If we’re going to be honest, 2016 failed to live up to the initial giddy promise for virtual reality technology and quality content, and a lot of first-timers quickly lost interest. A year and a half on however a lot has changed and the sector is starting to roll along quite nicely. We can look back on the previous year as laying the groundwork for a new generation of headsets and experiences that are really starting to impress in 2017. We just needed a little patience and can now truly see a rapid acceleration of the technology for entertainment, communication and productivity purposes in the near future.
One of our high-level executive contacts at Facebook confided recently that virtual reality is at the very top of their priorities, and saw an explosion coming, with VR heavily impacting shopping, personal and business connections, learning and more. Of course, they also own Oculus Rift so they’ve put their money where mouth is (or vice versa perhaps). So, finding ourselves between last year’s slow start and the coming boom, let’s see take a look at some of the hottest VR gadgets available for the consumer that are currently on the market.
The HTC Vive was the product of an interesting partnership between the innovative Taiwanese electronics firm HTC and dominant video gaming company Valve (which also owns Steam). Released last year but more widely available in 2017, the HTC Vive is the best of its class, but that is also reflected in its higher $800 price. Designed for PC use alone (as is the Oculus Rift) its specs impress and the important refresh rate, at 90Hz, goes a long way towards guaranteeing a great VR experience without the motion sickness that lower rates can sometimes cause.
This is really the headset that started it all back in 2012 with a Kickstarter campaign that led to early headset models shipped to backers. Amazingly a $2 billion sale to Facebook happened only two years later! Today the standard consumer model, at $500 remains top-notch gear, and while it may not be the most powerful model out there on its own these days, paired with a solid PC the combination is breathtaking.
Sony PlayStation VR
While PC based VR offers the highest possibly consumer experience, probably the biggest seller this year will be the Sony PlayStation VR headset, thanks to its PS4 console compatibility and its lower-than-the-competition price of $400. And it’s becoming a common add-on to PS4 systems with lots of games supporting VR and many more on the way. More people will likely experience high-end VR on this headset than any other device.
Mobile VR headsets
A bunch of rungs down the VR ladder we end up in the mobile category, with a healthy number of headset viewers. The quality is particularly limited by the mobile phone that is powering the experience, but improvements continue to come every few months and the mobile units are usually pleasantly affordable. Currently Samsung’s Gear VR, at $129 remains one of the most impressive VR viewers out there for phone, but remember you’ll need a Samsung phone. Google has been working hard to develop VR for the masses, with their $29 intro Google Cardboard viewer, which is literally a DIY folded cardboard box with plastic lenses. They’ve also been pushing a new standardized platform, Daydream, with a new viewer aptly named the Google Daydream View at $79. LG, our favourite smartphone family at the moment, will also be coming out with a Daydream compatible viewer soon.
It’s an exciting time for VR gadgets, and we’ve only cover a few of the mainstream units. Expect a lot to happen in this space in the coming years, not least more impressive content and applications. From interactive movies and environments, traditional first-person video games, online games such as roulette or chess, online virtual shopping or communicating with friends, loved ones and colleagues, VR is going to improve and evolve quickly to become an important technology for much of the digitally literate populace. Enjoy the ride!