By Teri Olcott
Although it may sound like science fiction, virtual reality (VR) is now, well, a reality. VR technology has been around since the late 1960s, but not in a way that resembles the compact VR headsets of today. The current design of VR gear started in 2010 when a young man named Palmer Luckey invented a streamlined VR headset that would later become known as the Rift and would put his company, Oculus VR, to the forefront of the VR market.
Today, several companies boast of their state-of-the-art VR headsets and accessories. Very popular with the gaming generation, VR gear can transport the user to a whole new level of entertainment. That same technology also has great potential for advancements in medicine, transportation, interior design, and other fields where virtual simulations can aid with training and help visualize the end result.
Thinking of buying a VR headset? The latest wave in VR gear can be a bit intimidating, but the following information should help you decide if today’s VR headset is right for you.
What is a VR headset?
A VR headset is nothing more than elaborate goggles that allow you to see a very realistic, 3D, 360-degree view of a fantasy world. Motion tracking cameras allow you to look around the virtual space as if you were actually there. Games or apps designed to go with the headset allow you to participate in all sorts of activities. Sounds and music played through built-in headphones help add to the experience. Slay dragons, pilot a starship, stop an alien invasion, or just look at the stars, it’s all possible and safe in a virtual world.
Mobile vs. Tethered
At the moment, VR headsets are either mobile, meaning no cables, or tethered, meaning a cable connects the headset to a computer. Mobile headsets are designed to work with a smartphone which acts as the processor for the headset. Tethered headsets rely on a powerful computer or similar device such as the PlayStation 4. Both types of headsets have their pros and cons. No cables might sound best, but most smartphones aren’t specifically designed for VR and don’t produce the best image. A high powered computer will provide a better experience, but the cable can get in the way, especially with interactive games which require a lot of moving about.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone could design a standalone headset that does not rely on a computer or a cell phone? Read on.
Oculus VR, now owned by Facebook, recently revealed a prototype headset called the Go which does not need a smartphone or a computer for VR enjoyment. Oculus rival HTC also announced plans for a standalone headset called the Vive Focus. Although neither headset is on the shelf at the moment, prototypes and test models have been seen at trade shows and both should be released sometime this year. The following information compares these two up-and-coming VR headsets.
The HTC Vive Focus
HTC is calling the Vive Focus an all-in-one VR headset. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip (the same chip used in high-end smartphones) and offers six-degrees-of-freedom (6DoF). Most headsets provide only three-degrees-of-freedom (3DoF) which means you can only look around in the spot where you are standing. 6DoF will allow the wearer to walk around a room and stay in the VR environment. This makes the Vive Focus a truly mobile headset.
For game interaction and control, there is a 3DoF Bluetooth handheld controller with a clickable thumb trackpad and app-specific buttons, volume control, and a trigger.
|Vive Focus Headset Technical Specs|
|Tracking Technology||Inside-out, six-degrees-of-freedom, nine-axis sensors, proximity sensor|
|Display and Resolution||3K AMOLED, resolution 2880 x 1600|
|Refresh Rate||75 Hz|
|Field of View||110 degrees|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 835|
|Storage||MicroSD™ slot, up to 2TB MicroSD™ external memory|
|Audio Input/Output||Built-in microphone, built-in speakers, 3.5 mm stereo audio jack|
|Power and Battery||Built-in rechargeable battery, QC3.0 fast charging, up to three hours of active use time, over one week standby time|
|Games/VR Worlds||Viveport subscription ($6.99/month)|
The hardware and software used on the Vive Focus is some of the most powerful on the market for VR headsets. This hardware is needed for the 6DoF tracking. Wearers will be able to walk, jump, and run around a virtual room as if they were really there. Position tracking by cameras on the front of the headset make the experience more enjoyable compared to tethered or untethered 3DoF headsets.
The current price tag of the Vive Focus is $600. This is three times the price of most VR headsets. Because the wearer can move about while in a virtual room, there is always the potential for injury as the wearer may become so immersed in the game that he or she could trip over or walk into objects.
Pre-orders for the Vive Focus are currently being accepted in China only. There is no information on the headset being sold in other countries at this time.
The Oculus Go
The Go is the third headset release from Oculus. It is lightweight with a new mesh foam interface and has superb visual clarity thanks to state-of-the-art lenses and a fast-switch display. Oculus describes the Go as a revolutionary VR standalone headset that can play movies, run games, and let you meet up with friends in a virtual world. The headset is rumored to run on an Android-powered Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip (not quite as powerful as the Vive Focus) and requires no other devices other than a game controller. Cameras offer the standard 3DoF environment which means you must stay in the spot where you are sitting or standing to enjoy the game.
A single motion controller with a touch area and trigger allows game control and integration.
|Oculus Go Headset Technical Specs|
|Tracking Technology||Inside-out, three-degrees-of-freedom|
|Display and Resolution||LCD, fast-switch, resolution 2560 x 1440|
|Refresh Rate||90 Hz (unconfirmed)|
|Field of View||110 degrees|
|Tracking Area||Seated, Standing|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 821 (unconfirmed)|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer|
|Audio||Built-in speakers, 3.5 mm stereo audio jack|
|Games/ VR Worlds||Smartphone-based|
The Go is scheduled to hit the shelves early this year. With a higher resolution and better screen than its siblings, the Go should be a popular VR headset. A price tag of $200 makes it an attractive option as well. Although limited by its 3DoF tracking, users can still enjoy an untethered VR experience. The headset features built-in integrated spatial audio to further enhance the environment and eliminate the need for external headphones. For example, if a monster enters on your left, you will hear the sound of the monster on your left. No cell phone or computer is needed to power this headset.
Compared to the HTC Vive Focus, the Go is limited by its 3DoF tracking. The headset will track head movement, but that’s it. You cannot walk or jump around a room. Gamers looking for a truly mobile VR experience will be more interested in the HTC Vive Focus which brings something new to the VR world.
Wouldn’t it be great if Oculus could create a truly mobile 6DoF headset? Read on.
Project Santa Cruz
Oculus does make a 6DoF headset called the Rift, but unfortunately, it is tethered to a PC. An untethered 6DoF headset called the Santa Cruz is in the final development stages for Oculus. The gaming world is quite excited about this latest headset which is set for release early this year. Little is known about the headset at the moment, but it will be similar to the popular Rift model and truly mobile.
As VR technology continues to evolve, the concept of “try before you buy” is just around the corner. Test drive a car, build a house, or redesign a room by simply putting on a headset. In fact, House Tipster is looking to get in on this technology by offering virtual room apps for most VR headsets that will allow the wearer to not only redesign a room but walk around in it for a true 360-degree experience. Stay tuned to House Tipster for an upcoming weekly VR headset giveaways.
Images used with permission, courtesy of HTC, Oculus, www.shutterstock.com