Virtual reality is here – for real, this time. Pioneer virtual reality goggles like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and the Samsung Gear VR are scheduled to hit shelves in the first half of 2016. And before you say anything, the answer is “no” – virtual reality isn’t going to flop like home 3D movies and video games. Virtual reality goggles offer a completely different kind of experience that’s going to immediately and permanently impact the home entertainment industry. Are you a gamer who’s obsessed about getting the latest and greatest gear, or do you have a devoted gamer in your household? If so, start making peace with your loved ones – once these VR goggles hit the shelves, you may not see them for a while.
Imagine being in the huddle in an upcoming Madden release, or charging through war-torn streets in a future Call of Duty. Think about building your own virtual worlds in games like Minecraft or Sim City. Or perhaps you’ll spend hours simply exploring virtual galaxies, which may be entirely possible in the upcoming PS4 release of No Man’s Sky, which seems tailor-made for virtual reality goggles. What’s even more amazing is that immersive gaming and movie experiences are the tip of the iceberg. With virtual reality goggles, you’ll be able to visit places you’ve never been – not just far-away cities and landmarks, but mountain summits, ghostly shipwrecks and the desolate surfaces of far-away planets.
This isn’t pop culture’s first go-round with virtual reality. Back in the early 1990s, gargantuan virtual reality machines started popping up in arcades and movie theaters. The controls were clunky, the graphics were horrendous and the games often induced vertigo. You either sat in a machine or stood inside of a round pod. Instead of wearing sleek virtual reality goggles, you a donned large, uncomfortable headset that was often coated with sweat from the previous player. A generation of gamers that had grown up watching Tron couldn’t take VR’s primitive technology seriously. Some say the VR movement died – in reality, it was just premature.
Now, the game has changed. Today’s virtual reality goggles are poised to offer smooth 3D graphics in stunning high-definition. The headsets are small, balanced and comfortable. You won’t need to flail around awkwardly in a pod to enjoy this amazing technology. And if you want to experience VR with your friends, you can order the new VR Cover to ensure the only sweat you feel is your own.
Virtual reality is here to stay. Let’s look at some of the best VR goggles expected to rock living rooms and man caves in 2016.
Big things have small beginnings. At the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (often referred to as E3), the usual din of AAA game announcements was interrupted by a duct-taped virtual reality headset being used to demo a first-person shooter. World, meet the Oculus Rift. Soon after E3, Oculus VR started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to develop its product – the campaign surpassed $1 million in less than two days and topped out at nearly $2.5 million. Two years later, Facebook paid $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR. If stealing the show at E3 didn’t immediately convince investors of the market potential of VR goggles, then the Kickstarter campaign and Facebook’s big purchase certainly did.
Now, the Oculus Rift is ready for prime time. The sleek, lightweight headset has an adjustable face plate for a customized, comfortable fit, and it ships with hand-held controllers to bring your hands into the field of play. The VR goggles connect to your computer via an HDMI cable that runs over the ear and connects to laptops and graphic cards (DVI adapters work too). Data and power is carried to the Oculus Rift through a USB cable, and the goggles have an unused USB port for plugging in controllers, headphones or other peripheral devices. A small, discreet camera that looks like a small, modern desk lamp tracks your movements in space by monitoring numerous infrared LEDs on the front and back of the headset, resulting in a complete 360-degree perspective. Within the headset, a pair of lenses magnifies a single OLED screen that displays two simultaneous images for a 3D effect.
Preordering the Oculus Rift will set you back $599, but you’ll get a free copy of the game EVE: Valkyrie, a first-person space combat game optimized for the new goggles. Other upcoming Oculus games include Rockband VR, VA Sports Challenge and a sleek first-person shooter called Bullet Train. Taking the plunge into virtual reality may require dropping several hundred dollars on new computer components – the recommended specs call for the equivalent of an NVIDIA GTX 970 and an Intel i5-4590 processor. On the other hand, you were probably looking for an excuse to update your gaming rig anyway.
Do you own a new Samsung phone? If so, then VR gaming is closer than you think. Your smartphone becomes the main-panel screen in the Samsung Gear VR goggles, which retail for just $99. Just tuck your compatible Samsung phone into the headset’s appropriate docking port and off you go into eye-popping virtual worlds.
The Samsung Gear VR is built with bifocal lenses that fool your brain into merging side-by-side images into a 3D field of view. You’ll need to remove your glasses (if you wear them) to don these googles, but fear not – a focus wheel on top of the unit lets you adjust the image so it’s crystal clear. The Samsung VR lacks the optimized technology you’ll find in the Oculus Rift, so don’t expect to wear these goggles and feel like you’re inside The Matrix. That said, the Samsung Gear VR offers some distinct advantages: 1) It’s wireless. 2) No desktop tracking camera is required (motion sensors are in your smartphone). And 3) This device launched months ahead of the Rift.
Check to make sure you own a compatible Samsung phone before springing for the Gear VR. This is a great option if you don’t want to spend hundreds on a more powerful device (or to upgrade your computer).
Valve is one of the most influential companies in gaming, period. First, Valve created iconic games such as Half Life 2 and Portal. Then, Valve created the Steam platform, revolutionizing how people buy and play their games. Valve even attempted to take over living rooms with its console-like Steam Machines. Given this history, it’s no surprise that Valve is also on the verge of launching its own virtual reality goggles. And this hardware, being built by mobile device manufacturer HTC, might just be the best of the bunch.
The HTC Vive (currently called the Vive Pre while only in use by developers) features two 1080p screens with fast 90 FPS refresh rates that produce sharp, clear images that move fluidly with virtually no lag. The screens are taller than the displays used in other leading VR goggles, giving you a greater vertical field of vision without needing to move your head. But the real selling point of the Vive is the use of two small, silent cameras that track movements throughout your entire playing space. Not only does the Vive track your head and hands, but you can literally move around your living to navigate your virtual world. And don’t worry about tripping over your coffee table. Double tap the home button, and you’ll see outlines of everything around you behind the imagery of your game.
Numerous developers and content producers – the list includes HBO, Google and Lionsgate — are already onboard with the HTC Vive. The Vive won’t launch until after the Oculus Rift hits store shelves; also, its launch price remains a mystery. But when all is said and done, don’t be surprised if Valve’s partnership with HTC yields one of the market’s better sets of VR goggles.
Tired of the annoying PC Master Race hogging all the virtual reality fun? If you’re on the outside looking in of the emerging virtual reality boom, chances are you’re either a) a console gamer, b) someone who appreciates money or c) both. Let’s face it – the only viable virtual reality headset for high-spec gaming isn’t cheap, and it’s also not for gaming consoles. But that’s all about to change with the Sony PlayStation VR.
Sony’s answer for virtual reality gaming arrives in October for the base price of $399, a couple hundred quid below the Oculus Rift’s sticker price. Yes, the Rift is technologically superior, and yes, the Rift will have been on the market for roughly six months before the PlayStation VR hits shelves. But before you can even use the Oculus Rift, you must first have a gaming rig with impressive enough hardware to make most gamers stutter. If you own a PS4, all you’ll need to jump right into virtual reality is the PlayStation VR Launch Bundle which includes all the accessories you’ll need, plus a tech-demo game, for just $100 more.
Also, reviewers who’ve tried the PlayStation VR say it’s completely suited for high-end gaming and almost on par with the tech-hungry Oculus Rift.
First of all, the PlayStation VR – which was referred to has Project Morpheus until the 2015 Tokyo Game Show — does a good job with sticking with the basics. The overall design of these VR goggles resembles the design of the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and other headsets that seem destined for popularity. Sony’s VR headset has earned praise for being comfortable, and the futuristic styling of white and black matte plastics with blue LED lighting is both sleek and distinctly PlayStation’s brand. By the way, those LED lights are more than just decoration – the PlayStation Camera (included in the launch bundle) tracks those LEDs to mirror your movements in virtual worlds. The camera also tracks LEDs on PlayStation Move controllers (two come in the launch bundle) and the standard DualShock4 gamepad, allowing different control options for games of varying complexities. The Oculus Rift employs a similar setup for tracking movements.
As stated earlier, the visual specs of the PlayStation VR trail those of the Rift. Sony’s VR headset gets a 5.7-inch OLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate and resolutions of 960 x 1080 sent to each eye. The 100-degree field of view in the PlayStation VR is 10 degrees smaller than the Rift’s. Unless you’re obsessed with technological perfection, you’ll be too overwhelmed by the awe-inspiring qualities of virtual reality gaming to care about so small a difference.
But how exactly does the PlayStation VR come close to matching the graphic prowess of the Oculus Rift despite the technological limitations of the PS4? The PS4 is the most powerful video game console on the market, but even it can’t hold a candle to Rift-ready gaming rigs. The answer to this question most likely resides in a small black blocks that plugs in between the PlayStation VR and the console itself. We’ll likely get a peak behind the curtain once tech-savvy gamers get their mitts on Sony’s headsets.
With high-end affordable options like the PlayStation VR, we can safely predict that VR headsets will soon become cheaper across the board. That leaves motion sickness as perhaps the only thing separating everyone from plugging into the Matrix and staying there. The PlayStation VR certainly hasn’t cracked the nausea code, but Sony reduced the latency in its final product enough to keep it on par with the Rift and Vive. Eventually, the technology will improve enough that most people will be able to enjoy long gaming sessions without headaches or worse, but for now VR gaming is best enjoyed with breaks or in small doses.
So if you’re a console gamer, you don’t need to wait much longer to experience the next evolution in gaming. And you’ll have plenty to look forward. The headset will be compatible with more than 20 games by the year’s end, and that list includes Eve Valkyrie, Gran Turismo Sport, Project CARS, Tekken 7 and Final Fantasy XV. Also, don’t overlook Sony’s midcycle refresh of its industry-leading console – the PlayStation 4.5 is rumored to feature a graphics processor that’s twice as powerful as the current offering, and that could have huge implications in the system’s VR capabilities.
Don’t be envious of the PC Master Race. Sure, they may be having all the fun now, but in six months you’ll have an equally exhilarating VR experience with more extra money in your gaming budget.
Want to enjoy some cheap, smartphone-powered virtual reality, but your iPhone won’t work with the Samsung Gear VR? Fear not – the Zeiss One VR has you covered. Just like the Gear VR, this sturdy, well-built set of VR goggles uses your iPhone or Android phone as your primary screen. The Zeiss One VR accomplishes this using slide-out trays that are customized to fit snugly with various phones. While not as convenient as a “one size fits all” approach, the sliding tray does make inserting and removing your phone much easier.
The Zeiss One VR’s price tag of $99 lets you experience virtual reality without dropping hundreds on new kit. You can download several free apps, and these VR goggles are also compatible with content made for the low-end Google Cardboard VR (the aesthetic and technical qualities of the Zeiss One VR are no match for the Cardboard). That said, Zeiss One VR also doesn’t stack up well against the Samsung Gear VR. Both cost the same, but the Zeiss goggles fog up, don’t include navigation controls and don’t provide the same immersive field of view. But if you have a newer iPhone, the Zeiss One VR could be your best option for experiencing virtual reality without breaking the bank.
Oh look, another low-priced set of virtual reality goggles that uses your smartphone as its screen. However, the Visus VR isn’t a carbon copy of the Samsung Gear VR or the Zeiss One VR – far from it. These virtual reality goggles stream games and videos from your PC to your phone screen. In other words, the Visus VR aims to let you enjoy your gaming rig with a VR field of view. Even better, the Visus VR is equipped with a stellar head-tracking sensor to mirror your every turn and glance while immersed in virtual worlds.
It’s too early to tell whether the Visus VR, the Samsung Gear VR or some other smartphone-based VR goggles will rule the budget-friendly market. But at just $149, the Visus VR definitely belongs in the conversation. This simple, lightweight headset offers a wireless connection, fog-free lenses (thanks to a dedicated lens fan), four hours of battery life and a field of view greater than 110 degrees. While not every PC game is playable on this platform, give Visus props for creating innovating technology at a price most gamers can afford.
Whether you spring for the Oculus or a cheaper set of goggles, do yourself a favor and spend a little extra for the high-grade VR Cover. These natural fabric covers are washable, easy to attach and available for the most popular virtual reality headsets. In addition to protecting your hardware from scratches, they also keep dirt, sweat and odors from leeching into the heavy foam cushioning built into the face pieces of most VR goggles. You can order official VR Covers customized for the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive VR and the Samsung Gear VR, and most models sell for less than $20. It’s a smart purchase that can make your VR goggles last much longer. Check out these covers at the VR Cover website.