Virtual Reality is back, and it is prettier and more immersive than ever before. Those who were around for the first attempt in the mid to late 90’s can attest to the previous iteration of VR’s shortcomings: bad graphics, poor user interfaces and high prices. Not to mention the over promising and under-delivery that many early adopters were faced with as a result. It is worth asking the question though, has much changed since then?
Put simply, the answer is yes. The technologies that are driving the Virtual Reality market are really mature at this point, with desktop GPUs from Nvidia and AMD leading the pack in terms of pricing and performance, and mobile chipset makers such as ARM and Qualcomm also showing themselves to be strong contenders on the VR landscape.
So with these pricing factors and different manufacturers in mind, let’s take a look at the current contenders in the field for our TOP 5 Virtual Reality Headsets of 2017 and hopefully we’ll find out for ourselves where the best value lies.
The Sony PlayStation VR headset is a well-designed and well-built unit that features an adjustable, elasticised head strap that can be tensioned and locked in place to fit anyone’ head size. The inner material is made from a non-absorbent, rubberized compound with a futuristic diamond pattern pressed into it that is both comfortable and easy to use.
The front lens compartment has separate adjustable settings to allow players to get the correct focus for their individual needs by moving the lenses either closer to their eyes or further away. Basic controls are handled by a wired remote control that features 4 buttons, volume up, volume down, power and a mute button for killing the volume when you suspect that someone has snuck up on you in your living room.
The headset itself is very light, and has a futuristic look about it that matches the PS4’s general aesthetic. In order to run the headset with your PS4 you will require the included breakout box, also known as the Processor Unit, that ships together with this package. It is basically an HDMI pass through that enables the PS4 to run its games at the resolutions that are required to run VR games.
In addition to this you will also need the PlayStation Camera or the V2 edition to allow the PS4 to track your movements. So in total you receive the PlayStation VR headset, the Processor Unit, the PlayStation VR headset connection cable, HDMI cable, USB cable, stereo headphones, AC Power cord, AC adaptor and a PlayStation VR Demo Disc.
This is a convenient Virtual Reality system to use and it is really easy to get started with it. Players will find that the light weight, comfortable layout and thoughtful design elements make this one of the most accessible pieces of VR kit for the mass market and has a solid developer stable that is sure to continue creating innovative and fun VR games for years to come.
HTC released this awesome piece of kit over a year ago, and since then, SteamVR has become a thing, and HTC have been refining the VR experience through a user customizable menu and navigation system, that although a little tricky at times, offers an immersive and unparalleled Virtual Reality gaming experience.
The HTC Vive is definitely not cheap, but the gaming experience that it provides is currently in a class of its own. The Vive package comes with 2 hand controls, an assortment of cables and motion detectors (towers). The Vive has an impressive 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye which allows there to be a lot of detail in game for players to marvel at.
The gaming area that you need is around 15ft x 15ft maximum, so many will be able to play in a slightly smaller area if needed. The motion detecting Vive towers can benefit from a bit of elevation so when thinking about buying yours, it is best to look and see what your mounting options are ahead of time, so that you can avoid disappointment when you realize that you need to drill a hole in the wall to mount one of them.
The overall look of this hardware is almost military in it’s serious, hardened exterior, yet wearing the set and using the system as a whole cohesive entertainment platform is loads of fun, and once you get the hang of the controls and walking around while wearing the kit, the fun really starts.
Be sure to check out the minimum PC specs that are needed for you to enjoy an optimal experience with this virtual reality headset as the graphical demands are quite high. But if your GPU is sporting a ‘VR Ready’ certification emblem on the box, then you are good to go. This is one of the best Virtual Reality headsets that you will find on the market at the present moment, so why not demo one and see what you think, it really is a taste of what future gaming is shaping up to be.
When it comes to virtual reality headsets, the Oculus Rift is seen by many as one of the pioneering headsets to emerge from this newly founded technology, and they wouldn’t be wrong, either. Oculus Rift headsets helped to reveal the untapped market back when the initial developer kits first made the rounds a few years back, and helped to kick start the new wave of VR headset hardware rollouts. Some of the Oculus Rift’s main competitors have been taking notes though, so this headset needs to smooth out some of the rough edges if it wants to snatch back the top spot.
This is a well-made and intelligent device that has great hardware and has been built with a solid software framework around it, but it needs a little more refinement to catch up. The pricing is very competitive though, so it is understandable that not all the bells and whistles are currently present. Much like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift VR headset supplies 1080 x 1200 resolution per lens, and it comes with a built in headphone set as well. When looking to do any reasonably decent gaming, you must be aware that your minimum PC specs are more in the mid to top end range of components.
An Intel Core i5 4590 or above spec CPU will suffice for gaming, while 8GB of memory and anything better than a Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon 290 will certainly help with the frame rate that you need to achieve so that you can enjoy a fluid gaming experience. But fret not, there has been an update to clarify the minimum spec for PC hardware: having an Intel i3 6100 paired with a Nvidia GTX 960 will get you started in Virtual Reality gaming, although not quite at detail levels or FPS rates as mentioned above.
So unless you already have similar or better PC hardware, you need to consider budgeting for a slight upgrade if you need to refresh your PC hardware in addition to your VR headset purchase.
At present, Google Daydream headsets are basically a headset made from breathable, interchangeable fabric with elastic to keep the unit on your head. It has hardly any electronics inside the VR headset and instead comes with a flap that you can install a Google Daydream capable phone on the inside of, and a pair of special magnification lenses provide the stereoscopic magnification that is required to give the illusion of three dimensional space.
Control and connectivity to your virtual reality experience is controlled via a Bluetooth controller, also called the Daydream controller, which has sensors and some input buttons on it that allow for the user to seamlessly navigate through their virtual worlds by simply waving the controller and pressing the appropriate buttons to enter and exit menus. Volume levels can also be adjusted this way to allow users to customize their audio experience as well.
This segment of the market is actually expected to do quite well, as it brings Virtual Reality to many more people than the home based solutions that have been mentioned previously are able to cater for. There are many millions of people with Daydream capable Android smartphones as it is, and trends indicate that this is only going to continue into the future. Phone manufacturers have taken note of these developments and have started including some serious 3D capable hardware in their phones.
Where these devices also shine is in entertainment such as movies. Highly detailed versions of movies with the added benefits of wider viewing angles are bound to provide users with unique and entirely immersive movie going experiences, and the technology is already sitting in most people’s pockets without them even knowing. This means that the market is already established, it just needs to know that it can already start to experience this new platform in digital entertainment.
Google is also gearing up to launch their own standalone VR headsets that are capable of thrilling 3D virtual reality gaming experiences, so things are really going to get exciting in this space.
The Samsung Gear VR headsets continue to impress, far outnumbering Google’s newly launched Daydream competitor even. The secret is perhaps the design’s over all simplicity and low price point. The second, and perhaps most critical point, is that Samsung has been able to bundle their flagship smartphones with these headsets for customers for quite a while. This has enabled them to get excellent market penetration and consumer awareness about their VR products.
They are also perhaps helped in large part by Oculus-centric content that filters down to Samsung through software channels between the 2 companies. Things are set to improve even further with the newest version of Samsung Gear VR, which is great news for everyone who is interested in Virtual Reality tech. Samsung also has a stable of fantastic flagship smartphones at any given time, and these devices are crammed full of only the best features and hardware, which is the ideal testing platform for Samsung’s VR team to extensively test and develop future VR content.
The 2017 version of the Samsung Gear VR has taken a page or two from Google’s play book, and now features their very own wireless remote for users to navigate through the various VR environments that they find themselves in. But while similar to Google’s wireless device, Samsung’s implementation is slightly different. It is still too early to say whose take on VR interactions through controllers will become the dominant, default gestural interfacing standard, but it is going to be fun to watch the deciding rounds play out in front of us over the course of the next few years.
This simple and cost effective solution pairs up with some seriously impressive cellular hardware, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 that was recently launched. The computational and 3D rendering abilities of such devices is a clear indication that we are going to continue to see mobile hardware taking things to the next level in the years to come, which is only good news for us, the consumers.
The lower cost and lighter weight of this unit makes it a serious challenger to the premium offerings that are on the market presently.
If VR is going to be adopted on a mass scale, then pricing needs to fall and innovation needs to continue to grow, and at a faster pace than what we are seeing currently. If the current trend is going to be further bolstered so as to allow for more positive growth, then we need to see more collaboration between these companies on trying to establish standardisations that can be implemented and followed.
But having said that, we are really in for some impressive technological breakthroughs in the gaming and entertainment sectors in the coming years. 3D video has already shown itself to be a big hit online, with YouTube and Facebook both featuring some impressive high resolution samples for us to nibble on, and when donning a Virtual Reality headset to partake in such viewing spectacles, the results are pretty stunning.
The raw power of a modern flagship smartphone would stun anybody from 10 years ago, and the future outlook is even more promising as CPUs and GPUs become even more efficient and faster as we move forward. We are heading towards a very different future compared to the one that was envisioned for us by the science fiction writers and science visionaries of years past, and what we are seeing is a more personalized and targeted approach by companies looking to sell their games, movies and content to us. And from what we are already seeing, VR is likely to be the delivery vehicle that brings it to us.