 4.7″-5.7″ devices.
Unboxing – Simple & Clean
Opening the box requires just removing the plastic wrapping outside and pulling the flaps. Inside, you will find two things: a small box containing the strap and the VR headset. In the phone slot sits a piece of cardboard, with QR code for the Mi VR app.
Scan the QR code and you will be redirected to Xiaomi’s VR website, where you can download and install the app on your phone. This app contains some VR videos, but it acts mainly as an app store for VR apps and games.
Design & Build Quality – Light & Well Constructed
The material of the Mi VR Play 2 looks a lot like Google Daydream headset and I love it. It is really light yet feels hard and durable. There is soft padding around the area that sits on your face, so wearing it is actually pretty comfortable.
Unlike the Google Daydream, the phone slot on this isn’t rotatable; you are bending the plastic every time you slot the phone in. We shall see how well this holds up in a few months. There are rubber pieces in the slot to protect your phone.
On the top of the headset is a single button for interacting with the screen, used in some apps as the select button. The strap is attached via velcro and it is very light and stretchy, so it fits pretty tightly yet stays comfortable.
Experience – Basic But Fun
The level of immersion you get will depend on your smartphone’s display, but this will never be comparable to proper high-end VR headsets, like the one I saw at the VR arcade in China. The problem? Smartphone displays.
With a smartphone, you only have a fixed amount of display space, restricting your field of view. Also, the resolution and refresh rates of most smartphone displays are not good enough for VR, so what you are seeing is pixelated and blurry.
Without a proper controller, your interaction with the UI is also very limited. On the Mi VR Play 2, everything is controlled via the gyroscope on your phone and the button on the top. But that is enough to play some simple games.
A complain I have with the Mi VR Play 2 is that the headset does not block light from the sides very well. This greatly reduces the level of immersion and also results in lens reflections.
Apps & Games – Takes Time to Search for the Good Stuff
As mentioned earlier, the Mi VR app also acts as a VR app market place. Most of the content are of high quality, but if you want to search for something that will make you go “wow”, that will take some searching. Note that these apps are all in Chinese.
Of course, you do not need those apps to experience VR on the Mi VR Play 2. Any VR app on the Play Store should work. Here are some apps I recommend. The first two are from Mi VR app and the last one is from Play Store.
#1 – Youku VR [videos]
If you are a fan of Chinese dramas, you would have heard of video streaming service 优酷. They have a VR app too and it allows you to watch some (very few) of the popular TV dramas on Youku, as well as some VR exclusive content.
Youku VR app’s contents can be split into two categories: 360° and regular videos. The 360° videos are videos where you can see everything around you, kind of like watching a movie in Omni-Theatre but better. The library for such content isn’t very big though.
For regular videos, you are seated in a dark room with a large screen at the front, simulating a cinema. Some movies are also available in 3D, but the effect isn’t as good as watching a 3D movie in cinemas. Not perfect, but really fun.
#2 – 雪山之鹰 [game]
In this game, you fly as an eagle and your objective is to complete certain tasks, while avoiding obstacles. There are three modes to this game: collect, race and adventure.
Collect mode requires you to gather feathers within a limited time. Race and adventure mode both require you to fly through hoops, but they are slightly different.
In race mode, you compete with other eagles in a race course. Meanwhile, you race against time in adventure mode, flying to the next hoop before the countdown reaches zero.
雪山之鹰 is a very basic game, but it makes use of the properties of basic VR headsets really well, providing an experience that is unique to VR. Highly recommend!
#3 – Insidious VR [360° video}
Based on the horror film Insidious Chapter 3, this short VR experience is a must try if you have a VR headset. It is only about 3 minutes, but the scenes are really well designed to instill the element of fear. Not for the faint of heart.
Conclusion – Worth Your Money?
The Mi VR Play 2 is simple but light and very well designed. This is no Gear VR or Daydream competitor. Instead, it is an alternative to cardboard VR and cheap VR headsets you often find at pasar malam, which are often feel cheap and crappy.
If you are buying it only to experience VR for a few minutes before throwing it aside, the Mi VR Play 2 is not the VR headset you should get. A low-end VR headset that costs half the price can also play the same type of apps and games.
But the Mi VR Play 2 provides comfort and quality absent on cheaper VR headsets. If you are serious about VR, this is a great, affordable way to dip your toes into VR, before moving off to high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.