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Elsewhere's $50 phone frames turn videos 3D, and boy do they pop

Black plastic glasses from a tiny wife-and-husband startup hook onto an iPhone to make any movie, show or clip feel like you're watching in Imax 3D.

Elsewhere's frames have collapsible arms that fold out so you can slip an iPhone in to watch video in 3D.

Elsewhere

Elsewhere, a startup you've never heard of, wants to crack 3D video for phones where giants have failed.

A wife-and-husband team, Wendellen Li and Aza Raskin, on Thursday launched Elsewhere's namesake product for sale. The $50 black plastic glasses attach to your iPhone and, working with Elsewhere's free app, make any video appear three-dimensional, whether it's Netflix, YouTube or something you shot with your phone camera.

I tried Elsewhere for about an hour last week. Watching a clip of gymnast Gabby Douglas at the Olympics -- the standard footage that Olympic Broadcasting Services supplies to every TV network -- gave me the sensation that I was standing next to the balance beam.

Pixar movies pop. A clip of my toddler twirling in place, shot on an iPhone 6 by my husband last month, beamed me to the sunny library room where he shot it. "Game of Thrones" with Elsewhere almost gave its founders a panic attack, they said. (This scene.)

Elsewhere's eyepiece puts a new spin on 3D.

Elsewhere

Li and Raskin are the latest to try to master 3D on phones, an ambition with a troubled history. Smartphone makers that ventured into that terrain seemed cursed with failure: the HTC Evo 3D, the LG Thrill and the Amazon Fire Phone were embarrassing flops with consumers.

And it's not just a problem for small screens: 3D televisions also experienced a cringe-worthy death in the last four years. Once hailed as a breakthrough, 3D TVs ultimately sputtered out and died because of the high cost combined with scarcity of content.

Except for Imax and the recent spate of virtual-reality headsets, most modern attempts at three-dimensional entertainment haven't fared well.

Elsewhere, however, has two advantages: cost and content.

For one, it's relatively cheap. While these frames focus on 3D, the most apt comparison would be with VR headsets. The product is pricier than the Google Cardboard viewer, which is $15 in the official Google store or available for a few bucks on eBay.

On the other hand, Elsewhere's price tag is half that of the $99 Samsung Gear VR and far less expensive than high-end VR systems like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Those cost hundreds of dollars and require a turbo-charged, expensive desktop computer to work.

Elsewhere's frames, by the way, work on iPhones starting with 2013's 5s models up through the brand-new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The company doesn't yet have a version for phones that run on Google's Android software.

Look no further for Elsewhere.

Elsewhere

The clincher to Elsewhere, though, is content: It gives three-dimensional depth to any video you want to watch. That sets it apart from most VR and 360-degree headsets, which require specially produced content. Usually that means live-action footage must be shot with an expensive multicamera rig, and computer-generated content needs to be produced with specialized software.

Elsewhere works on any video in your camera roll or anything you watch in the world around you.

A "virtual reality" mode adds 3D depth to videos saved to your camera roll, so the content plays in 3D directly on your phone's screen. This isn't true VR: Unless you have a 360-degree clip on your phone, Elsewhere lacks that all-encompassing field of vision, so you can't look up, down and behind you to see things from every angle.

But you can zoom into any standard, 2D, rectangular video so that the edges of the frame expand beyond your peripheral vision. It feels similar to watching a movie in a 3D Imax theater.

An "augmented reality" mode turns on your iPhone's camera in the app, and that combined with the Elsewhere glasses adds depth to whatever you see. That means video on any TV, laptop or screen will appear 3D when you look at it: ESPN, Netflix, YouTube, a film in a darkened cinema, a first-person-shooter game on a console or PC -- you get the idea.

You have to hold the device up to your eyes, unlike a headset that straps onto your head. But during the hour I tried them out, the frames felt more comfortable on my face and in my hands than Google Cardboard.