Virtual Reality Hardware Overview – Headsets

HMDVirtual reality is a hot topic, and I keep getting the same basic question from people who aren’t knee-deep in it: “Which platform?”.

Most of you aren’t going to buy any of these andthink the whole thing is ludicrous. You will be proven wrong over time, silly human, and I’m here to make you look smart at dinner parties in the meantime.

The word of VR headsets (also known as HMD’s – head mounted displays) is ever-evolving. Content built for one will probably not work on another, since the operating systems and hardware arrays  are wildly different. There is also a lot of brainpower going into building a more standardized “meta-verse”. This would be the VR version of the web vs. the current reality that is pretty close to the way gaming platforms work. They just don’t play nice together.

Here’s a quick overview of what’s out there and coming soon. I’m only including firm product announcements and not rumors.
Google Cardboard
cardboard

Release Date: Out Now
Hardware Needed: Android or iPhone running a semi-current OS
Cost: $5-40. There are a ton of third party Cardboard devices out there to choose from of varying qualities.
Pros: cheap and the most content available.
Cons: not the best experience due to hardware limitations.
Notes: Google has a relatively new VR division with a lot of minds working with the technology. Rumor is that they are building a new headset that will rival one or several of the devices below and are working VR capabilities into Google products like YouTube and Maps. 

Samsung Gear VR
gear vr

Release Date: Out Now
Hardware Needed: Samsung Galaxy S7 + S7 edge, Galaxy S6 + S6 edge, Note5
Cost: $99, plus the cost of the phone. Free, when you pre-order the new S7 phones.
Pros: the only true VR headset currently available. It’s very lightweight and only needs a phone to power it. It’s nice to be free to move around without cables.
Cons: Positional tracking and eye tracking are not included in the hardware, though there are some aftermarket devices that sound like they are solving this issue. Screen resolution is limited by your phone, as is battery life.
Notes: The Gear VR is a partnership between Samsung and Oculus and currently provides the best portable experience. 

Oculus Rift
rift

Release Date: March 28, though the expected ship date for pre-orders placed now go well into the summer.
Hardware Needed: Very powerful PC. You can download a PC compatibilty test from Oculus to see if your machine can handle running the Rift. Mine can’t.
Cost: $599 – includes one motion sensor,  an Xbox game controller and two games (EVE: Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale).
Pros: The Rift demos I’ve seen are absolutely stunning, especially with their forthcoming Touch controllers.
Cons: You need a very high-end PC to run the Rift you need to stay tethered to it. The cord can limit your movement. It’s hard to know how much content will be available at launch, though Oculus is doing a good job putting together partnerships with everyone from Netflix to Minecraft and are owned by Facebook.

HTC Vive 
vive copy

Release Date: May (you can pre-order one here)
Hardware Needed: A powerful PC and headphones. Download a PC performance test from Steam to see if your machine can handle running the HTC Vive.
Cost: $799 -includes two wireless controllers, positional trackers and a handful of fun VR experiences (Job Simulator, Fantastic Corporation and Tilt Brush).  
Pros: While the Vive costs more than any other headset thus announced, it comes with some sweet controllers and a  sophisticated set of trackers that do a great job of mapping out the users actual movement in real time.
Cons: Like the Rift, the Vive need a very high-end PC to power it and you need to be connected to that PC with a wire at all times. The variety of content remains to be seen, though HTC has partnered with gaming giant Valve, so will have some impressive game titles out of the box. They also have announced deals with HBO, Lionsgate and Google.
Notes: The Vive (rhymes with “five”) is a partnership between HTC and Valve. The overall VR room experience, including positional trackers, sensors and controllers is Valve’s SteamVR, which really requires a small room to execute properly. 

Sony Playstation VR
playstation vr copy

Release Date: October. Pre-sales start March 22.
Hardware Needed: Playstation 4 console.
Cost: $399 – includes earbuds and a mic. There will also be a $499 bundle that includes cables, camera, motion controllers and a game (Playstation VR Worlds). Users will definitely want that camera to get a full 360º experience, and it will cost $60 on its own.
Pros: You have the hardware if you already have a PS4. There should be a ton of games available at launch.
Cons: Sony seems to be focused on the gaming world. This may not be the platform of your dreams if you’re not into games. Also – this device is meant f
Notes: Playstation VR was previously known as “Morpheus” for demo purposes. It is the only one of these devices I have not experienced.

It’s going to be a very interesting year to see what VR technologies get adopted widely. There are also a myriad of new and forthcoming cameras, software, controllers and content aggregators that I’ll get into soon.

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