"It's easy to equate virtual reality with a drug state," says Nick Dangerfield, founder of research and development studio Planeta. "Suddenly you're in this far-off place; it moves you away from where you are." This pioneering innovation is already changing the gaming and entertainment industries and—thanks to Planeta's new virtual reality line, Mona—how we experience art and travel altogether.
Planeta first began experimenting with VR with their app To.Be, an augmented reality platform where users can create artworks with their phone's cameras serving as a canvas. A VR headset was the company's next frontier. "It was a natural progression to add another level of depth to how you experience the digital art you create, to go beyond the screen," Dangerfield says.
"It's easy to equate virtual reality to a drug state. Suddenly you're in this far-off place." — Nick Dangerfield
Knowing that the phone is the most accessible, ubiquitous tool consumers have, Planeta set about creating a VR headset that can be used with the iPhone 6 (later models will accommodate other phones) to create an immersive viewing experience that doesn't cost $800 like the HTC Vive, a device made specifically for VR.
The first Mona VR product, Mask, takes inspiration from Victorian stereoscopes (a viewing device that shows 3-D scenes, often of distant lands the viewers would never visit) and the 20th-century version, the View-Master, which allows you to click through a reel of images.
"The idea of being transported somewhere, that you have a feeling of immersion in a place, is very powerful."
"The idea is so simple," Dangerfield says. "The concept behind VR has existed for a long time." With Mask, standing on Pluto, viewing the New York skyline from the World Trade Center's spire, experiencing a Björk music video like you're actually inside of it, is as easy as accessing 360-degree videos from your phone.
"I find VR to be an incredibly soothing experience," Dangerfield says. "The idea of being transported somewhere, that you have a feeling of immersion in a place, is very powerful." The Mask design reflects this escapist idea with its hands-free, cotton headset, which fits snugly around the head and has an iPhone slot and 3-D lenses. It's a big step up, style- and comfort-wise, from the cardboard viewers that Google and the New York Times distributed last year.
Planeta's own VR software won't be unveiled until September, when it debuts at Amsterdam's Unseen Photo Festival, but the company is already at work on a new batch of Mona headsets designed in collaboration with artists and designers. An acetate version is in the works with Mary Ping of fashion brand Slow and Steady Wins the Race, and digital artist Laura Juo-Hsin Chen is currently working on a wooden version that doubles as a lunchbox.
Whatever it is you're looking for in VR—a meditative art experience, an intrepid dive into the ocean, an immersive concert—your next escape is closer than you might think.
Mask by Mona, $56, monavr.com.