Can handle a GTX 1050 VR

The Status Of VR Headsets In 2019: What Should You Buy?

In the past three years, virtual reality has not exactly set the world on fire. Even so, 2019 is going to be the best year for VR ever with new headsets that may have cracked the code for gamer needs.

After all, how many people do you know with an aVR room unit in their living room? Probably not many, and according to Statista, fewer than 5 million units were sold in 2018. Obviously, VR isn't the sweeping success some hoped for when Oculus and HTC launched their high-end PC-connected headsets in 2016 that doesn't mean the party is over.

Is This The Year You Should Get Into VR? Let's take a look.

It's still about games

When we looked at VR headsets in 2018, the world was much more binary; There were a few tethered headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, as well as a number of mobile headsets that work in conjunction with a smartphone. A lot can change in a year, and the standalone headsets we announced that don't require a PC or phone have arrived.

That is, nothing about the core use case for VR has changed in the last year or two; It's still mostly about gaming. Several attempts have been made to convert VR to more than just gaming platforms, e.g. B. Virtual VR desktops (such as Oculus Desktop and Virtual Desktop with multiple platforms) and cinema experiences. However, virtual desktops are clumsy, and the video platforms are inferior to real home theaters at first glance. Why watch a movie in a headset - at a lower resolution and with the web-like screen effect seen on most headsets - when you can instead watch it in the real world in 4K?

That said, HTC is also trying to save business space with two products for business. The HTC Vive Pro offers an improvement over the original graphics from Vive and is aimed directly at corporate customers. This also applies to the upcoming HTC Vive Focus, a standalone headset that doesn't need to be tied to a PC. These products are still in their infancy, and it remains to be seen whether there are enough industrial, academic, and enterprise applications for VR to break into these markets. Right now, most of the industry is looking at consumers.

That said, it's really about games. In that regard, VR delivers a payout that is rarely exhilarating. Ego games like Arizona Sunshine - a zombie shooter - are heartbreaking. In fact, they can be overwhelming for some players; There is a difference between a horror movie and a horror movie. However, other games are more attractive. Final Assault, for example, elevates the real-time strategy genre to what Star Trek's almighty man-child Trelane would do with plastic toy soldiers.

Speaking of Star Trek, there are also simulators like Star Trek: Bridge Crew that let you take command of a spaceship (and which is just as geectastically worthwhile as it sounds). And then there is the realistic WW2 submarine simulator IronWolf VR, with which you can smell the salt water. There are rhythm games, lightsaber games and lightsaber rhythm games. If you've played the 2D version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, you'll need to play the VR version in which a player handles a bomb in VR while being surrounded by team members in the Meatspace to disarm them. And it's hard not to love ridiculously charming puzzle games like Waddle Home. No matter which game you jump into, don't be surprised if you wear a goofy grin all the time in a VR environment - and the thrill won't let up over time.

We wish there were more mainstream developers committed to creating big, story-telling flagships, but there is no shortage of gaming innovation thanks to numerous indie developers making small games for different platforms.

Conclusion: VR gaming is not a one-trick pony, not a gimmick or a fad. You may get tired of one particular game, but the VR experience keeps pulling you back to learn more.

Connected headsets are becoming cheaper and easier

Why doesn't everyone have their own VR rig? Well, there is little doubt that cost and complexity have hampered adoption.

The "tethered" headsets that led the revolution in 2016 - the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift - suffered from high costs, but three years later, prices were moderate. Early adopters were willing to spend $ 798 for a full Rift package or $ 799 for an HTC Vive, but the Oculus Rift S (an upgrade to the original Rift) is only $ 399.

Likewise, the HTC Vive, which is still essentially the same product that HTC released in 2016, retails for $ 499 down from $ 799.

That's still a lot of money, and the complexity is still an Achilles heel. Connected systems require powerful PCs with expensive graphics cards. Oculus requires an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti or better, while HTC requires an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970. If you're already a gamer, you likely have a PC that meets these specs, but possibly in a small room that isn't suited for VR - so you'll either need to bring it into the living room or get a second PC. And for the room-scale Vive-VR, you need to mount trackers on the wall. Is it any wonder that adoption is sluggish?

However, if you are committed to better gaming experiences with a tethered headset begin to emerge. Last year, Microsoft, in collaboration with traditional hardware partners such as Lenovo, HP and Samsung, introduced its “Mixed Reality” headsets (which include both VR and AR, but at least for the time being are only VR experiences). What is interesting, however, is that the HP MR headset VR1000-100 runs on a PC with integrated graphics, which saves you hundreds of dollars on the PC it is tied to.

And if you prefer VR's Vive flair, HTC finally released its WiFi adapter in late 2018, so now you can get rid of the cables connecting the headset to the PC. It's free, but it costs $ 299.

Inside-out tracking makes VR easier

Another exciting innovation is the so-called inside-out tracking.

Traditionally, a headset needs to know what orientation and position are (engineers refer to this as six degrees of freedom - or 6DOF). You need external trackers that are positioned in the room. Oculus places a pair of sensors in front of the playing field. HTC offers a pair of trackers called Lighthouses that need to be wall mounted on either side of the play area. Both solutions are known as "outside-in" because external devices look into the playback area to keep an eye on the headset and controllers.

However, this year we're starting to look inward "out" headsets, and these are game changers. By placing a number of cameras on top of the headset that provide 6DOF without any external hardware, the initial setup is greatly simplified and the headsets themselves become much more portable.

The Oculus Rift S is one such inside-out headset, and it should be available at the time this article was published. It sells for $ 399. And HTC is not far behind and is preparing the upcoming HTC Vive Cosmos, which also does without lighthouses.

Mobile headsets are still for VR tourists

Until recently, when it came to VR, you only had two options: an expensive connected system or a mobile headset that relied on a smartphone to deliver the goods. There's now a third option - standalone headsets - which we'll get into in a moment. But before we get there, we should point out that mobile headsets are great value for money if you want to dip your toes in the VR ocean, especially since you can do it for less than $ 100.

The gold standard for mobile headsets is likely to be the Samsung Gear VR, which supports a wide variety of Galaxy phones.

If you're not a Samsung user, there are also options like Google Daydream View, which works with a dozen or so cellphones, including the Pixel 2, Pixel 3, and models from LG, ASUS, and Huawei. Or there's the Pansonite 3D VR and the MERGE VR, both of which are compatible with a wider range of iPhones and Android phones and cost around $ 50.

In all cases, these headsets rely on your phone.The processing and graphics work flawlessly, so the content displayed is necessarily much less complicated than with connected headsets. While the headsets know their orientation in space, they rely on control via the headset or a handheld controller (standard on headsets such as Gear VR, Daydream View and Pansonite) so that you can move around in the VR environment. Even so, a mobile VR headset is a great way to get your feet wet.

And there's one more mobile VR input mention - Nintendo's Labo VR, which is refreshingly different. Maybe you saw Labo. It's a set of cardboard Switch accessories that kids (or adults) can put together and incorporate into Switch gameplay.

So no different from the original from Google Cardboard, you build a Labo VR headset and insert the switch where you would normally plug a smartphone. It's whimsical (one of the headsets is in the shape of an elephant and the other is in the shape of a bird) and there are accessories like blasters and cameras that you use in short multiplayer games by taking turns with the headset. In the end, nobody (kids or adults) will feel like playing with the Labo VR for hours, but it's a surprisingly charming introduction to VR.

Standalone headsets could be the sweet spot

What's new in the VR universe in 2019 is the increase in the availability of standalone VR headsets - models that don't need a connection to a PC or phone as all of the electronics are in the headset. This is the logical next step in the evolution of VR, and possibly the version of VR that brings a virtual reality headset to every living room.

One of the first standalone headsets was the Oculus Go, and since it's already priced at $ 200, it's an affordable way to test a higher quality VR experience than you get from mobile headsets without the cost and complexity of one connected system. As with mobile headsets, the Go is not a room-scale headset. You cannot move freely in a large room to interact with your VR universe.

But this is just the beginning. It looks like the future of VR could be stand-alone headsets with inside-out tracking - this eliminates the need to connect to a PC and also eliminates permanent trackers. Powerful high-fidelity VR that is easy to set up and has absolutely portable sounds. There are such devices here. The $ 400 Lenovo Mirage Solo includes inside-out tracking and is already available.

And, shipping right at the time of this article, Oculus Quest is a similar inside-out headset that starts at $ 399. These could turn out to be the headsets we've all been waiting for, displacing the attached VR systems in the years to come.

It's a VR world

With so much innovation happening in VR, today headsets are transforming into products that make more sense for the average consumer than the early user - inside-out tracking that enables movement in space, standalone headsets that don't have a PC or Smartphone is required, and smart innovations at any cost.

While this doesn't guarantee the success of VR, inVR is unlikely to be going anywhere. We're developing an appetite for VR, as evidenced by pop-up VR experiences in shopping malls and entertainment centers across the country. For example, Dreamscape has a handful of interactive VR adventures in Southern California with plans to add more locations later this year.

The Void is yet another VR experience that already exists in a dozen of locations with interactive experiences based on high quality intellectual property like Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Wreck-It Ralph. And VR games with Oculus or Vive systems are regularly offered in game centers and arcades, which you can borrow for a few (expensive) tokens.

What to do in 2019

As you can see, this is a turbulent time to keep an eye on a VR headset.

If you're looking to invest $ 100 or less in seeing what it's all about, a mobile headset that is compatible with your smartphone is a good stopgap solution - especially if it includes a hand controller so you don't have to hold a hand on the headset to walk around to move in the area.

But if you're ready to make a larger format, you might want to wait a few months to see the dust settle on the new products dropping this year. There's no denying that stand-alone headsets with inside-out tracking like the Oculus Quest feel like the future, but it can take more than a generation or two of these devices for graphics and performance to match the standard that tethered headsets offer .

In the meantime, if you know how to handle cables and PC system requirements, there's a lot to be said when it comes to traditional headsets like the Rift S and possibly even the upcoming ($ 999) Valve Index. If you're interested in VR and haven't bought a system yet, 2019 promises to be a compelling year.