The age of virtual reality is upon us with a torrent of devices and content having launched throughout 2016 and some still to come. A VR headset is little more than a pair of convex lenses with a display or two hidden behind. So the gizmo that powers the headset is going to be one of the biggest determinants of overall quality.
VR headsets like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are often referred to as HMDs (head mounted displays). Even with no audio or hand tracking, holding up Google Cardboard to place your smartphone’s display in front of your face can be enough to get you half-immersed in a virtual world. There is a growing interest in what we’ll be able to get VR to do in the modern era.
The system comprises a headset that’s loaded with sensors, offering a display for each eye and integrated headphones. It comes with a camera to add more movement detection information and initially ships with an Xbox One controller prior to bespoke Oculus Touch controllers launching later in 2016. You will also need a high-spec PC to run Oculus Rift, however, and this isn’t included in the £549 asking price for the kit.
Like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive is a full system VR experience that requires a powerful PC to run.
HTC Vive is different from other VR systems because it gives you freedom to roam around a room. While other systems will allow you some movement, HTC Vive uses IR sensors mounted on walls to map your location in the physical space, integrating this into the virtual space. That allows for freedom of movement other systems currently don’t offer. The downside is that you’ll also need a big enough play space to use it in that fashion.
The headset integrates a range of sensors, presenting the slick visuals to your eyes and you have to wear additional headphones to complete the picture. There are bespoke Vive hand controllers and their locations are also mapped within the 3D space, offering plenty of versatility when it comes to immersion and interactivity.
Samsung Gear VR
Designed to support a smartphone, rather than needing a connection to a PC or console there have been a few versions of Gear VR, supporting a number of different smartphone models from Samsung, with the handsets neatly sliding into the tray at the front. Internally there are lenses to split the display between your eyes and with Samsung’s latest devices offering very high resolution displays, this translates into slick visuals.
Gear VR opens the door to mobile devices, but you’ll need to supply the Samsung smartphone
Sony PlayStation VR
Previously known as Project Morpheus, this headset was rechristened PlayStation VR in 2015 – a somewhat fitting name considering it is not PC but PlayStation 4 driven. Rather than presenting a complete VR system, Sony’s PSVR is an accessory for the PS4, PS4 Slim and forthcoming PS4 Pro consoles.
It tracks movement of your head and uses the PlayStation Camera, in combination with your regular PS4 controller or PlayStation Move motion controls, to present the VR experience. This is an extension of your PS4, which is likely to see it as an easy VR choice for many.
PlayStation VR removes plenty of barriers to virtual reality because it’s an accessory to an existing platform. It brings immersive gaming to your existing console.
The Sulon Q VR headset was unveiled during 2016, it runs on a Windows 10 PC architecture. Unlike those headsets though, it doesn’t need a high-end PC to run and is completely “tether-free”. Instead it has the processing power built into the device, using AMD technologies to run “console-quality” games and applications, but without any wires needed to connect it to a separate box.In addition to virtual reality uses, there are lenses on the headset that enable the user to use augmented reality applications too. These overlay computer graphics onto real-world objects.
There are earbuds built-in that provide spatial 3D audio and embedded noise-cancelling microphones enable voice communication without needing a separate mic add-on.
OnePlus Loop VR
Android smartphone manufacturer OnePlus has a similar headset to the Gear VR in the shape of the Loop VR. It looks similar but is capable of working with “most handsets between 5 and 6-inches” and differs from Samsung’s model because it doesn’t have any onboard hardware.
It has orthoscopic lenses and 100-degree field of view, but the experience – including motion sensing – is all done by your phone. Naturally, the better the phone the better the experience.
You slot the smartphone in the front of the device, which is padded and comes with a head strap for comfort, and in many ways it works like a posh version of Google Cardboard, except it has no button, so it’s not completely Cardboard compatible.
LG 360 VR
The LG 360 VR is a headset that you have to connect to your LG G5 via the USB Type-C cable, rather than slipping your phone into the front as you do with Cardboard. It takes the form of a pair of glasses, which you wear rather more conventionally than others. The headset itself has two 1.8-inch IPS displays inside, one for each eye, each with a resolution of 960 x 720 pixels, resulting in 639ppi. Those displays sit behind lenses that can be independently focused, as well as being able to adjust the width to get the best fit to your face and ensure stereoscopic vision.
The headset also carries the controls for your VR environment, with an ok and back button for basic click navigation. Otherwise, it has motion sensors, to allow you to look around the virtual world you’re in. There’s also a sensor between your eyes. This detects when the headset is being worn.