Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Playstation VR: Which VR goggles are right for you?
So the Easter bunny forgot to bring you an Oculus Rift? Same here. Only the first wave of pre-orderers have had the privilege of putting on this brand new toy and escaping the dreariness of reality. But fear not! Not long to go until Oculus is available to the public and emptying the wallets of us mere mortals. In the upcoming weeks, HTC and Valve will follow with Vive. And Sony’s next in line in October, just in time for Christmas sales. With that many to choose from, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Here’s a guide to the forest of interesting VR goggles.
The pioneer: Oculus Rift
is the true pioneer when it comes to VR goggles. Palmer Luckey, aged 18 at the time, had been anticipating the VR revolution for quite some time. Sick of waiting, he took matters into his own hands and developed his own device. After developer god and Doom daddy John Carmack found out about this, he asked Luckey for a test version and soon afterwards put together the fully functional Doom-3-Port. The prototype was then presented to the public at the games fare E3 in Los Angeles in 2012. The audience was amazed and virtual reality became the sh*t. This unexpected popularity allowed Luckey to launch the successful Kickstarter campaign that raked in just under 2.5 million US dollars – peanuts compared to the jaw-dropping 2 billion Facebook coughed up for the company only two years later.
Oculus Rift is aimed at hardcore gamers. One glance at the hardware requirements speaks for itself. To get the full experience you need at least one PC that is equipped with a Geforce GTX 970 graphics card. If that hasn't brought tears to your eyes, then the whopping price tag of 777 francs is bound to have you welling up. If it's any consolation, the set does include headphones, an Xbox One controller as well as the EVE games Valkyrie and Lucky’s Tale. The price for the specially developed touch controllers has yet to be revealed. On the bright side, Rift definitely offers one of the best VR experiences. The display with 2160 x 1200 pixels is borderline high resolution. However, keep in mind that the resolution is divided between two eyes. So in actual fact you’re staring at a 1080 x 1200 pixel monitor, which is far from Full HD but more than enough for full immersion.
As regards the range of games, there will be 30 games available when it comes out. That’s a lot more than you get at regular console launches. However, very few of them are full-price titles. A lot of these are also expected to be available for the HTC Vive and the Playstation VR.
The pricey one: HTC Vive
This is Oculus Rift’s direct competitor – HTC Vive. It was created together with Valve, the company that’s behind Half-Life and the digital game platform Steam. As regards technology, both products are on par. The main difference lies in the steering system and sensors. Two laser dice allow you to move freely around the room, providing an even more intense gaming experience (provided this is enabled by the game and there’s enough room for you to move about in). If you don’t want your place looking like someone’s burgled it after every gaming session, I’d highly recommend putting your Ming vases and porcelain figures in a safe place.
Unlike the Rift, HTC comes with a motion controller. The built-in front camera can show you what’s going on outside the virtual world without you having to take off the Vive. But it is also priced at 989 francs. Gulp. Need a glass of water? Well I can't afford that right now because there’s more to come.
When it comes to requirements, Vive is on par with Rift. So if you don’t have a fancy gaming machine, you’ll have to dig so deep in your pockets that you’ll be scratching your feet. In return, there are hours of fun ahead thanks to 50 games that will be available in time for the launch.
The mass-market one: Playstation VR
Number three is from Japan and is perfect for “real” games. Sony PlayStation VR is the fancy thing’s name and it'sused in combination with a PS4. Priced at 500 francs, it is the best-priced option by far – and the prettiest with its LED lighting. If you’ve got a couple of move controllers and a playstation camera lying about, you can safely go for the cheaper version. Everybody else will need the complete bundle. Because of the relatively cheap price, there are some compromises that have to be made. The Playstation VR only has 1920 x 1080 pixels at a viewing angle of 100 degrees – that’s 10 degrees less than the 110 offered by competitors. Corners were also cut when it comes to the sensors and, as with Vive, you’ll have to use your own headphones.
The entry-level one: Samsung Gear VR
If you want even cheaper, the Samsung SM-R322 Gear VR is for you. Provided you’re the proud owner of one of the flagship smartphones made in Korea. Galaxy note 5, Galaxy S6 series or the latest S7 series are currently supported. More often than not, Gear VR is thrown in when purchasing a not-so-cheap Samsung mobile. If not, you’ll have to spend a relatively modest 100 francs for VR goggles. Simply attach your smartphone in to the headset and off you go! The resolution depends on the device and ranges from a record-breaking 2560 x 1440 pixels to a rather meagre 1280 x 1440 pixels. Although the range of games for Gear VR is lagging behind the more expensive competition when it comes to quality, the prices are significantly lower. And I haven’t mentioned the biggest advantage yet: The Gear VR is wireless! No annoying cable clutter or trip-ups. So it’s great for mobile use. If you want to dream yourself away on your commute, just put on the Gear VR and watch a film – it’s like being at the movies! Hey, but don’t go blaming me if your rucksack is stolen!
The (almost) free one: Google Cardboard
100 Francs still too much for you, you say? Why you cheapskates! But don’t worry, Google also has something for penny pinchers. As the name suggests, the is made of cardboard and compatible with most smartphones (Android or iPhone). This baby is available in numerous designs starting from 20 francs. Just fold it and your VR goggles are ready to go. Find suitable content quickly and easily with the Cardboard App. There are many games and movies to choose from. Otherwise, just keep your eyes peeled for the Cardboard symbol to watch e.g. Youtube videos in VR. The quality will greatly depend on your smartphone. The higher the resolution, the better the picture. However, don’t expect miracles at this price.
The retro one: Nintendo Virtual Boy
For all of you who still haven't found what they're looking for – I’ve got a retro ace up my sleeve. In 1995, Nintendo launched Virtual Boy. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. The toy has an antiquated resolution of 384 x 224 and can only display black and red colours – hello eye-strain! Virtual Boy was a tremendous flop and there are only around 20 games for it. If you don’t fear long-term damage, then I highly recommend this blast from the past. After seeing this, nobody will question the Wii U.
Spoilt for choice
As you can see, the selection of VR goggles is huge and there ought to be something for everyone. Making a selection should be fairly straight-forward for Playstation 4 owners. PC gamers need to ask themselves if they have the space to make the most of the HTC Vive. When choosing games, all three are at the same level. If you own a Samsung smartphone, then the Gear VR is an uncomplicated, low-cost introduction to virtual reality. And if you just want to give the whole thing a quick whirl, your best bet is to get Google Cardboard.
Senior Editor, Zurich