The Elsewhere headset looks like something an old-timey doctor might wear. A precursor to bifocals, maybe, or an early surgical microscope. The $50 pair of adjustable lenses clamp to your iPhone. Your lens purchase also unlocks the Elsewhere iOS app. Load up the app, clamp your phone to the goggle thingies, and press the lenses to your face. Voila! 3-D video on your phone!
Wendellen Li and Aza Raskin, a former Mozilla and Songza exec, call it “a breakthrough in perception” that can “turn anything into VR.” VR is a big buzzword right now, so forgive them. Elsewhere is more like 3-D, and it really does work with anything. It re-formats photos and videos on your camera roll to appear three dimensional. Raskin calls the underlying tech “technomancy,” but you also can call it a modern stereoscope. He also mentions steganography, which is a way of concealing one image or file inside another, and claims he can use motion and other data within a video to grab far more information from it than your camera app does.
Whatever Elsewhere does, the effect is pretty cool. I sat in the lobby of a fancy San Francisco hotel looking around slack-jawed. You can adjust the contrast of the image with a swipe of your finger, which makes the field of depth more or less pronounced. You can zoom, which can make you feel either like you’re surrounded by a video (that’s when it feels most like VR) or that you’re Eleven in Stranger Things, standing in the dark nothingness of the Upside Down, looking at something miles away. At one point Li showed us a YouTube video, on a MacBook, which we watched through our iPhone cameras, and viewed through the Elsewhere headset. The depth effect still worked.
Elsewhere’s not trying to be VR the way Google or Oculus want to be VR. Li and Raskin call the headset a “project,” not a startup, and tell a long story about wanting to create a different way of seeing the world. For $50, it takes all the content you already have, and makes it feel richer and deeper. In that sense, it’s almost like a View-Master for the iPhone age. It’s fun, and that’s all it’s meant to be.