The concept of virtual reality has been a pipe dream for us since the dawn of man, to be able to simply change into a new reality whenever we grow bored of our surroundings. Although we may not be at ‘Matrix’ level immersion, and some of the rather cumbersome equipment may not be as sleek as that seen in the popular animated series ‘Sword Art Online’, we are in fact moving towards accomplishing this dream. 2016 truly was the year of VR, with several different big names releasing their own headsets, meaning that even in these early stages of this infant market you ask yourself: What Virtual Reality is right for you?
Although you may think all VR headsets will be (in functionality) the same, you would be wrong. With the market still developing each company is trying new things, applying more importance on whatever they value as key features, each shaping out their own USPs; with some aiming to work their way into more traditional media and activities, improving on already solid foundations; where as some want to give you completely new experiences, in some cases changing the ways you perceive your true reality. Down below I will be explaining each of the big name headsets and trying to give you an idea of “what Headset is best for you?”
PSVR (standing for PlayStation VR) is Sony’s answer to the demand for VR. The headset is used alongside their PS4 console, meaning for a lot of households this device is practically plug and play. That is, it would be. Sadly Sony made the decision to simply repurpose their old move controllers as motion controllers for headset, and seemed to think because they were re-using peripherals they didn’t need to package any with the Headset itself (although this isn’t a huge issue as few games have adapted to using the motion controllers and instead opt to stick with gamepad input). On top of this Sony also didn’t package the headset with a Playstation camera, which unlike the Move wands is 100% needed to use the headset. All of this aside it is still by some way the cheapest big name VR headset out at the minute, with a price tag (including needed peripherals) of about £500 compared to the Vive and Rift which are both closer to the £1000 mark. So why should you buy the PSVR headset?
From both my personal experience and hundreds of reviews online, PSVR is the most comfortable headset by some way. The weight distribution is near perfect across your head, making it feel even lighter than it already is (with the headset itself weighing it at about 610 grams, slightly heavier than its competitors, yet manages to feel much lighter). The weight distribution is down to Sony’s expertly designed head strap, which ironically feels much more premium than either of the £700+ HMDs. Another selling point of PSVR is the exclusivity deals SONY is capable of securing. The PC VR scene at the moment is mainly indie devs and thus can’t really produce the big name titles or use international brand licenses. A good way to explain this is that the Vive has been out for quite some time and there are maybe 20 “full” games out at the moment, with most simply being experiences, music videos and tech demos. Now contrast this with PSVR that has been out for around 3 months and has already announced Resident Evil 7 as a VR exclusive for at least a year after release. Overall, yes the headset may not have tracking as good as the Vive’s however it is almost half the cost of the Vive with far less pre-requisites. I feel PSVR is perfect as an entry-level HMD and still offers experiences that will absolutely blow people’s minds, even if the headset itself is intended more for casual gaming.
Pros – Cheap, Premium Design, Exclusives.
Cons – No room scale, Mainly seated, Not so great graphics for the most part.
Mobile manufacturing giants HTC also decided to take a cut of the VR market, forming a partnership with the world’s biggest Video game retailer Valve. On the 1st of March 2015 HTC teased at the SteamVR headset, a virtual reality headset that not only allowed you to look around a 3D world and move with a controller (like the Oculus DK2) but actually allowed you to move around in your psychical space and translate that into in-game movement. As someone who is reading an article about VR in 2017 this may not sound that crazy to you, but in 2015 this was (for me at least) one of the most exciting pieces of tech to have been released since I was born. So of course when the time came for Pre-orders I already had the money put away. And although this is the only headset I own, to assure you I am not taking any bias, I will start by discussing the negatives. The Vive is not comfortable. Not to say it’s horribly uncomfortable or even uncomfortable at all however it just doesn’t offer the same level of comfort as the other two big headsets, with an elasticated head strap and tough semi-abrasive foam face piece. The Vive also has what are called Fresnel lenses meaning the lenses have a series of insetting circles which, although unnoticeable when fully immersed, can be noticed when first using the headset, and can become visible via glare effects or harsh lights in-game. The Vive also has a much higher entry point in terms of pre-requisites than the PSVR and also slightly more than the Oculus, meaning if the PC you are currently using isn’t up to scratch you could end up having to pay £2000 and upwards to experience the Vive. The last negative I feel is worth mentioning is the lack of portability. In reality this is a non-issue as the Vive is designed to be kept in one room/house, however in the real world not everyone can afford to buy the headset for themselves so it would be nice to have a headset than could easily be moved between properties and set up quickly (not to say this is impossible with the Vive or even that challenging, just rather cumbersome). So with all these negatives was it really worth the £800? Of course.
The Vive is truly the revolutionary experience I expected it to be, it shows what VR can do and gives you a good idea of what we will be able to do in the future, and this makes it quite an exciting time to be alive. With most of the negatives I’ve mentioned, they are relatively small issues that are more so things that the headset could improve upon rather than something glaringly bad about the headset. And this hasn’t seemed to have gone unnoticed at HTC with them recently announcing the Deluxe audio head strap for the Vive. The Deluxe head strap looks and works very similarly to PSVR’s head strap, and thus should have the same weight distribution techniques, meaning soon the days of feeling the Vive sitting on your face will soon be over (for the low low price of £150*
There is no confirmed price this is a joke). As for benefits of the Vive, the benefits are in the functionality. Room scale VR is by far the best experience I have had in recent memory, if not ever. One of the stand out experiences I like to refer to when discussing how impressive the Vive actually is, is the game ‘Rec Room’. Rec Room is an online social based game, in which each player is spawned into a sports hall and is free to do as they please. The game itself is relatively bare bones with simple mini games, and mechanics, however it is the social aspect that truly opened my eyes to the future. Because the motion controllers act as your hands as well as the headset tracking head position you can get a good understanding of how a person is stood in real life based on their in-game avatars. You can stay in the sports hall and have full conversations with people and play ping-pong and genuinely feels like you are gauging with another person unlike text chat or teamspeak. And as a thing of beauty, if you need to mute your mic in-game (say to talk to someone in the room with you IRL) you cover your mouth with your hand. Physical interfacing is the thing that really does make the Vive stand out and although the price is the highest, the performance matches the price.
Pros – Room scale, Motion controllers, Lots of games
Cons – Few “full” games, Expensive, You will need a pretty high-end PC
When Palmer Luckey announced the Rift DK1 he became somewhat of an instant cult hero, telling tales of how he had already built 50 different types of headset for personal use, and was tired of there being no worthwhile VR for the masses. Although the love for Luckey may have dwindle significantly, Oculus have continued to grow after being bought by Facebook, not only improving on the Rift drastically between DK1 and CV1 (the consumer version of the Rift) but also branching out, pairing with Samsung to make the Samsung Gear, a mobile phone VR headset to compete with (and outdo) Google cardboard. In terms of the Rift CV1 on release they did not include motion controllers (and could only be used with third-party gadgets such as the Leap Motion or the Razer Hydras) and only included a single camera for 180 degree VR. At that point, I think it’s fair to say it was simply an overpriced PSVR and didn’t have a whole lot more functionality than the second Dev Kit, so for this reason from this point on when I refer to the Rift I am referring to the Rift + Touch bundle as I feel this is the experience Oculus want to be judged on.
One benefit of the Rift is it is quite significantly more comfortable than the Vive (though not as comfortable as PSVR) and is in no way awkward or cumbersome to wear. Another thing I personally like about the Rift is it is quite stylish, with a very minimal look to it, and I think it’s probably a closer representation in terms of aesthetic of the consoles/headsets we are going to be seeing in the future. I think the same goes for the cameras, in terms of Aesthetic you could almost pull them off a furnishing, whereas the Vive base stations (although more functional) are very noticeably not a standard fixture. A heated debate is likely taking place as you read these very words regarding whether the Vive wands or Rifts Touch controllers are superior, and in reality they are both better in their own right. The Vive wands are amazing; extremely sturdy, amazing latency, amazing tracking and work extremely well for swordplay. The touch controllers on the other hand offer individual finger tracking, something that in concept would make the touch controllers hands down the winner yet that isn’t necessarily the case. The touch controllers brought the price of the Rift up to actually higher than the Vive (with price originally being a selling point of the Rift) costing around £200. This however would not be an issue as I’m basing my opinions off of the bundle packaged with the Touch so that means you will have everything you need anyway. Right? Wrong. The touch controller bundle comes with 2 cameras: the original Rift camera and a second that is packaged with the controllers yet you need at least 3 cameras for the Rifts experimental Room scale (although you can still use the touch forward-facing with only 2 cameras), which adds even further cost onto the price. The third camera does offer the ability to use the rift in a similar vein to how you would use a Vive however, your play space can only be 5ft by 5ft, much smaller than what the Vive can do with the 2 Base stations that are packaged with the HMD. Assuming you’ve done your research, have the money, and have the space, the touch controllers are quite amazing. The finger presence adds a lot more immersion than you would think and although there are some limitations in what it can do (for example when you pinch a bow-string you wouldn’t feel it) the touch controller is really well designed to cope with haptics. The demo I was shown was an interactive story about a robin which ends with you extending your finger and the bird landing on the end of it. The haptics are absolutely spot on. And that is by far the best experience I have had with Oculus (although all the others have been seated). The Rift’s lenses are also (similarly to Vive) a type of Fresnel lense however the ridges are much finer, meaning rather than the insetting ring effects you get from lights in the Vive you get a sort of smudging/’God Rays’.
Pros – Exclusives, Touch controllers, Aesthetics
Cons – Pricey for room scale, Lots of seated experiences
- OSVR – OSVR (standing for open source VR) is a project aiming to make HMDs for a reasonable price by not packaging it with any hardwired DRM or firmware. With the recently added SteamVR support, OSVR is now basically a cheap alternative to the Rift offering all the same functionality (without the touch controllers) in seated experiences and also offers support for any (given you know what you’re doing) third-party controllers (Hydras et cetera).
- Daydream/GearVR/Cardboard – Mobile VR is somewhat of a different kettle of fish in terms of the market and in terms of functionality. Mobile VR is powered completely through your mobile phone, meaning if your phone is a low resolution (for example the iPhone’s 720p resolution) the image you will be seeing will be pretty poor. A good way to think of this is if you watch a 1440p video on a 1440p screen through the lenses, you will see it as 1080p. If the media and panel is 1080p the quality of image you will see will be 720p. Mobile VR is good for what it is, however I would always recommend someone buys the cheapest cardboard they can find and use it as a way to test the water, as a cheap intro to VR before trying the real thing.
- PiMax 4k – The PiMax 4K does in fact not offer 4k per eye resolution as the name may suggest (and neither will the 8K) however it does give a higher resolution than the Vive or Rift. However the PiMax doesn’t have controllers so is a good, cheap alternative to the Rift in terms of seated games only.
- FOVE – Deriving its name from the process of foveated imaging, FOVE is a HMD that incorporates Tobii eye-tracking technology. Foveated imaging is the process of recreating natural focus and depth of field via eye tracking and blur/bloom effects. In terms of the headset itself I can’t see it being worth buying at any point as there isn’t going to be much support for it. Along with the fact that the next iteration of the Rift will also has Eye tracking technologies.
Overall the bottom line is, if you can afford to buy a real HMD, buy a Real HMD. That’s not to say mobile VR is a bad thing, I just feel it’s nice for watching 360 videos, but lacks a lot of functionality beyond that. In terms of what HMD you should buy is completely down to budget and preference, so from the points I’ve made, if you want comfort avoid the Vive, if you want high-end experiences opt for the Vive and Rift over the PSVR and so on and so forth.
Although for the most part this article is still correct, I feel it is unfair not to come back to it and mention the addition of the tracking puck to the Vives ecosystem. The trackers will likely solve the issue some people take with the controllers, by giving you the ability to track anything in virtual space, which has an insane list of uses, from putting it on a cup to allow you to have a drink whilst you play, ranging all the way to fully tracked gun controllers and gloves. I will go back and fully update this article once these peripherals are released.