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Coolest toy of the year: Google and Mattel give the old View-Master an exciting VR twist

Google’s first virtual reality venture began with Cardboard, a do-it-yourself VR headset that was powered by its Nexus 5 smartphone. Since then, Google’s Cardboard has become the LG VR for G3, and now, the View-Master from Mattel. The brightly-colored plastic VR headset is aimed toward kids, and comes at an incredibly reasonable price.

The old View-Masters used picture-filled disks that you flipped through using a pull down level, showing everything from Niagara Falls to photo stories based on the latest movies at the time. Now Google and Mattel are bringing that quaint, old-timey toy into the 21st century with the new View-Master VR, which is powered by the same technology as Cardboard.  The new View-Master comes with a variety of cool field trips for kids, so they can go to the pyramids, visit the Eiffel tower, or gasp at the space shuttle, and much more. Google’s 360-degree photospheres give kids a real glimpse into what it’s like to be in the rain forest or in the middle of an old Mayan temple.

Related: LG throws its hat into the virtual reality ring with LG VR for G3

Just like the original version of Cardboard, an Android smartphone powers the whole experience, and many of the familiar Cardboard VR scenes are available. However, those cool, round disk photo reels are still a part of the experience. Each reel is a different photo experience that you can see by placing it on the table and looking at it through your View-Master, augmented reality-style. These so-called experience disks will be sold separately, though one will be included when you buy the View-Master.

The new View-Master will arrive in the fall of 2015 for $30, and each pack of four reels will cost $15. It’s unclear which Android phones will be compatible with the View-Master. You can sign up for updates on the View-Master website.