Which virtual reality headset should you choose?

Long gone are the days where Virtual Reality was only seen in the latest SCI-FI movies.

Days when the Virtual game headset looked like a technology in the distant future. In the past few years, the technology for virtual reality headsets has advanced, so much so, that there are new makes and models reaching the stores in what seems like a weekly basis. We are going to take a look at all the leading brands to ensure you don’t have any doubts on which VR headset you are looking to buy.

Which type of VR is right for you?

What is a virtual reality game headset?

A virtual reality (or VR) gaming headset is a device that you wear over your eyes like a pair of glasses. They block out all external light, ensuring there is no light pollution when you are wearing the headset. Then the device shows you an image in high-definition screens right in front of your eyes. The aim of the virtual reality headset is to immerse you in a game, as though you are actually in the game itself. In most VR games, you are the main character (as in first person mode). Most virtual headsets track your head movements, so that whichever direction you look, your character looks, too. When the game gets the Virtual Reality imagery right, the effects can be mindblowing!The VR headsets are not game consoles outright. They must be connected by either a cable (or coming soon, via Bluetooth) to a gaming system such as a computer for the Oculus Rift, or a PlayStation 4 for VR Morpheus by Sony. When playing the games, the headset is on, and you have a gaming controller in your hands to action the character’s movements such as walking forwards or firing a gun. Since you are the first person and the character moves its head as you move, the games become extremely real to the gamer, submerging you in the virtual reality world.

Who makes virtual-reality headsets?

There are many companies bringing out all kind of ranges of VR headsets in 2016. These include, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, Microsoft HoloLens, Meta 2, Razer OSVR HDK 2, FOVE VR, Zeiss VR One Plus, Avegant Glyph and the Freefly VR headset.

We are going to focus our attention to the big hitters in this article that are,

Oculus rift, HTC vive, Playstation VR and Google Cardboard. All four companies have unique virtual reality headsets and we are going to take a look at each in more detail below:

Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is a Virtual Reality eyeshield that was designed by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. His vision was to create the ultimate VR headset that was also affordable for gamers to enjoy the virtual experience. The Oculus VR company was founded in 2012 and soon developed the “Kickstarter”. It soon became a very popular product selling way above expectations, selling about 5 per minute over the next 6 months. Two years later, Mark Zuckerberg, agreed to buy Oculus for over 2 billion dollars. Over the next 2 years, the company have been working hard towards the Oculus Rift, that was launched back on the 28th March earlier this year.

Oculus rift fits well

How does the Oculus Rift work?

Think of some kind of futuristic looking ski goggles, but instead of seeing the white slopes, you see an Avatar looking world like Pandora, or you are fighting Zombies on some remote Island. This is exactly what the Oculus Rift is designed to do, take you away from your reality and drops you off in someone else's!

The Rift does this by using two screens that displays two identical images side by side, setting one image for each eye. Some glass lenses are placed on top of each panel, reshaping and focusing on the image for each eye, this creates a beautiful 3D image. The Glasses have sensors embedded in them, so that they can monitor the head movements and adjust the 3D image accordingly. The final result is that you can be transported to just about any situation imaginable in a matter of minutes.

Oculus Rift Specs

The Rift specs include an OLED 2160 x 1200 display that delivers 1080p resolution for each eye, with a 110 degree field of vision that refreshes at 90Hz. The Oculus Rift comes with a built-in Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer and a full 360 degree positional tracker that works for all the 6 axes of movement with a refresh latency of a millisecond. The device also comes with an Xbox One controller and a pair of touch controllers so that you can not only see the world you are emerged in but you can also feel it.

Set up

The Rift is extremely easy to set up. First of all, you will be prompted to install the latest firmware to the device, once you have completed this step, you will be asked to follow the step by step instructions that include connecting the sensors to their stations in the headset and then setting the focus, connect the controllers and wireless adapters. The process normally takes around 30 minutes to complete, depending on how tech savvy you are, even if you are not a “techie” the setup will only take you about 45 minutes.

Once everything is installed and connected, you can then place the headset over your eyes, you can let the Rift’s awesome graphics immerse you in a technology that needs to be seen to be believed!

What’s it like playing on the Oculus Rift?

Now we have gone through everything you need to know about the device and its set up, it's time for the more important and exciting part. You want to know what it's like playing in a VR world? In one word - breathtaking. Not only is the gaming stimulating your senses, but the VR world in fantastic 1080p quality sends you into overdrive.

No matter if you are jumping about with little bunny rabbits in a field or attacking zombies in the graveyard, the effects are exactly the same, the quality has you a little bit in awe. You won’t want to take the headset off once you have it on. Almost instantly, you can be taken away from a rainy day at home, to flying a spaceship through the galaxy!

Purchase downloadable games from the Oculus store.

Oculus VR really thought about this one, as you can tell from the VR or desktop online store. As it is so well thought out, it is really easy to see the latest and soon to be released games in the centre of the screen. You can sort the games to your taste, whether it be in release date, alphabetical order popularity.

When you order a game from the Oculus store, there is a large middle panel that displays the game's name, file size and a description on what the game is about. There is also an overview section on the left hand side with Media, Developer and details and on the right hand side is another panel that has more details that include whether the game needs an internet connection to be downloaded, download progress bar and all the required accessories if needed. The games can be anything between 10GB and 50GB, so a good connection is essential, as you will have itchy feet waiting to play on the game.

Overall

Well i hear yourself ask the ultimate question, does the Oculus Rift live up to all the hype? We would say, most definitely! The headset itself is extremely comfortable and looks great. It is extremely easy to set up, don’t let it scare you away if you are not the most technical person on mother Earth.

We would say that it will only take an hour at the most of even the most basic user. The most obvious selling point is the ability to take you into another dimension, not only does it achieve this easily but you might need something to hold your mouth closed, as they are so many jaw dropping visual effects that really will give you the wow factor on a regular basis.

HTC Vive

Back in 2015, HTC first announced that they were going to team up with Valve and create a virtual reality headset that will change the way people play games and in the near future, completely reinvent the way we watch tv and movies. That was a bold claim, but we are going to tell you why we think this claim is going to change everything we like to do in our spare time, from watching the latest blockbusters to gaming, the VR headset is going to change everything.

HTC Vive

How it works

Like all virtual reality headsets, the HTC Vive had the difficult task of bringing you into the game by creating two images simultaneously together. Unlike the Oculus Rift or the Playstation VR, the HTC Vive uses two base stations that are attached in different positions on your wall the help track your movements as you stroll around your 3D virtual world. The Vive enables you to move your head and hands in unison, every millimetre of movement is tracked to ensure you are mapped in your own virtual reality.

There is one to one movement optimization, that gives you a perfect 110 degree field of vision, movement feels natural and free flowing. To say it's the first of its kind, the HTC Vive is a class above any of its competitors at this moment of time. The pinpoint accuracy of movement is given from the 37 sensors that are connected to the headset, paired with the sensor boxes on the wall that track your every movement and position. The sensors beam out infrared light to track your positions and HTC called this the Lighthouse tracking effect.

There are 5 different motions that track your movement and they are;

The Grid, the base sensor stations are formed in a triangle, all set 5 feet away from each other, giving you 15 feet of moveable space when you are in the game. This is known as the “play area”.

The Angle, for the sensors to work and track the user's head , the sensor stations need to be mounted above head height and face downwards at a 40 degree angle. This is designed so the sensor stations have a 120 degree view to easily detect the HTC Vive headset. Boundaries, The play area of the Vive doesn’t have to be in a certain shaped room as the tracking devices are good enough to track the user, no matter on the shape or size of the room. The Sweep, the sensors sweep the triangle playing area with infrared lasers to detect anything in the area. This stops any object confusion and helps everything run smoothly. The Chaperone, this feature will allow you to avoid any real items in your living room such as tables and chairs, this works as the front cameras on the headset will live feed the objects to you vision.

The lighthouse effect get its name as the wall sensors flood the room with invisible laser light to “see” any objects that might be troublesome or in the way, very much like lighthouses did back in the day. They throw out light into the 15 foot play area, like a radar. There are many LED lights inside the box that light up 60 times per second, ensuring the devices can pinpoint your location during each and every movement.

HTC Vive specs

The HTC Vive is a head mounted display with a camera and the front end of the device. There are 2 wireless handheld controllers and 2 lighthouse base stations that connect to the wall. The display unit is OLED and the resolution is 1080 x 1200 per eye for maximum quality. The normal field of vision is 110 degrees and the refresh rate is 90 Hz. The device comes with build in speakers and the front camera enables you to see the real world while you are gaming.

Set up for the HTC Vive

When setting up the Vive, it might look like an extremely difficult task on the first look, but we can assure you, if you are not a technical engineer, no need to worry, the whole setup should take no longer than an hour or so, providing you have moved all your furniture around to accommodate your new VR headset.

The minimum requirements for your room to facilitate the Vive is a minimum 6 feet by 6 feet as there needs to be 15 feet triangle diameter in the room. The hardest part of the setup is connecting the base stations to your wall in a high position and then angle them to 40 degrees pointing downwards.

This is made easier as the devices turn green when they are fitted at the correct angles. If you don’t want to drill holes in the wall to connect the base stations, then you will want to take a look at the Vive box as it comes with wall mounts. There are quite a few cables to plug in to various outlets such as your computer and base stations, but once you connect them, you should be almost ready to immerse yourself in the world of fun!

Playing the HTC Vive

Well this is where HTC Vive comes into its own. We can say it's like nothing we have encountered before. The Virtual world the device takes you in, completely takes over your senses, you really do feel that the world you are in is your world. Whether you are running through the battlefields or hiding from an alien enemy, the effects will leave you both thrilled and emotionally submersed. Not only will the HTC Vive keep you entertained for hours, but believe it or not, it's an extremely thorough workout with all the ducking and diving you need to do during the game play.

We say that if you have the room in your home, and you have a high end PC to run the Vive, then the HTC Vive is a must have investment for anyone serious about gaming and technology alike.

Playstation VR

Now we are taking a look at Sony’s answer to send you into a 3D virtual paradise, the Playstation VR. Although it doesn’t hit the shops until October 13th, but that didn’t stop us trying out a prototype headset last week at the local Gamestop store. Here we are giving our review of what to expect when it launches in a few months.

Playstation VR

Important facts.

First of all, we want to touch on the important facts that you will need to know if you are reading this review with the plan to invest in the Sony headset. The device will need the Playstation camera in order to operate and most of the games will need Playstation move controllers, and neither have been added to the box when you purchase the Playstation VR. To avoid any upset in your household when the device lands on your doorstep, make sure you already have the camera and controllers before hand, so after installation, you are ready to jump into the virtual world without having to run out back to the shop. According to the official website, the Playstation VR, will need 60 square feet for the play area. This is about the same size as an average bathroom, so overall, you should be able to find enough space in your home for the kit, without having to move all the furniture!

Design

As you can see from the image above, the Playstation VR looks very stylish, even futuristic. The finished edition has kept to the same display as the testing prototype device - Project Morpheus. It has Full HD quality 1920 x 1080 display for each eye, and the only difference from its predecessor is the display unit that has been upped to 5.7 inches from 5 that now gives the user a 100 degree, virtual reality, field of view.

The is also RGB subpixels that help increase the smoothness of the viewer's image. Another very important upgrade is the refresh rate which is now set at 120Hz instead of the earlier edition of 60Hz. This now gives the Playstation VR higher rates that both its main competitors, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.

Other important editions include an increase in the head tracking LEDs from 6 up to 9, giving a more advanced tracking system and halves the latency times ensuring lagging and buffing are things in the past.

The headset is really comfortable as most of the weight of the headset is on the top of your head, and it's just as easy to wear if you have glasses on. Another great feature is the quick-release button that makes it extremely easy to take off once you have finished your gaming session.

The headset uses the Playstation camera to track both, the front and back of the headset at 1,000 times per second, ensuring the wearer can look both forwards and backwards without any compromise.

What is it like to play?

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. How does the Playstation VR rate when you're gaming in it? This is the burning question, and one we are happy to say it's incredible and we would say inspiring. There were a few glitches here and there, but that is to be expected as we tested the device way before the actual release, and Sony will have ironed these out by the release date. Little things such as the image quality wasn’t quite at 100% , nevertheless, it was only a tiny criticism.

The games we really breathtaking, we think that you will have the same feeling as when you first saw your first 4K 3D movie in the cinema, or anything else that made you shocked with groundbreaking technology. It really is that good. Once you have experienced your own virtual reality it's pretty hard to go back to regular gaming.

Games of the Playstation VR

One of the most exciting facts about the Sony VR is the list of games that are going to be launched either with the console or in the coming months after. Here is a list of some we cannot wait to play.

Batman Arkham VR

One of the most exciting games we cannot wait to get our hands on is the Batman Arkham VR. What more could anyone wish for in a game, to be Batman in your own Gotham City and exploring your very own Batcave? Expect the game to be just like the movies, both entertaining with dark aspects. We cannot wait!

Resident Evil VII Biohazard

Another big hitter coming to our virtual reality world is Resident Evil - biohazard. The makers say "the unsettling feeling of presence on a level that horror fans have never experienced before." The game is set in a derelict plantation, even that thought is quite terrifying, throw in some claustrophobic scenes with an array of zombies coming for you, this one will not be for the faint hearted!

Star Wars: Battlefront X-Wing VR

One of the most exciting games that is coming to the Playstation VR is Star Wars - Battlefront X-Wing. Virtual reality brings us another step closer to realizing the dream of flying an X-wing through intergalactic space. This one really gives us shake with excitement. The new year cannot come soon enough for its release.

Ever wanted to walk amongst Woolly Mammoths and out wit Sabre tooth tigers? Well with the FarCry Primal game you can make it reality! If the Playstation 4 version is anything to go by, then we are in for a treat. We cannot wait for the Caveman experience!

Overall

Exciting , groundbreaking times are coming towards us in the matter of a few months. The Playstation VR is cheaper than some of its rivals but that by no means makes it any worse than them. This is just the start of all VR consoles and once the technology evolves, you can only imagine the possibilities. If you have a PC that can cope with requirements and a small spare room, then we could definitely advise you to at least try it out.

Google Cardboard

The name Google Cardboard doesn’t exactly scream quality, but it isn’t suppose to. It is exactly what the title suggests, a virtual reality piece of cardboard to hold your Smartphone device for you to experience your own virtual reality on a budget. You can even make the headset yourself!

At first people actually thought this was a joke by Google, especially as it was only a few months after Facebook purchased the Oculus for 2 billion dollars. Then Google posted instructions on how to build your own cardboard headset from whatever you had lying around the house, such as, an old cereal or pizza box, however, the jokes continued until people actually realized Google was serious. The logic behind the madness was simple but effective.

How the headset works

The Smartphone screen is split into two halves. The right hand side of the display shows one image and the left hand side shows a slightly different image and when combined through the Google Cardboard headset, it creates a 3D image. The software needs to be downloaded to your Smartphone via an App called, believe it or not, Google Cardboard!

There are two different versions currently; Google Cardboard v1 and Google Cardboard V2. Both are similar but the V2 is slightly bigger (and costs a little bit more) so that you can fit the newer Smartphones to it as they generally have bigger screens than the older versions.

Applications that can use Google Cardboard

There is an ever increasing list of Apps that can be used with the Cardboard headset, and most of these are Google products. We have a look at the best and more popular ones below:

YouTube

YouTube is probably the leading playing as far as bring virtual reality videos to your Smartphone. They have a new and expanding channel made for 3D videos, this is called YouTube 360. When 3D is available on a video, there will be a cardboard button on the video. Simply hit the button, and the video will configure itself so that you can watch the short clip in 3D, through your Google Cardboard headset. We think the best ones to look out for are the rollercoaster videos.

Google Street View

Google street view in 3D is a fantastic idea, and we love it! You have a much better perceptive of you surroundings when you are viewing something in 3D. If you want to venture into new surroundings to locate where a certain building is, the 3D effect literally places you on the street, so when the time comes to find the place, you have a much better idea where everything is. Other ways you can use Google Street View in 3D is to journey to the mountains or Niagara Falls and view the stunning pics in 3D.

Discovery VR

Discovery VR is yet another App that you can watch stunning short videos through. Within the App itself, the content has a cardboard button on the videos, and when selected, you can view the short clips through your Google Cardboard headset. Although some of the images need some more work regarding the technology, there are some real gems on the Discovery VR site.

Caaaaardboard!

Caaaaardboard! Is one of the best games that has been designed for Google Cardboard. It is a base jumping game where you basically jump off buildings and you collect points by avoiding certain obstacles on your way down. You might need a strong stomach for this game!

Our verdict

Google Cardboard is a front runner for bringing VR to Smartphones. It is extremely cheap and really easy to access. A lot of the technology is just in the startup evolution process, but that can be said for all the top brands as far as VR headsets go. As there are a growing amount of free apps from Youtube to Discovery VC, it is a surprisingly important technology as it will surely pave the way for more advanced models in the future. Not only this, it is a cheap and easy way to bring virtual reality to the home for your children to learn and benefit from.

If you are curious about VR or just starting out, then the Google Cardboard headset is definitely a great place to start your VR journey. In some cases you will be underwhelmed and on other cases you will be immersed, educated and most importantly entertained.