Leaving Reality – an age of headsets

Oculus Rift

HTC Vive

Google Cardboard

Samsung Gear VR

Graphical displays have been changing drastically over time. There was a time when the mouse didn’t exist, now it is possible to don a pair of glorified glasses and control a virtual world with your body. This article documents the competition and status of the VR industry.

Currently the VR market is dominated by three VR consoles; the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and the Plastation VR. So what are the differences?

First let me explain the various types of sensors and setups.

The most accurate is the lighthouse sensor system. This is where the headset will have many sensors inside it and you will have to place other sensors around your room. The distance between the sensors will be measured so the computer knows exactly where you are in the real world. This allows you to walk around and look around with incredible accuracy.

Another contender that is arguably the second best is where a camera watches you and uses image recognition to plot your location. The only real downside to this is that the image recognition systems available are not very accurate.

The third best option contains sensors in the headset that can detect tilting and looking around, but usually cannot detect walking with accuracy.

The worst (by far) is a headset that is nothing but a placeholder for your cellphone and it uses your motion sensors. These can be good if you calibrate your phone prior to use to avoid “VR Drift” – this is when you can sit perfectly still staring straight ahead and after a minute, buggy sensors have transmogrified you into an owl as you’ve supposedly turned your head around far enough to feature in the scariest horror movie of all time. To calibrate your phone, download and open the Lamper VR app, open it and leave your phone on a flat surface for 5 minutes. It will detect and counter the drift with some accuracy.

For those looking for a cheap, entry level VR experience, the best option is to get the Samsung Gear VR. It allows you to simply slide your phone into the headset an enjoy a panoramic view. The Gear VR provides the best result for headsets that use your phone, however it still has some attributes that display the reason for its low price ($199). One of these is that it does not use the lighthouse sensor system, meaning that although it knows which way you are facing, you cannot walk around your virtual world. If you want to move around you must use a teleport feature. You point its controller at a spot on the ground near you and click a button to move there. However, it has more sensors inside the headset to avoid VR Drift, placing it a step above the Google Cardboard. Its games are also very limited and the fact that it is powered by a phone means it cannot perform tasks that require a lot of processing power. Surprisingly, however, it has a higher display resolution than the Oculus Rift. The second-best phone-based headset is the Google Cardboard. This was designed to be an incredibly cheap headset that anyone can purchase to enter the virtual world. At $15, it is literally made of cardboard (mostly) and will leave you with a rash and taste for a more immersive experience. You will, however, suffer from VR drift.

If you want something truly immersive, you will need to step up to the world of PC-powered setups or the Playstation VR. Keep in mind you will most likely need to upgrade your machine. There are two PC-powered setups in the spotlight right now. The first is Oculus Rift. Oculus rift uses the lighthouse setup and compatibility with two remotes. It provides an incredibly immersive sensation for a low price and you can walk around in your virtual world. Anything the HTC Vive can do, the Oculus Rift can also do, and vice versa.

The second is the HTC Vive, the dominant VR system. This also uses the lighthouse setup and by default uses two remotes. Its immersive strength comes from its high frame rate, high field of view and the smooth detection of movement.

The Playstation VR is a very well-known competitor. It is also incredibly smooth and immersive but does not compete with the Oculus and Vive because its controls are reported to be “clunky” by some (but not all). This may simply be a result of its highly ambitious use in games. It is still a top contender in the VR market.

The author’s final opinion on what to buy is to first ask what you want.

Do you just want to see what VR is like and probably never use it again? If so, the Google Cardboard is the right choice.

Do you want to explore the true possibilities of VR without spending too much? Get the Gear VR – if you have a compatible phone – or buy a Cardboard.

If you want to truly experience VR, ask yourself the following three questions:

Do you have a playstation? If so, PSVR.

Do you have a PC? If so, Oculus Rift.

Do you honestly not care how much you spend and just want to leave reality altogether?

Get yourself an HTC Vive.