VR headsets such as Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, or the upcoming Sony “Project Morpheus” are all essentially the same thing. Virtual reality. Some you can buy right now to test out for yourself, while most are mainly prototypes to show what’s possible in the near future. This article is going to explain what’s out their currently and talk about if you should buy one now. It’s really hard to get an understanding for virtual reality without experiencing it for yourself, but I have included many product videos that should help you get a feel for it.
If you don’t already know, all of the devices listed below are headsets that you put on your face that allow you to be in a 3D realm. No longer do you have to sit in a chair and watch what is happening on a screen because now you are actually there.
What does this mean?
Right now, you go to the movies and sit down in a chair and stare at a screen. Even if you watch the 3D movies with the glasses you are still staring forward looking at what everyone is doing in the movie. If you have seen The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings they both looked great, but just imagine how much more amazing it would be to be standing right in the middle of the army marching to battle. Being able to look around at your surroundings and see arrows flying overhead when you physically look up. Having the ability to see a fellow solider be stabbed by the opponents sword right beside you while others fight all around.
When I say virtual reality, I literally mean a separate virtual reality. You put them on, and you’re there. There isn’t anyway to explain this, but to try it yourself. You might be thinking “I’d love to, but it’s a new technology and that means it’s expensive”. Wrong! Well partially wrong. Some of the headsets are relatively expensive, but that’s where Google Cardboard comes in.
Google Cardboard came out last year at the Google I/O 2014 conference. Everyone, including myself, literally thought it was a joke. Samsung was said to unveil their VR headset soon, and other headsets were kind of expensive, but Google gave out VR headsets that were actually made out of cardboard, hence the name.
How can other companies charge a lot, while Google makes a headset out of cardboard? In possibly the greatest engineering feat in recent times, they did this by using what you already have on you at all times, your phone. Your phone is the screen, the processor, the hard drive, the everything. A huge problem with this is is your phone is inside making you unable to touch the screen to select things. However, in the most ingenious way, Google added a magnet on the side that disrupts the magnet in your phone, which simulates a touch. It really is genius that they were able to build something so simple that can be so powerful.
The entire device doesn’t even use any glue or connectors. It’s a single sheet of cardboard that you fold in a special way that turns into a headset. It works with any phone, even the iPhone, but the best part about the Cardboard is the price. It’s under $20! Too expensive for you? Well, they even gave the plans away for free so you can make it yourself! Literally order a pizza, a couple special lenses, a magnet, and you’re done. You now have an actual VR headset.
I recently bought one to see what VR is all about, and for the price, literally everyone reading this should buy one. I promise it will blow your mind when you first put it on. There are a few companies offering different types of headsets, but they are all the same. You do have to watch what size you buy based on your phone size. If your screen is a normal, roughly 5″ or smaller, the regular version is fine. If you have a LG G3, G4, or Samsung Note series, etc get the larger Google Cardboard. They also come in different colors, which is cool (I got black) and this one comes with an NFC tag that opens the cardboard app the second you put your phone in as well as a head strap. Makes things much more real when you look around hands free.
Google I/O 2015 is on May 25 and they are said to bring some new VR experiences. Should be very interesting to see where they go from here. Possibly a new stronger VR device or hopefully optimize Android more for VR? We will have to wait and see.
Only downside is some phones (like my S3) have the magnet at the bottom of the phone rather than the top where Google Cardboard needs it to be. The S4 and S5 as well as most phones have the magnet inside them at the top and the magnet button will work fine. You can also use a bluetooth keyboard or bluetooth controller to click things as well.
This video is pretty hilarious as it’s EXACTLY what you will feel when you get it in the mail. Takes a couple tries to understand how to fold it, but once you figure it out, your mind is blown. There are many apps that can be downloaded in the Google Play store since release also.
Works with any Android phone 4.0 or higher or the iPhone 5 or higher.
The true originator of VR for the consumers. About three years ago this unknown company came out with the Oculus Rift that blew everyone away. It wasn’t perfect at the time, but has made far strides since then. If you don’t think VR is the future yet I should tell you Facebook sure does because they purchased Oculus last year for 2 billion dollars. That’s not the type of money you spend on a fad. VR is the here to stay and will only improve as time goes on.
The real strength of the Oculus is it works for PC games. It used to work for PC or Mac, but only recently has Oculus said they will be focusing on PC only for now. Although, I have a Mac and would like to use it, I think they are making the right decision. All the big games are for PC, and that’s the market for Oculus right now.
I haven’t tried the Oculus myself, but I can only imagine how awesome it must be. To be able to play video games where you feel like you are the character is revolutionary. Especially if it works smoothly. Right now you can only buy a developer kit, but a consumer version is set to release in 2016.
The key to the Oculus is it has a 1080 screen making things look sharp and clear, but the true secret is a fast latency. What you’ll notice right away from using the Cardboard is you can’t turn your head too fast or everything will blur causing some people to get motion sickness after prolonged use. The Oculus Rift has fixed this by making a very low latency rate. For video games, high frame rate and low latency is a must, and Oculus delivers just that. It has been tested that anything under 20 milliseconds latency is fast enough for your brain to think it’s real. Right now, the Oculus is about 40-60 milliseconds, but a newer version is coming out soon that will hit that 20 millisecond spot.
Works with PC only
You can buy the Oculus Rift on Amazon. This is the new DK2 kit
Samsung Gear VR
Right between the Oculus and the Google Cardboard. It’s actually a partner product between Oculus and Samsung bringing the best of both companies. It works just like the Cardboard where your phone is the processor, screen, etc only it has built in controls on the side, a more fitting head strap, and just general better quality materials to make it. Everything is just stepped up from the Cardboard. The way it does this is its biggest pro and con since it ONLY works with the Note 4. They also have made a Gear VR that works with the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, but they are two separate devices. Having a very specific device to work with a very specific phone makes sure everything is working at its best, but of course sucks because you can only use them with those phones only.
The good news is your experience is amazing. Android’s biggest problem is app developers have to make sure their app works on hundreds of different devices with all different screen sizes. This creates a lot of fragmentation making apps work a little differently depending on your device. Samsung Gear VR apps only have to be developed for the Note 4 and the S6 totally getting ride of any fragmentation and creating a very smooth experience.
Another huge benefit is you get the polished Samsung Oculus store, but can still use ALL the Google Cardboard apps as well. To do this just don’t plug the phone into the headset and launch the Cardboard app you want. Everything will work just like using the Cardboard, only in a much nicer fitting headset.
The biggest pro for the Samsung Gear VR, and why I think it’s the best VR headset you can buy right now is because the screens that are in the Note 4 and S6. Both are UHD 2560×1440 displays that are easily the best on the market. A lot of people hate on the S6 or other phones with UHD displays saying you won’t notice that much of a difference over 1080p screens, and while this is somewhat true for normal use, it couldn’t be farther from the truth for VR. That high resolution being held a foot or two away from your face for sending a text doesn’t matter, but in VR your phone is not only inches away from your eyes, but also magnified from the lenses. The higher the resolution of the display the better.
Low resolution displays will make your VR experience suck because they create what’s known as a “screen door effect”. The phone is so close to your eyes you’ll see the lines between the pixels very clearly. I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 and a iPhone 6, both with 720p displays that look pretty good in normal use, but really are the bare minimum for VR. For the Google Cardboard you’ll get what VR is all about, but for a good experience, I don’t recommend anything under 1080. Ideally 6K screens will be the best, but we are still years away from that.
If you are actually interested in buying this, I suggest watching the entire video. if not, just hit play and watch a couple minutes of the theater app. Just that alone looks pretty awesome.
Works with Note 4 or S6/S6 edge
Sony Project Morpheus/PlayStation VR
EDIT: This is now known as PlayStation VR.
This is what we have all been waiting for. A way to bring our favorite video games to life. Currently, this is just a prototype, but when it’s released in the next couple years it will work for the PS4 creating a new level of realism, confirmed to work with GT Sport. Anyone who has played GTA 5 on new gen systems has tried the new first person mode. Like any other video game with first person you see out of the characters eyes, but the real downside is the small field of view. It’s like going through life with side blinders on. Now think about how amazing it will be to be able to look around with your actual head and see the camera views change. Just like in real life, you have a view right in front of you and also wider peripheral vision. See something in the corner of your eye just look to see if it’s important or not.
The problem with a lot of VR headsets is low latency rates creating blurred transitions when you move your head too fast. Like the Oculus Rift, the most important thing is high frame rates and low latency. Sony delivers making what looks like the smoothest experience yet. It packs a 1920×1080 for each eye! That’s two high res displays right in front of your eyes creating by far the sharpest image yet. The latency is also the quickest we have seen so far under 18 milliseconds.
What really separates Sony’s VR headset against all others is it’s a whole new take on playing video games. You can stand or sit depending on the game you are playing. Games like Gran Turismo where you sit in a car would be perfect for sitting down and using your racing wheel to drive the car. You would be able to slightly look around to see who’s beside you or what’s around a corner. Literally the same as driving a real car would be possible. Of course that’s not all that makes it different. It also uses a camera to track your movements. If you walk closer to something the camera zooms in making it seem like you actually got closer. You can also crouch down in real life and your character will also crouch. I can not imagine how amazing video games will be once this becomes mainstream.
One problem with VR in video games is it’s just you. If you have friends over they can’t see the screen since it’s in the headset. Sony understands playing video games with friends is pretty important and let you have the ability to just use the headset or display the video on the headset and a TV to allow others see what you are doing. People watching won’t get the actual 3D enviroment with depth etc that you will, but at least they won’t just be sitting there watching you play.
A downside is it has wires. The final release I am assuming will be totally wireless letting you plug in the headset when the batteries get low just like a normal controller or plug it in and keep using it. Since it has a camera I am not sure if you can be anywhere in the room or right in front of the camera like the Xbox Kinect? There are still a lot of unanswered questions concerning this VR headset, but it looks very promising.
Works with PS4
This is the odd man out when it comes to VR. One of the problems I have with VR is it blocks out real life and brings you into the virtual world. Technically, that’s the whole point, but it does become a little strange not knowing what’s going on in real life. You have zero idea what’s happening. HoloLense fixes this by merging real life and VR bring a seamless viewing experience. It’s reminds me a bit like Google Glass where you can still see real life, but it puts a heads up display in front of you.
The difference between Glass and HoloLense is this uses Windows 10 to do everything. It’s all wireless, yet still offers the ability to have a full computer in front of you when you need it. In the demo at 7:00 you can see the lady creating a 3D object drone using only the headset and not touching a thing. She later presses print and what she took seconds to design actually prints out from the virtual world into the real world with the help of a 3D printer.
Since you can control full a Windows 10 operating system, it gives you the ability to work anywhere. One of the biggest problems I have with computers is the awkward way they are used. Whether you use a desktop or laptop to do real work you always have to sit with your hands forward typing away. With HoloLense you now how the freedom to sit anywhere and still do real work. You could even lay down down and be able to control your computer with some simple hand gestures. According to Microsoft you can use full Windows 10 making it a direct competitor for the Oculus. It doesn’t seem to be focused on gaming, but I don’t see why it couldn’t in the future. I am very excited to see how this project turns out and to see what happens with it in the future.
At 7:00 min the real demo starts. You would have to picture it actually looking like a real 3D object in front of you, but you get the idea from their demo.
Works with Windows 10.
Be sure to check out Microsoft’s HoloLense site to see some cool demos and pictures.
Super brand new as in just came out roughly a month ago on Kickstarter for pre-orders. This headset aims to provide a new way of VR. It will still bring the 3D virtual reality space, but does this with eye tracking rather than needing to move your entire head to see things. Great idea as if you pay attention to the way you see things in your day to day life it’s mostly eye movement only. I only move my entire head to look at things when I absolutely have to. Other than that, it makes much more sense to just move your eyes. With eye tracking you can do just that, but also click things. The headset is aimed at PC gamers and is hoping to be faster than the typical keyboard and mouse. I haven’t tested this, but I would imagine once all the bugs are worked out just looking at something would have to be way faster than pressing a button on your keyboard or having to move your entire hand to touch something on a touch screen. Eye tracking is the focus, but full head movement is still tracking like the others it still can do also.
Right now, this is a very early prototype device with hopes of building something huge. A major selling point, like the Samsung Gear VR, the screen resolution is 2560×1440. This will bring a much clearer images that will be hard to distinguish real life from virtual reality.
“Eye Play the Piano is a collaborative project between the University of Tsukuba’s Special Needs Education School for the Physically Challenged and FOVE. FOVE recognizes eye movement and blinks to trigger the selected chord, which is then conveyed to the piano.”
Works with Windows, Mac, Linux (so they say now)
Head to FOVE Kickstarter page if you would like to get one
I originally didn’t add this VR headset because it is made by HTC who usually makes good products, but they never gets the execution right. HTC as a brand has also had so many issues with the internal parts of the company, I was hesitant to recommend their device. However, thanks to the comments, I looked into it a bit more and it looks like HTC is bringing a pretty awesome VR headset to consumers. Of course, it’s still a prototype so far with plans of being released sometime this year giving HTC plenty of time to screw it up, but so far it’s looking good.
The huge difference between this VR headset and all the others is this one allows you to physically walk around in real life and move in a virtual world. For me, that is the one request I have always wanted. To be able to add a physical component to the VR games. How it works is the front of the headset has a bunch of little censors (37 in total) all over it and you set up two laser devices around the room you are in. They shoot back at you telling the headset how much space you have to move around in so you don’t walk into any walls etc.
I am not sure how this will actually play out when it comes to gaming as if you have a small room you will need to turn more while the game may have a straight path to follow. According to HTC in the video below, the guy says the game will fade away a little and use a camera to show you the real wall in front of you so you can turn to avoid it. I would think that would kind of ruin the experience if you are turning right in real life to avoid a wall, but moving straight in the game then have to stop and move. Hard to say right now, but I’m sure that is a major concern for HTC.
Like Sony’s VR headset that has two high resolution displays the Vive is set to include two 1080 x 1200 screens, one for each eye giving the Vive a total resolution of 2160 x 1200 pixels, and an aspect ratio of 9:5 as opposed to other headsets’ more standard 16:9. This means the image will be taller which should feel more natural. The screen is running at 90Hz which is the same as the Oculus Rift, but much less than Sony’s Project Morpheus, which runs at 120Hz. Will this matter, only time and testing will tell.
Right now, they said it will work for Steam PC’s and be wireless, but right now it has wires. HTC makes tons of Android devices and I am wondering if they will come out with an Android version too? Also, it’s meant for gaming PC’s, but gives no word as to the minimum specs. It would really suck to have to build a custom PC just for this headset to work. Hopefully the specs are fairly low for a gaming PC to allow many users to get in on the action.
Works with Steam PC’s
More can be seen at HTC Vive website
Current Problems with VR
The biggest problem is with power. The headsets listed here are either battery powered or plugged into a computer. If it’s plugged in, you don’t have to worry about running out of battery, but now you have to deal with wires hanging off possibly tugging at you if you move your head too far away etc. With battery power you get a limited amount of use before needing to recharge the battery, but do have the freedom to go anywhere. In my personal experience, having no wires is the way to go, but it really sucks having to stop and charge your device. Especially with the Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR where your phone does everything. You will be using your phone as a phone and want to watch a movie in VR, but usually have to charge it a bit first to make sure there is enough juice. It becomes really annoying, but at the same time not the biggest deal since everyone is used to charging their phone all the time anyway. With modern phones that have quick charge this problem would be much less of an issue.
Another major problem is VR content. The Google Playstore offers a decent amount of VR games and apps, but not enough to be able to totally live in a VR world. The iPhone brings even less VR apps, but of course VR is still quite new. The good thing is Google is working hard to bring VR to the mainstream, and have already optimized VR into some popular apps you have already installed on your phone right now. If you have an Android device Google Maps has VR built in. Open any location you want and switch to street view. In the bottom right, there is a little arrow thing that if you double tap will split the map into two separate images. If you have a Google Cardboard, you can look around and browse the map inside the virtual world. I hate viewing street view on my computer as I have to click and drag the screen to see different things, but it is SO much better when you can just look around and the camera angle changes. It feels like you are actually on the street looking at things.
A smaller problem is people with glasses. The normal size Google Cardboard for example is kind of small and may not work if you have large glasses. I have tried them with people with normal style frames and they work fine. Medium thicker style frames can also work, but you will have to squeeze them in a little. Large frames however there is no chance. For the Google Cardboard it’s not that big of a deal since you can just buy the larger size, but for the other VR headsets listed here and other ones in the future I am not sure what they will do to counter this problem. So far Samsung Gear VR has an adjustable focus wheel at the top since you can not wear glasses at all with it. I would imagine other companies will follow suit.
Which VR headset buy?
Right now all the VR headsets listed here are not really competing with each other. They each corner a certain market of their own, but I’m sure a lot of overlap will eventually come. Games, apps, general 3D movies are slowly coming, but not a huge amount of them are available just yet. For that reason, purchasing an expensive VR is debatable, but the one that every single person reading this article should purchase is the Google Cardboard. It’s just so cheap and you get so much. For the price of a couple coffees, you can experience virtual reality. Think about that. The price of a small pizza can now give you a second reality. The funniest part is if you are thinking, “screw that, I’d rather get the pizza”, you actually end up getting both since you can build your own Cardboard using the box. I can not get over that, and am impressed every time I use mine. Due be aware that it is made out of actual cardboard and phones with less than 1080 screens won’t look that great however the price beats any cons. To this day I am still amazed every single time I put mine on.