A Meta Quest app lets you step back in time by viewing historical 3D photos

A Meta Quest app lets you step back in time by viewing historical 3D photos

Virtual Stereoscope lets you admire selected stereoscopic photos from the 19th century. I've tried it on my Meta Quest.

Stereo photography became popular with the advent of stereoscopes in the 1850s. Two horizontally offset lenses captured a double image that, when viewed through a stereoscope, creates a 3D effect.

Stereoscopes are the ancestors of today's VR headsets, and were very popular until the early 20th century.

With Apple's immersive recording formats, Spatial Photo and Spatial Video, 3D photography and videography could make a comeback in the next few years. The stereoscopic photos and videos can currently only be taken with an iPhone 15 Pro (Max), but the feature could become standard in future iPhone generations.

A 3D glimpse into a bygone era

The VR app Virtual Stereoscope, recently released for Meta Quest, takes historical 3D photos and restores them for optimal viewing in virtual reality.

It currently offers 63 stereoscopic photos dating back to the 1860s. More 3D photos are said to follow with free updates.

The pictures so far are divided into four categories: The Wild West, Transportation, Cities of the World, and Daily Life. The largest and most interesting group for me is the Wild West, which shows cowboys, farmers, and Native Americans. One 3D photo I particularly liked was of a miners' banquet in Beaver City, Alaska, in 1899. It is a powerful experience to look into those lifelike faces and eyes 125 years later.

The stereoscopic photos have been cropped, aligned, and recolored for VR viewing, with the ability to turn off the colors and view the images in authentic black and white or sepia tone. Of course, you can also zoom in and out. Please note that the quality of the photos, the 3D effect, and the recoloring may vary from image to image.

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The 3D environments are a gimmick

Each image is contextualized: you can see the title, date, and often a description of the image's content, so you can learn more about who or what is depicted.

Each of the four categories also places the viewer in an animated 3D environment. For example, when you enter the Wild West gallery, you find yourself in a small town between a locomotive and a saloon, complete with an authentic soundscape.

These backgrounds are graphically simple and, in my opinion, an unnecessary distraction that hardly adds to the atmosphere. The resources would have been better spent on digitizing more photos.

In any case, I hope that there will be regular updates and that I will have a reason to visit the historical 3D photo galleries again. The app has a lot of potential and is a wonderful way to discover the past.

You can buy Virtual Stereoscope for $2.37 on App Lab.