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Queen's Brian May is making a VR viewer to speed the demise of reality

At this point, you could probably write a boilerplate celebrity response to virtual reality, and Queen guitarist Brian May would be delivering the latest version of it:


“Ultimately VR will change the world, because you’ll be able to build everything that you love and cherish in the virtual world. You’ll feel like you can touch and hear and interact with them. VR could advance to the point where you feel a tug, a sort of nostalgia, a feeling that you’ve lost something, because you’ve fallen in love with the virtual world. Eventually, I think people won’t want to come out.”

That quote, courtesy of Ars Technica, was given during the launch of May’s own version of Google Cardboard, called the Owl VR Kit. Owl VR — shipping in mid-June for around $36 — is effectively almost exactly like any number of mobile VR headsets. The purported differences are that it “works with any smartphone” (like virtually any Cardboard), “has fully adjustable focus” (like the latest Mattel View-Master and some disposable designs), and “has an open stage rather than a closed light-tight box” (like this Google Tech viewer, among others.) The same goes for a smaller design called the Owl Lite, which sounds very similar to the adorable Homido Mini. The most important actual differences are that it comes in some kind of genuinely sweet-looking folio case, and it’s made by Brian May, who is both one of the world’s great musicians and a doctor of astrophysics.


Ars Technica Brian May Owl VR
Ars Technica Brian May Owl VR


(Sebastian Anthony / Ars Technica)

And to be clear, I think Brian May is selling his previous work short here.

Look, I love virtual reality. But the implication that it’s the medium you need to feel a tug of nostalgia, or a feeling that we’ve lost something when we leave it, is the kind of depressing hype that puffs up a new art style by accidentally (or intentionally) denigrating all the old ones. For one thing, Queen songs are some of the most incredible nostalgia generation machines known to humankind. For another, while May is new to the VR game, he clearly understands the power of old media: the Owl VR is made by his London Stereoscopic Company, which sells modern versions of the stereographic viewers that were popular during the Victorian era.

Lastly, have you ever used a Cardboard-style headset? They’re awesome and uncanny, but relative to a Holodeck-style virtual world that you can touch, you might as well pin your hopes for world-changing on the stereoscope.

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