2016 can truly be called the year of virtual reality as everyone and their uncle is talking about it and investing heavy resources into its development. With big players like Google, Sony, Facebook and Microsoft taking a commanding lead over the trend, it seems to be fading away from the realm of fads and may soon become a staple of our daily lives.
We’ve tried them all out and now to get you up to speed, here are the top virtual reality headsets available in the market:
Let’s start off with the most recent addition to the lineup, the PlayStation VR. Using Sony’s PlayStation franchise as a launch platform, the PS VR looks to bring the concept of virtual reality straight to your living rooms.
Sony PS VR Launch Event
By selling the headset as an accessory to their gaming console rather than a standalone device, Sony manages to keep costs down and lower the barrier of entry for regular consumers to access virtual reality. At a price point of 1600 AED in the local market, the headset itself is not nearly as expensive as its competitors. It does require you to own a PlayStation 4 and a PlayStation camera though, so the total system is incomplete without those devices.
The PS VR uses the same technology that’s present in the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but at a lower resolution. The refresh rate tops out at 120 Hz, which is more than sufficient to comfortably play any of the titles available to the device. We had a chance to try it for ourselves at the PlayStation VR Launch event hosted by Sony PlayStation and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
+ Affordable and accessible compared to other headsets
+ Decent library of games to play
- Required accessories aren’t available with the device
- Spotting the controller when wearing the device can be troublesome
It’s impossible to talk about virtual reality and not have the Oculus Rift come up in conversation. Often referred to as the progenitor of the current generation VR arms race, it started off as a funded Kickstarter and was later acquired by Facebook for a hefty $2 billion.
The headset comprises of a display screen for each eye to provide stereo 3D images and integrated headphones that are quite comfortable to wear. It comes with an extra sensor that helps detect movement and track the headset as well as controllers. It used to be bundled with an Xbox Controller but will soon come with its own custom Oculus Touch controllers.
It has a resolution of 2160 x 1200, making it superior to the PS VR in that aspect but with a 90 Hz refresh rate puts it in the same boat as the HTC Vive. When we tried it out, that didn’t seem to matter too much as there were no visible latency issues. Besides the lofty price of $599 in the US, the main issue with the device is that you would need a high-end PC to put its potential to good use and that its still mostly static since it doesn’t support controller tracking for the time being. However, it undoubtedly makes a solid stand as a premium virtual reality headset.
+ Cheaper than the Vive but still requires high-end hardware
+ Well-developed platform and backed by Facebook
- No room-scale options
- Motion controls are still in the works
In the current generation, the HTC Vive is the most complete virtual reality experience available. What makes it different from the other headsets is the ability to move about freely in a set space. The HTC Vive uses infrared sensors mounted on walls to map your location and uses this information in the virtual reality program. This does mean you’ll need a large space to set up the device properly in order to make full use of the system.
HTC Vive at the Flux Innovations Lounge
The headset contains two 1080p display screens, giving it a total resolution of 2160 x 1200 and a refresh rate of 90 Hz, putting it on par with the Oculus Rift. It doesn’t come with headphones so you’ll have to put those on separately and connect them to the device using a 3.5mm jack. They do, however, include motion controllers which allow for a more interactive virtual reality experience when compared to traditional game controllers or remotes.
The main feature of the device is its ability to recognize a 4.5 x 4.5m (15 x 15ft) space around you using more than 70 sensors including gyroscopes, accelerometers and laser position sensors. The camera in front of the device allows it to identify objects in your path and guide you around obstacles. While I was hooked up to the system, I was shown a grid like barrier around me so I knew where the walls and monitor were. I still managed to hit the monitor while flailing about, but that was not reflective of the product, rather my own ineptitude in shooting down zombies before they reached me.
The HTC Vive is the most expensive device on the market right now with a retail price of $799 in the US. That’s almost twice the cost of most gaming consoles and doesn’t include the cost of a high-end gaming PC. But if you can get over the hurdle of having an empty wallet, the Vive in partnership with Valve’s Steam VR manages to pull ahead of other virtual reality headsets out there on pure features alone.
+ Best VR experience available
+ Valve and Steam VR add tons of value
- Quite a blow to the wallet
- Requires high-end graphic cards to run
Samsung Gear VR
Featuring technology developed by Oculus, Samsung’s Gear VR was one of the first VR headsets on the market. Designed for us by smartphones rather than consoles or PCs, all you had to do was slot your Samsung phone into the device, download one of the apps from the store and dive in.
There have been quite a few versions since the original device that launched with the Note 4, with each model adding support for the latest Samsung phones. Due to this, the experience varies from device to device, with the latest phones offering higher resolutions and performance.
The headset is simple enough to use. Your Samsung phone slots is placed in a tray in front and lenses contained within the headset split the mobile phone display for each of your eyes. Although the viewing experience is great, there’s not much you can do apart from using a separate controller to connect your phone.
The latest Gear VR, which was released with the now defunct Galaxy Note 7, is out in the market for 399 AED. The price range, although higher than other mobile headsets, makes it one of the most accessible high-end virtual reality headsets out in the market and a great way for users to experience what VR has to offer.
+ Supports many of Samsung’s most popular phones
+ Sturdy and functional
- Limited VR capabilities
- Still pricey compared to other mobile headsets
Zeiss VR ONE Plus (and other alternate mobile headsets)
Similar to the Galaxy Gear VR, Carl Zeiss created their own VR headset that offers compatibility with a larger number of devices. It supports mobile phones with screen sizes ranging from 4.7 to 5.5 inches using swappable trays that fit into the headset.
Zeiss VR ONE Plus
The VR ONE Plus basically is an example of universal mobile headsets that stem the gap between the Google Cardboard and the Galaxy Gear headsets, which seem worlds apart from a casual perspective. With the price set at $129 in the US (although local prices are much higher), the ability to support different kinds of phones using custom trays like the Galaxy S5, S6 and iPhone 6 does come at a cost.
Other headsets like the VR Box or Alcatel’s VR headset that come with their Idol 4S phone function in almost exactly the same way but come at a cheaper price. The headsets primarily use Google Cardboard apps, which aren’t the best examples of virtual reality available in the market but offer a glimpse at the immersive experience that VR can provide.
+ The most basic VR headsets can cost as little as $10
+ Works on a wide range of phones
- Limited VR experience
- The cheaper models usually have horrible build quality