VR systems are everywhere now. From the $30 Google Cardboard to an HTC Vive Pro at $799, the options are endless. Most people are under the impression at the cheapest VR headsets are the right option for them since they seemingly perform the same task that the exorbitant ones undertake. However, there are a host of factors that will (and will not) make for a truly engaging VR experience. Technology has broken the long-standing barriers that separated us from the true VR experience ever since the inception of their concept in the 1990s. The tech involved in VR is mostly first gen, meaning that there will be a list of pros and cons in each device that is available. Knowing what to look for will make a world of a difference in a category that is relatively new and dynamic. Here’s what you need to keep in mind while buying your VR system.
What to consider
- Purpose – The first thing to analyse when buying a VR headset is the purpose you are going to be using it for, this will give you a comprehensive idea of what price-category VR headset you should go for. If you are someone who is just looking to wet your feet in the virtual reality world you might not want to go for expensive and complex VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive Pro. Users that want a VR headset to explore the world of games that these headsets offer you may want to buy one that has an extensive array of games in its store. If you are an enthusiast or have a commercial need for VR, you may want to shell out some extra bucks and get a VR headset that is capable of handling a lot, especially now, when VR headsets are still not at their maximum potential. High-end gaming will require tethered headsets that connect to a PC or gaming console. A tethered headset will confer the most realistic and immersive VR experience while mobile headsets assist functionality and portability since they are connected to your mobile devices. With VR headsets and smartphones getting more advanced every day, they seem like a pretty good option for casual users right now.
- Compatibility – Buying a VR headset that is already compatible with the PC, smartphone or gaming console you own is a big plus point, since it will remove the hassle and cost of buying a device that supports the headset. The hardware requirements of every VR headset is different and users must make sure to test the compatibility with their own device before buying them. Own a Samsung smartphone? Your best option would probably be the Samsung Gear VR. Similarly, the Google Daydream View is compatible with a wide range of Android smartphones (higher-end) and is affordable as well. PS4 users will be able to enhance their gaming experience significantly and change the way they game by buying the PS VR, which requires a Playstation and PS Camera to work. PC users can use devices like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The recently arrived Windows Mixed Reality Headsets are also a compelling option. Microsoft has an app to check whether your current PC is WMR ready and address any concerns you may have regarding the compatibility of your device. However, Google has announced the new Daydream headset which will be a standalone device, which will probably render this point useless for newer VR headsets.
- Controls – Each VR system has a completely different set of controls and users must choose to buy a VR headset in accordance with the comfort they feel with the controls of the device. Hardcore gamers may prefer the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PS VR and even the upcoming Daydream. The Vive sports external sensors as well as motion-sensitive controllers that allow a user to move around seamlessly in the virtual world and even interact with it. The Samsung Gear VR is extremely capable with the Samsung Gear VR Controller. The Controller responds to organic, human movements in virtual experiences and is quite intuitive. The Google Cardboard VR headset sports the least amount of interactivity. It comes down to the user’s preferences and what apps they wish to use since many Cardboard apps do not need a controller at all.
- Refresh Rate – Refresh rate refers to the number of frames displayed per second. VR headsets must have a refresh rate of 60 Hz and a 90 Hz refresh rate is highly recommended for these devices. The number is not random, as perceived by most people since a higher frame rate aids a more immersive experience. Also, higher refresh rates aid comfort and can avoid motion sickness and dizziness that can be faced by users while wearing a VR headset. Any system sporting anything lesser than a 60 Hz refresh rate will display distorted images and will mar the entire VR viewing experience. It comes down to what kind of games or software you are running. The games with simple cell-shaded graphics and low-poly models will run with ease on all headsets but the more intensive games, an HMD with a higher refresh rate would always be preferred.
- Augmented reality support – Virtual reality transports you to a completely different place while Augmented Reality overlays the world around you with different objects. AR is also a developing sector of technology and AR support is a big plus point for VR headsets. The headset will have this ability by having a camera on the outside of the headset, or in case of mobile VR headsets- having the ability to use the smartphone’s camera. Surprisingly, the high-end headsets will require external support to integrate augmented reality. Google Cardboard headsets support this function. The View-Master VR and Merge VR support this function in addition to being affordable as well.
What not to consider
- Field of View – Field of view refers to the size of the picture you can see when you put on a VR system. Although you would think this is important, considering that a wider field of view translates into a more immersive experience, most VR headsets have a standardised range for the field of view between 90-120 degrees, which is a difference, yes, but not significant enough. Costlier VR headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift offer a field of view of 110 degrees while the cheap Google Cardboard headset can sport a field of view between 90 to 120 degrees.
- Weight – The weight of a VR headset can be properly diffused and negated in headsets that use the straps and mould the shape well. This translates to design not weight playing a bigger role in accessibility. Some heavy headsets do an extremely good job dispersing their weight throughout the device, effectively making them feel lightweight. Some of the lighter devices feel uncomfortable because their entire weight seems to be digging into your nose.
- Price – VR headsets come in a wide range of costs, however, if you know your purpose well do not let the price deter you from buying the VR headset that would suit you the best. If you want a VR headset to get into hardcore gaming, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift would be the best choices. Users having VR headsets specifically designed for their smartphones, like Samsung’s Gear VR, would not be making a smart choice by buying a Google Cardboard for their device since the Gear VR integrates itself so seamlessly with a Samsung smartphone.
The best place to get it
- Pan-India – Amazon, Flipkart, device-specific websites
You can check the specifications and price of all mainstream VR systems here.