The VR headsets are coming. Which should you get?
In 2015 VR headsets started to trickle into the market thanks to the likes of the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. While these were both lower-cost solutions (and in some cases for Cardboard—totally free) they were also fairly limited regarding the experience they could provide considering each were little more than visors you needed to slip a smartphone into to use as your display.
Basically, these devices were the tip of the iceberg, a means of testing people’s interest in the idea of VR as a concept. They’re very basic, nuts and bolts, if you will. But they did the job of delivering affordable VR experiences into the hands of those who wanted to try it out for the first time.
Developers. Tech journalists. Early adopters — these are the type of people that used the first generation of VR headsets from Samsung and Google. The current — and more expensive — range of VR headsets listed below are vastly superior setups to what we used last year, sort of like switching from a 720p HDTV to a 4K one.
Of course, you will pay for all this additional functionality and specs. But when you put one on for the first time, whether for a standalone experience, or hooked up to your PC, you will know exactly where that extra money has gone.
Here’s a breakdown of the best VR headsets coming in 2016:
The current craze about VR headsets can be traced back to one person: Palmer Luckey, the many who founded Oculus. When he was a teenager he had a fascination with relatively primitive VR tech. This lead him to creating his own VR headset—the Oculus Rift, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter and then shortly after received a massive $2 billion buyout from Facebook.
The Rift works by plugging into your PC’s USB port and tracks your head movements by the built-in sensors. The Oculus Rift consumer edition is expected to launch in Q1 2016 and will include two Oculus Touch hand controllers and one Xbox One gamepad. No pricing has been announced yet.
Sony PlayStation VR (aka Sony’s Project Morpheus)
For the longest time Sony had reportedly been working on its own VR headset, codenamed Project Morpheus. Now that it is close to launching, Morpheus has gotten a new name: PlayStation VR. Why the name change? Because the PlayStation VR will be an accessory for the PlayStation 4. Yep, you’ll need a PS4 to use one. Unlike the Oculus Rift, the PlayStation VR will not be able to be plugged into PCs. The PlayStation VR will feature a 5.7-inch OLED screen and a 120GHz refresh rate. It’s scheduled to ship in the first half of 2016, though no pricing has been announced yet.
The HTC Vive will plug into any PC or Steam machine (console-like boxes that run PC games) through which you could play an entire host of Steam games in all your newfound VR glory. The headset itself will feature two 1080 x 1200 screens and also comes with two sensors you hang on a wall so they can track your movement in space. The HTC VIVE is pricy, though, with a RRP of £650 and a release date pegged for “early April”.
Rocking refreshed branding and an updated headstrap, the VIVE consumer edition builds upon what we saw aboard the VIVE Pre. These include updated wireless controllers with haptic feedback, dual stage triggers, a front facing camera that blends physical elements into the virtual world, a redesigned headstrap that offers greater stability and balance and an improved visual system with brighter displays to give a deeper sense of immersion.
“Ever since the first day HTC Vive was announced, we knew that it would be widely applied beyond the gaming and entertainment industries. HTC Vive now applies across a wide spectrum of sectors, such as healthcare, education, retail and automotive with this disruptive innovation, demonstrating the potential of a world without limits”, said Jack Tong, North Asia President at HTC. “It is a pleasure to leverage the VR ecosystem to enhance the cultural and creative industries with Jimmy SPA. Together, we bring a new concept on stage to spark of creativity and innovation, and to open up a new era of vision and intelligence.”
The Microsoft Hololens is probably the headset I’m most excited for on this list–although technically it’s not a VR headset, it’s an AR headset. VR headsets are devices you put on and you are completely encapsulated and emerged in a 100% virtual world because your field of view of the real world is completely blocked. Everything you see through the headset is generated by the processor inside your computer or the virtual reality device. Augments reality, on the other hand, is what the HoloLens does. AR adds a layer of virtual reality to your natural field of vision. An augmented reality device has a translucent visor that allows you to still see the physical world, just with virtual elements overlaid on top of it.
The Microsoft HoloLens is firmly in the latter camp. Its visor is transparent, so you can see through them like you can see through sunglasses. When you put on a HoloLens you can still see, for example, you kitchen table, but overlaid on it you might see a holographic chef that is teaching you how to prepare that dish. Or perhaps you’re wearing a HoloLens and looking at your car’s engine. In that case you may see augmented reality diagrams and pointers display that tell you what each piece of the car’s engine is and does and how to work on it.
It’s because of this combination of real and virtual worlds that the HoloLens could actually be the most useful device on this list. But it’s also going to be one of the most expensive, costing close to $3000 according to latest reports. But you’ll have time to save up your money—the HoloLens isn’t expected to ship until the end of 2016 or early 2017.