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Last week I had the opportunity to visit EGX and while there to try the current crop of virtual reality headsets. All launch at the beginning of next year and all have slightly different ways of looking at VR. One works with a console, one with a smartphone, one is gaming focused and one wants to be everything. None of the hardware I tried was the final version but when asked all the devs said it was close.
Sony Playstation VR – Project Morpheus
Sony has been working on its Project Morpheus VR system for the PS4 for several years and has teased if since the PS4’s announcement finally showing it off at 2014 GDC. The full system will launch in Q1 or Q2 2016 for a rumored cost of around $400 or £260.
I got to play the Sony VR with a demo of Eve: Valkyrie. The game has you dogfighting in an asteroid field with capital ships fighting all around you. I found the headset surprisingly comfortable. Instead of the usual elastic to hold it onto your face the VR has a headband that adjusts to the size of your head and the screen flips down from that. The means its not pressing on your face and that the weight is distributed somewhat around your head.
The resolution was good enough that unless I looked for it I did not notice the pixels and the latency – speed – was excellent. I deliberately tried moving my head as fast as I could and it kept up perfectly.
The Sony VR connects to the PS4 via a combined HDMI and USB cable which also has a built in HDMI out port so other people in the room can see what you are seeing.
The Occulus Rift is the device that can be claimed to have started the current VR trend. It started as a Kickstarter and blew through its goals, issued a developer version, issued another developer version, got acquired by Facebook and now promises to launch to the general public for an undisclosed price in the beginning of 2016. The current Developer Kit is available for $350 (£225) and it is expected the consumer version will cost less.
HTC / Valve Vive / SteamVR
The Vive is the newest comer to the potential VR market. There has been little public information released on it but a few things are known – its made by HTC in conjunction with Valve. That puts a decent hardware manufacturer together with the company that dominates the PC gaming market. The specs on the Vive look interesting – most particularly it has the ability to let you move about in space much more than the other systems.
I got to try the Vive playing the excellent Elite Dangerous. It was the first VR headset I’ve used that was really comfortable with glasses – even if it did take them with it when I took it off. It has the highest PPI of any of the VR systems and whilst I could still make out pixels they were indistinct and unless I looked for them were not a problem. Latency was low and even with large head erratic head movements it kept up well. It felt like the heaviest system to wear .
The Vive is due to launch in early 2016 with a predicted cost somewhere between £400 and £500.
Samsung Galaxy Gear VR
The Gear is rather different from the other VR systems. Instead of a whole new electronic system it is in essence a plastic headset into which you can insert your Samsung Galaxy Phone. This has disadvantages but means if you already have a Samsung phone it is simple and relatively inexpensive. It is also the only system that is already available to purchase right now for just under £200 with an updated version coming before Christmas for $99 – £65.
All in all the hype about VR is happening because the technology is now actually making it possible. There are a number of hurdles to overcome – not least of which are the cost (unannounced in almost every case) and questions about how powerful a computer will be needed to run them. As always the first generation of a new technology is going to have bugs and unless you are a dedicated gamer or have another compelling reason to invest I’d recommend holding on and waiting. The current generation is impressive but not quite there yet. By 2017 things should have settled out and there should be a clear leader. For me now I’m finding it hard to choose between the Sony VR and the Vive although as they run on different base systems perhaps both would be a better choice.