After a fairly lackluster appearance on the market in the 1990’s, virtual reality technology was placed on the back-burner in the face of rising interests of social media and other communicative technologies. A lack of interest did not necessarily indicate a lack of progress. One of the leading reasons behind the unpopularity or the VR of the 90’s was that imaging technology hadn’t advanced enough to provide a truly immersive experience.
Most of the virtual reality experiences, while fully interactive, tended to have the appearance of a cheaply made video game. Users would be able to fully interface with a virtual world that looked exactly that, virtual. While some were enamored with the brightly colored, and seemingly futuristic VR worlds presented by the headsets from twenty years ago, most were generally unimpressed.
The VR of today is no graphic design school project come to life. Software developers have teamed up with some of the most talented imaging specialists in order to provide users with interactive virtual worlds that appear startlingly realistic. Innovative designers have combined cutting edge graphics with high definition photography to provide depth and realism which was simply not possible in virtual reality headsets from the 90’s.
In order to make becoming a virtual reality headset owner more simple, we have compiled a list of the 9 most buzz worthy headsets that are currently available or will be soon. Because new technologies must be able to represent a wider set of demographics than ever before, these headsets represent a wide variety of design elements and capabilities. Explore this list to decide which one truly is the best virtual reality headset on the market, and to simply see what’s out there and what’s going to be.
To begin let’s start with the one everyone seems to be talking about, the
After being successfully funded by a Kickstarter campaign by developer Palmer Luckey, Oculus was obtained by Facebook for an astounding $2 Billion dollars. This confidence in the success of virtual reality seemed to set the world ablaze with Virtual reality fever. Companies couldn’t wait to invest in headsets like Oculus, and the big names represented throughout this list are surefire test of this emerging technology’s staying power.
The Oculus headset has both DVI and USB connectivity, making a versatile option for a variety of personal and laptop computers as well as tablets and smart phones. 3D images are placed on stereo screens that track head movement to create lightning fast shifts in perspective. The consumer model which will be available in early 2016 also allows for connectivity with Xbox One, and will feature games that are available utilizing Oculus and Xbox platforms.
Games slated to be available for Oculus in 2016 include:
• Rockband VR – An old favorite brought back in VR form to provide and even more immersive rock star experience. The crowd and its cheers appear to cheer from all sides! Just make sure you can play, boos and hisses from every angle sounds like a virtual nightmare.
• Edge of Nowhere – This desolate third person follows a rescue mission in a snow covered wasteland where an expedition has failed and gone missing. Picture flying monsters overhead and exploring icicle covered caverns.
• VR Sports Challenge – Choose between Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey and join the team! A different experience for sure.
Sony PlayStation VR
After much speculation this headset, which formally went by the pseudonym “Project Morpheus” while in its development stage, will be ready for release in early 2016. Several revamps on the original design have produced what is sure to be a frontrunner on the VR market.
Extensive early beta tests revealed several latency issues which may have delayed Sony’s rumored plan for a Christmas 2015 release. The latest developments seem to have addressed any latency concerns with the introduction of 18ms reading. Other features including a 5.7 inch OLED screen, a 120 Hz refresh rate, and nine LEDs worth of tracking accuracy have come together to produce a device capable of 120 fps gaming! Put simply, PlayStation VR looks incredibly realistic.
Games slated to appear of PlayStation VR include:
• Job Simulator – Set in a futuristic world where work formally done by humans has been completely taken over by robots, this game serves as a reminder to human players of what work used to be like.
• Classroom Aquatic – Also available on Oculus, this trippy water-world features a classroom full of dolphin students wherein the player has arrived unprepared for the day’s exam and must cheat in order to pass and win the game.
• Eclipse – A first-person exploration game chock full of discoveries both relevant and not. The object of the game is to explore a sentient planet with a potentially dark history. By finding pieces of a lost relic and combining them, the player has a chance to escape the planet before bad things happen.
A definite game changer in the VR headset world. Rated the top upcoming model by online publications including Wired and Cnet, StarVR offers a virtual reality experience that at least visually, dwarfs the competition.
Boasting a screen resolution of 2560X1440 per eye, the StarVR headset uses almost double the pixels of most other headsets coming in 2016. It offers a 210-degree field-of-view which when compared with Oculus’ 110-degree display, simply has to be seen to be believed.
StarVR is still heavily in its development stage, but did premiere an impressive prototype at E3 2015. It is currently partnered with 505 games and Lionsgate which should produce any number of excitingly interactive game and film applications once the headset is actually on the market which is expected to happen by the end of 2016. Some are saying this dark horse of the virtual reality market is in line to become the best vr headset of the whole lot.
Using a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality technology, the HoloLens represents an exciting development in VR technology, that is providing users with the ability to engage in VR games and visualizations while interacting with their real-life environment.
Merging real world elements with seemingly holographic virtual images allows players to engage in a game of virtual chess on the coffee table, or explore a lunar landscape while cleaning up the kitchen. HD can be visuals projected directly into a player’s actual environment.
Utilizing Kinect-level technology which responds to voice commands and gestures, the HoloLens is more interactive than most other headsets on the market. What’s more exciting is that because it includes a built in complete Windows 10 operating system, there is no need for it to connect to a PC.
The Microsoft HoloLens is not strictly a VR device and rather features elements of augmented reality to provide visuals that interact with a player’s existing environment. The most exciting HoloLens game so far is Minecraft, which on this platform allows players to build using virtual blocks that can be placed anywhere within a room and will appear as holographic images. Use it to build a cooler apartment, or turn your couch into the Iron Throne.
Low-key is the buzzword for this headset which looks like a simple pair of headphones unless the screen is pulled down to cover the eyes. This small, sleek design makes the Avegant a contender against larger, less portable models of VR headsets. The size is made possible by this company’s innovative use of image displaying technology. Rather than the clunky LED or OLED screens which have become the standard, Avegant Glyph uses micro-mirrors to reflect an image directly onto the eyes of users.
With its fairly limited 45 degree field of vision, even providing 1280 X 720 resolution, the Glyph would not be likely to win out against headsets with better screens if it weren’t for the company’s use of the micro-mirrors which are reported to be an excellent option for those prone to eye fatigue, motion sickness, and vertigo.
Though there are games available for the Glyph, it’s functionality is best suited for watching VR and 3D films. The CEO of Avegant has stated that his company is not trying to compete with headsets like Oculus, rather they are presenting a different option for those interested in a different types of media.
Avegant Glyph is available for pre-order now at avegant.com for $699, which if nothing else, makes it a good option to try first.
This headset has to be seen to be believed. When the first buzz about virtual reality headsets began, Google seemed to be keeping its proverbial head down which confused consumers who were sure they would be on the cutting edge of this fast growing technology. Rather than being caught unawares, Google was already in production of its virtual reality headset, made of cardboard!
While putting together a cardboard headset, putting a smartphone into it and calling it VR might sounds far-fetched to some, it actually makes a lot of sense. Every smartphone already has GPS tracking technology and gyroscopic sensors, which is all any VR headset needs in order to do its job. Google has essentially created a low-cost, fully recyclable virtual reality headset that works with most mobile phones. Additionally, several open source producers have crafted Cardboard-enabled headsets of slightly more durable (sweat proof) materials. Buyers just need to look for the orange “Works with Google Cardboard” seal to make sure the headset has been Google approved, and isn’t a cheap knockoff.
Google Cardboard features the following games:
• Halls of Fear VR – Walk through dark and spooky halls, and underground tunnels to search for magic cubes.
• Space Terror VR – A horror game set in a space station where players are chased by monstrous aliens. Excellent graphics on this one.
• Shadowgun VR – A highly-detailed and interactive first-person shooter. A definite must play for shooter fans who have never tried VR.
This relative newcomer on the VR market features exciting technological developments. Unlike headsets such as Oculus and PlayStation VR which use gyroscopic technology to monitor and follow the head motions of users, Fove VR offers interactive eye-tracking. This feature allows users to control their virtual worlds and games by simply moving their eyes. Technology like eye-tracking is the future of VR.
In an industry where realism and utility are the hallmarks of the best devices, being able to control virtual reality worlds without exaggerated motion will automatically place devices like Fove VR in the top tier.
Because Fove VR’s system knows exactly where a user is looking, improved depth of field and graphics what are incredibly realistic are possible. It is also one of only a few platforms to be compatible with multiple game engines including Cryengine, Unreal, and Unity.
Developers, designers, and geeks galore will find this VR headset to be a virtual godsend. Designed with the intention to be fully open source, this device was created to provide the best possible gaming experience in the virtual reality space.
All aspects of the VR industry have been brought together by OSVR’s developers with the intent to take virtual reality gaming to the next frontier. They have essentially created a device that users can hack, change, and improve in order to get the best possible functionality out of it. These changes are tracked by OSVR in the name or improving the design of not only their own virtual reality headset, but also to share technology to improve the designs of future VR headsets in general.
Amateurs wouldn’t be likely to prefer this headset over more popular commercial brands like Oculus or PlayStation VR, but for techies, this device is a shining example of the emerging power of open source technology.
The specs of the Razer OSVR are fairly standard, it features two 5.5 inch displays as well as a 100-degree field-of-view, and head movement tracking. Its ability to be hacked is the most interesting thing about it.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung’s foray into VR has been met with stellar reviews as it provides a more affordable option for those wanting to get into virtual reality. This headset requires a Samsung Galaxy to work, and uses the smartphone as its processor and method of display. The whole things works pretty simply: Users slide the smartphone into a slot that leads to a Micro USB dock. The super AMOLED displays the content after a quick startup process.
In addition to having a host of games available, the Gear also utilizes a VR video marketplace called Milk VR.
Games available on Samsung Gear VR include:
• Darknet – This colorful puzzle game allows players to hack nodes in order to conquer enemy networks. The nodes become more intelligent as gameplay continues, and the terrific, yet simple graphics are reason enough to check it out.
• Temple Run VR – A longtime mobile favorite, the VR version is sure to please as well. An exhilarating trek through the Himalayas accompanied by terrifying monsters. This one is roller coaster of an endless-runner game.
• Ocean Rift – A beautifully designed, and fascinating simulation of a scuba-diving experience in tropical waters.
Zeiss VR One
Containing similar design elements to the Samsung Gear VR, this headset is also fully powered by a smartphone processor, the only difference is that the Zeiss is more versatile. Any Android or iOS smartphone from 4.7- 5.2 inches is compatible with this headset.
This device combines the design elements and lens expertise of Zeiss with open source technology from Unity3d SDK, and as a result is more of a toy for developers much in the same vein as the Razer OSVR. Nevertheless, the design shows a great deal of promise, and users don’t need to be too tech savvy to have fun with one of these headsets. There are few games currently available for the Zeiss VR One, but there is more than enough to play with. A media player provides a VR view of videos and pictures, while apps including one that allows users to explore Google street view in VR provide real-world experiences that are not yet available on other platforms.
There are 9 major competitors on the upcoming VR market, with more expected to emerge in the months before the major shopping seasons. Each of the most popular headsets has features which make it unique among its competitors. Deciding on which headset to choose can be complicated because as some of the less innovative brands get weeded out, game developers and media companies will begin to handpick which platforms they will use to release their products. If you happen to be unfortunate enough to purchase one of the headsets which everyone else collectively decides isn’t as good, you could be stuck with a piece of relatively worthless technology.
The question is – Should you wait to buy a VR headset? The answer is – Maybe, but only if you can only afford one.
The best way for any new technology to improve is for users to explore it and report back. By waiting until the version 3.0-or-whatever model, users might save themselves a little money, but in the long run they are robbing themselves of an opportunity to have a voice in the improvement process.
For example, if someone purchases a third generation model VR headset, but finds the interface dizzying or unpleasant in some other way but others have not noticed a problem with the same device, it is unlikely that this buyer’s lone dissent will have much impact on the future generations of the device. If this same buyer had purchased the first generation model however and had the same complaints, because the device was so new, its creators would have been scouring user forums product reviews to find out what features needed to be changed.
This power is one all consumers have, but especially those who serve as pioneers for emerging technologies. While it may be more cost effective to wait for a tried-and-tested version of a headset, for those who can afford it, being a trailblazer for new technologies is also a way to influence them and take part in making them better for everyone.
When deciding to buy a virtual reality headset, the amount of options available can be a bit daunting. Choosing the best virtual reality headset is not just about specifications and the technology used, but is also about determining which VR headset is the best for you. Some features to consider include:
• Image Resolution – In this case, more is definitely better. The higher the resolution, the clearer and more realistic images and VR worlds will be. Be careful to note how the image resolution compares with features like the device’s refresh rate.
• Refresh Rate – 120 Hz is considered among the best, too much lower than that, and the device will lag or cause a drag in perspective which could lead to issues like motion sickness.
• Field of View – Some headsets offer as high as a 210-degree field-of-view while other headsets go as low as 45-degrees. Though it isn’t everything, the increased field-of-view increases the realism of VR worlds, and how they are perceived. Combining a high image resolution with a wider field-of-view ensures a world that at least looks real to your eyes.
• Portability – Issues like weight, size, and whether a device can be folded or compressed all affect how easy it will be to carry around. Games have always been designed with portability in mind, and those headsets which are too large to wear or transport comfortably will likely be phased out in the face of sleeker models.