Virtual reality is back and, with some incredible VR headsets in development, the best is yet to come.
Virtual reality is an immersive experience in which your head movements are tracked in a three dimensional world, making it suited to games and even movies.
While VR was a non-starter back in the 90s, developers are now creating mind-blowing experiences, which look set to revolutionise gaming. The most incredible thing is that the latest and greatest VR experiences don’t require mind-bending technology.
Yes, the likes of Oculus Rift and Avegent Glyph look fairly futuristic, some of the best experiences out there today just require a smartphone, a cardboard box and a bit of trial and error. There are tonnes of great Google Cardboard apps and games which anyone can try, for an insight into what this new world of VR has to offer.
But what are the best VR headsets and which one should you choose? We’ve created the definitive list of the 6 most gob-smackingly awesome devices just waiting to be strapped to your bonce.
Of course, Oculus Rift is the virtual reality headset that started the current hysteria. Developed by 21-year-old engineer Palmer Luckey, funded via Kickstarter and snapped up by Facebook for a cool $2bn, the Rift plugs into your computer’s DVI and USB ports and tracks your head movements to provide 3D imagery to its stereo screens.
The consumer edition is set to ship in Q1 2016, with two wireless Oculus Touch controllers to allow hand tracking, and Xbox One control pad compatibility.
Sony PlayStation VR
At last we have a launch date for Sony’s Project Morpheus, the PlayStation 4 powered VR headset: the first half of 2016. And a name too – it’s officially called the PlayStation VR.
A new version was announced at GDC 2015 and gone is the 5-inch LCD display of the original prototype; in its place a 5.7-inch OLED one that will improve motion blur and enable low persistence. The display’s refresh rate has been ramped up to 120hz, making 120fps gaming a real possibility.
The reported latency issues of Morpheus Mk1 have been addressed, with a new 18ms reading, and tracking accuracy has been tweaked with a total of nine LEDs now aiding the positional awareness of the headset.
HTC unveiled the HTC Vive, a Steam VR headset made in a collaboration with Valve at MWC 2015 – and it’s due to hit the shops before the end of the year, albeit in a limited release.
It packs 70 sensors and 360 degree head-tracking and offers a 90Hz refresh rate; the stat that’s key to keeping down latency. Elsewhere, there’s an accompanying “context aware controller”, so you can shoot, move and interact with elements in the virtual world.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung’s entry into VR has delivered one of the best all-round and consumer friendly headsets on the market, albeit, with a restrictive walled garden that we’re becoming accustomed to with its wearable offerings.
The Gear VR is an Oculus Rift powered device that uses a Samsung Galaxy smartphone (Note 4 or Galaxy S6 depending on the version you choose) as its processor and display. The Galaxy handset simply slots in front of the lenses, into a Micro USB dock, and uses its Super AMOLED display as your screen.
It’s already added a host of games and a whole marketplace of VR video content called Milk VR, which is available in the US. And if you want to try it out, just head to Samsung stores, museums and even hotel rooms for a taster.
In our Samsung Gear VR review, we said that “Samsung’s first VR headset is an awesome peek into the future of VR for the rest of us and we’re betting on Samsung to make good on its promise to get enough movies, games and VR experiences onto the Gear VR as possible.”
The device that took everyone off guard, Microsoft HoloLens is half virtual and half augmented reality. The device merges real world elements with virtual ‘holographic’ images, meaning you can look at your Minecraft world on your kitchen table, or walk around the surface of Mars in your living room.
Using Kinect-style tech to recognise gestures and voice commands, the headset has a 120 degree field of vision on both axis, and is capable of ‘high definition’ visuals. What’s more, there’s no connection to a PC – a full Windows 10 system is built into the headset and runs off a battery. Yes, we can’t wait to see how long that lasts either.
There’s no word on a release date, and it’s unlikely to be a reality until 2016.
FOVE VR differs from the likes of Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR because it offers interactive eye-tracking. Inside the headset is an infrared sensor that monitors a wearer’s eyes; offering both a new control method and an edge on its competitors when it comes to realism.
With FOVE, simulated depth-of-field is possible, due to the system knowing exactly what you’re looking at and, as a result, the virtual should appear more real.
FOVE makes use of the Wear VR software platform and is compatible with Unity, Unreal, and Cryengine game engines.