If you have been following tech websites or consumer electronics blogs, you have probably seen stories about one of the several different virtual reality headsets which are soon to be released. These pieces of visual magic present many exciting implications about the future of entertainment and the way we interact with digital media.
If you ask anyone who has tried one, they are likely to tell you the level of immersion and realism these headsets are able to produce is incredible.
Many of the different models of headsets are releasing this year so we are going to run down the major contenders in the competition for dominance in the virtual reality hardware market.
The Oculus Rift may have been the first of this generation’s Virtual Reality headsets to be known to consumers. It started getting major notoriety when its Kickstarter campaign launched in the summer of 2012. Since then, the Oculus Rift was purchased by Facebook and has gone through many iterations.
This month finally sees the release of the consumer version of the Rift, and Virtual Reality enthusiasts are understandably excited.
The Rift needs to run in conjunction with a fairly powerful PC capable of serving the Rift’s image processing needs. It will ship with a Wireless Xbox One controller and headset motion tracking implements, which will allow the user to interact with the rift by pressing buttons and registering head movement.
Oculus will also be releasing a pair of motion controllers which are meant to be used in each hand to allow the user to interact with content through hand movements. These controllers will also have joysticks, buttons and triggers to allow for interaction with games.
Upon release, the Oculus Rift can be used with 30 games available at launch.
This headset is appropriate for avid VR enthusiasts and gamers, especially those who already have a high end gaming PC.
The Samsung Gear VR released late last year and is a different sort of Virtual Reality headset than some of the others on this list. It does not have its own monitor and instead mounts a Samsung Galaxy device as the screen. This would explain the low price point.
It makes use of the Samsung device’s motion tracking capabilities to simulate movement in the 3d virtual reality environment.
Users can interact with the Gear VR through the use of a touch pad and buttons on the right side of the device.
The Gear VR makes use of the Oculus app store as means to serve content, with 185 games and apps available as of February 2016. These range from games like the absolutely terrifying Dreadhalls to 360 degree image viewers to a Netflix lounge.
This headset is a no-brainer for those who already have a Samsung Galaxy device (S6 or later). It is great for those who want a decent first experience with VR without having to spend too much money.
The HTC Vive is currently your highest end option for Virtual Reality. It is significantly more expensive than the Oculus Rift, and like the Rift, requires a highly capable PC to run properly. The hardware has been developed by popular phone manufacturer HTC in conjunction with PC gaming heavyweight Valve.
The reason for the high price point can be partially explained by the large amount of accessories which come in the HTC Vive box. This includes two motion detecting controllers and a system of cameras to track movement and map out your environment referred to as lighthouse. It also offers a higher resolution than most if not all of its competitors.
The Vive also seems to be the most ambitious of the Virtual Reality contenders, as it aims to allow the user to fully explore their space. This is not to be used in cramped quarters.
The Vive is for those who are already sold on VR and want the best of the best experience. It has the best specs and most elaborate hardware of the major devices. A high end PC is required for this one as well, so users should make sure they have that before purchasing.
The Playstation VR, Sony’s answer to virtual reality, is to be used exclusively in conjunction with its Playstation 4 video game console. Like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, it uses a camera to track movement and makes use of (optional) motion controllers called Playstation Move (sold separately).
There are currently over 100 games in development for it, and while it does not have quite the technical specifications of the Rift or the Vive, it has done very well in early reviews and Sony hopes it’s lower price point will lead to wider mass market adoption.
The Playstation VR is perfect for those who primarily use the PS4 for gaming rather than a gaming PC. It is also good for those who want a high end experience but may have felt sticker shock from the other Virtual Reality offerings. Playstation VR is only $400 and the hardware needed to use it is also only $400. Compare this to the Oculus Rift, which is $600 and the hardware needed to use it (a high end gaming PC) usually costs more than $1000.
Google cardboard may be the most cost effective way to experience Virtual Reality. A Google cardboard device is a VR viewer made from assembly instructions designed by Google using low cost components including cardboard, lenses, magnets and velcro. Aside from these components, one simply needs a smart phone to make the VR viewer work. A person can order kits to make the VR viewer themselves or pre-assembled cardboard viewers from multiple third party sources.
To date there are over 1000 apps which have been made compatible with Google Cardboard.
Google Cardboard is great for those who want to find out more about VR and sample some apps and 360 videos to get more acquainted with the technology.
These are just some of the Virtual Reality offerings which have been released or are soon to be released. Other VR headsets include the Solon Q, a VR system which packs computer processing power into the device for wireless all-in-one use. LG is also soon to release its VR headset in April 2016, presumably to compete with Samsung’s.