15 February 2017
Virtual Reality has been growing in recent years and now it seems that every major technological name has it own version of a VR headset. Each headset tries to offer something new to users that competitors lack but how do they compare, which will dominate and why?
Virtual reality hopes to revolutionise not only how users watch media but also with how they interact with it. 360° video is a big selling point for all VR headsets allowing users to fully immerse themselves in whatever they watch.
Set to be released in 2016 and arguably the biggest name in VR: Oculus is owned by Facebook and offers users the highest end retail quality when it comes to VR experiences.
The consumer version of the Rift Headset will have a 2160×1200 OLED screen, split across both eyes; a pair of inbuilt headphones and a fabric wrapped black frame for comfortability. Along with this the Rift will come with a camera and stand, designed to track head movements creating a more immersive experience for the user. Furthermore the Rift will ship with a wireless Xbox One controller and but has said that on official release they will provide their own controller: Oculus Touch.
In terms of price the headset itself has been priced at around £330 according to rumours from the Oculus CEO. However to actually run the Rift users will need a high end PC that Oculus has said will cost no more that £600: Oculus Ready PC’s can be purchased from the Oculus website.
So why will Oculus make an impact?
Oculus has a huge follower base and lots of brand awareness furthermore Oculus is backed by Facebook’s funding and so won’t be running short of injections anytime soon. This combination shows that Oculus is definitely set to make waves.
On the other end of the spectrum…
Released in 2014 the Google Cardboard is completely different to the Oculus in a number of ways; firstly and probably the most obvious difference is the look, Google instead of following the other tech giants decided that it wanted people to have a fun and affordable introduction to VR.
The headset is made from Cardboard that can be assembled in a matter of minutes and was made to integrate with Android and iOS Phones that have the Cardboard app installed. Furthermore the project itself is open source allowing for anyone who wants to, to improve the project. All the specs of the Google Cardboard are available on Googles website and downloadable for free.
Another massive selling point of the Cardboard is that it cost next to nothing with the basic headset costing around £20 which is less than 10% that of the Rift. As well as this the Cardboard integrates with the phones that the users already own and therefore there is no additional hardware requirements leading to ease of use in addition to a huge saving.
So why will Google Cardboard make an impact?
Other than the super low price and easy assembly Cardboard has other unique selling points; its multi device compatibility and lack of excessive and expensive additional hardware give it a slight edge over its more expensive counterparts.
However if you’re looking for the full VR experience then Cardboard isn’t the be all and end all of VR headsets and will be replaced with more expensive and long term headsets if the user is willing to spend the extra money. Don’t count Cardboard out though produced and backed by Google Cardboard has everything it needs to fight its corner in the digital arms race that is VR technology.
So those are the 2 extremes of VR, one is an expensive, if you’re an everyday consumer, and long lasting complete VR experience that is set to give the user everything they expect from a high priced VR headset. On the other hand the cheap and versatile VR headset is usable with almost any smartphone now and users can simply walk in store and test VR for themselves.
But where is VR going and what can we expect the future of VR to be like?
Microsoft HoloLens has been a silent competitor in the VR race but now Microsoft has revealed some of the capabilities of the HoloLens it has really begun to pick up speed. Set to be released in 2016 the HoloLens hopes to combine both VR and AR to become a complete VR/AR headset that not only provides users with a realistic VR experience but also brings a virtual touch to the real world.
The VR side of the headset works just as you would expect with other headsets and immerses the user in a digitally generated landscape. However the thing that makes the HoloLens so interesting is the AR integration, the HoloLens projects holograms onto the real world environment.
The AR aspect of the headset is produced via a few different components:
A sensor that is fitted into the HoloLens scans the environment you’re in to provide you with an accurate and consistent holographic projection that alters with the movement of the users head and eyes.
A optical panel that covers both eyes to allow the user to see in full colour as well as giving the holograms a three dimensional look.
A holographic processing unit that can handle large amounts of data from the sensors. This processor also allows the headset to understand gestures as well as tracking your eye movements. Furthermore the HPU maps the world around you so that you can have a sleeker and smoother AR experience, all in real time.
Microsoft have revealed very little about the actual specs of the HoloLens but we know that it will be wireless and have a rechargeable battery as well as being able to be paired with other Microsoft devices.
So why will Microsoft HoloLens make an impact?
Although there are still some areas of mystery regarding this headset the HoloLens will still allow some amazing advances in the consumer and developer base of VR and AR.
With services such as Holo Studios already allowing users to design a 3D object and 3D print it all from the headset.
The HoloLens from my perspective is the future of VR by incorporating an AR aspect that not only allows the user to interact with a visually generated environment but to allow a virtual environment to interact with the user in realtime via AR.
Overall this creates an immersive experience both within the real world and within a virtual environment.
There are far more VR headsets available and I have only highlighted the most extreme sides of both. Personally I think that the HoloLens is the future of VR, not because it directly outpaces or overpowers headsets such as the Oculus but because the interaction aspect as well as bringing the VR experience and projecting it in a real life scenario is incredible.