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Gamers have been dreaming about virtual reality for nearly four decades. Beginning with Atari‘s ill-fated VR research lab, which closed during the North American video game crash of ‘83, nearly every industry player has donned the wax wings of VR in hopes of soaring above the competition.
Stakeholders like Facebook, Google, Apple and Samsung have since pushed the technology in directions we’ve only dared to dream—including immersive sports, virtual health care, military training applications and more. VR has rapidly grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, with the number of active users forecasted to reach 171 million by the end of 2018.
If you haven’t immersed yourself in the world of VR, don’t worry—here is everything you need to get started.
PLATFORM & PRICE
VR development is currently split into two camps—tethered (PC and console) and mobile. In addition to affecting which titles you can play with each headset, platform and device compatibility greatly affects overall system cost.
The Oculus Rift is probably the most well-known VR headset, and it’s currently priced at $399, which is well below its initial four-figure price tag. Oculus also offers a streamlined headset, the Oculus Go, for $199. One of the main competitors to the Oculus is the HTC Vive, which will run you a cool $499. One key consideration into the cost of Oculus and similar VR headsets is they require a high-powered gaming PC to run games at their advertised resolutions and refresh rates. These computers can run from roughly $799 all the way up to $2,000 and beyond—unless you’re building your own.
That leads us to the only VR console contender, the Playstation VR. As you would imagine, the PSVR headset works in tandem with Sony products like the PS4. Why is this significant? According to Forbes, over 70 million PS4 units have sold since December 2017. That’s a huge market that might see PSVR’s comparatively low price of $199 for a starter bundle as completely worth it.
Lastly, we have mobile VR devices. Now, it should come as no surprise that these devices don’t quite come with a sticker shock. Take the Samsung Gear VR with Controller, for example. At a modest price of $130, the headset allows you to dive straight into the action of your favorite game without having to spend an entire paycheck. Same goes for the Google Daydream, which retails for $99. While they both have limited mobile device compatibility, finding one that works with your existing device is as simple as typing keywords into the Amazon search bar.
Dollar signs aside, selecting the right VR device ultimately comes down to how you intend to use it. Are you a serious gamer looking for a transformative experience? Or are you a casual gamer looking to slightly enhance your gameplay? No matter which question you shook your head in agreement to, there is an option out there for you. Let’s take a closer look at the available games and technology and see if we can narrow those options down…
GAMES & TECHNOLOGY
It’s safe to say that VR designers and developers have completely revolutionized the way we play. No longer are we limited to controlling a character in the game, we can become the lead character—setting off on fantastic voyages across forgotten lands or tasked with discovering, conquering or surviving distant worlds. But due to the nature of mobile vs. PC/console power, not all VR has been created equal.
The technology that drives mobile VR devices is known as three-degrees-of-freedom motion tracking, or 3DOF. It enables your headset to track the direction you’re facing with great accuracy, but it can’t tell whether you’re moving forward, backward, up, down, left or right. Despite this minor disadvantage, you can still (virtually) fight aliens, destroy asteroids, save humanity and play Pokémon GO—all with the cell phone that you carry around in your pocket and a moderately priced headset. Tethered devices, on the other hand, are driven by six-degrees-of-freedom motion tracking technology, or 6DOF. Additionally, they have the help of outside cameras that enable them to more effectively track the movement of your head. Technology this robust enables tethered devices to provide a virtual experience beyond compare, but it comes at a much steeper cost.
SO, WHICH ONE IS FOR YOU?
If you haven’t yet figured it out, ask yourself these two questions:
If you prioritize quality over price, than your best bet will be saving up to invest in a tethered device that runs through a PC or console. If you’re not too particular on the quality, and rather, just want to experience basic VR, mobile headsets will do the job. No matter which path you choose, there is one thing that is almost guaranteed: gaming will never be the same!