Though virtual reality headsets were available in the 90s, they were a niche product that caused a lot of headache – literally. Low refresh rates and terrible image quality inevitably caused the user to experience migraine-like symptoms after just 10 minutes of use. Simply put, the technology just wasn’t there. But now, it is. When the big tech companies decided to join the Virtual Reality fray, it renewed the confidence of both the investors and the consumers, which gave second wind to the entire VR industry. Most of these VR headsets aren’t commercially available yet, but they are still making the tech experts who’ve tried them quiver with excitement. The best part is, they are all scheduled to appear roughly at the same time, sometime late in 2015.
With the head developer being John Carmack and the funds coming from the likes of Facebook, Oculus Rift promises the true holodeck experience. Oculus Rift consists of several separate hardware components that function in unison: headset, tracking camera and controllers. The headset has integrated headphones and will accommodate all face shapes. The tracking camera follows the movements of the headset and controllers, depicting them both accurately in the virtual world. Each Oculus Rift will also come with a standard wireless Xbox One controller free of charge.
Not to be outdone by Oculus Rift, Sony is currently working on their own contender in the VR race and it is mighty impressive. Morpheus boasts true 1080p image quality and 120 Hz refresh rate on its visor-like headset which, if delivered as described, would produce eerily beautiful VR content. Morpheus will also possess streaming capabilities and be able to display the exact same image from the headset on a nearby compatible TV. Morpheus is designed as a hardware peripheral for a Playstation console and will use its processing power.
Developed in conjunction with Valve and their own SteamVR project, HTC Vive aims to make VR palatable to the average user. Several stationary sensors will mark the physical limits within which the headset-wearing user will be able to roam freely and experience the VR. However, the content itself does not appear to be overly interactive and will most likely have the user simply observe. The biggest strength of HTC Vive is the promise of a seamless integration with the Steam digital content distribution platform, meaning that the VR content will be abundant, cheap and varied.
This is a truly mobile VR headset that uses the processing power found in Samsung Galaxy smartphones. By simply snapping the Samsung Galaxy into a Samsung Gear headset and strapping the package onto the head, the user gets a highly consistent and enjoyable VR experience. The problem at this moment is the lack of VR content for the system. It is possible to watch VR trailers, demos and movies on the Samsung Gear, but for now only in the US. Those few games that are playable on the Samsung Gear require head turning and tapping the buttons on the headset itself.
Showcased at this year’s E3 with the amazing Minecraft demo, HoloLens is an exciting take on the use of VR technology in the real world. A special camera mounted on the headset maps the surroundings, which then helps the special version of Windows 10 running inside it to determine where to place the holograms. Once placed, the holograms are considered “pinned” and become fully interactive. HoloLens will allegedly cost “significantly more” than an Xbox One and will use voice and gesture commands similar to those used to operate Kinect.
Built from the ground up to be the definite VR peripheral for gamers, FOVE is fully compatible with the Unreal, Cryengine and Unity game engines. FOVE tracks the user’s eyes with a set of infrared sensors installed within the headset, meaning that FOVE can dynamically adjust the image to display the highest quality image only in a spot the user is currently looking at. This clever trick both lowers the hardware performance requirements and mimics the way the human eye perceives peripheral vision.
Zeiss VR One can take any iOS or Android 5-inch smartphone and turn it into a makeshift VR projector, which provides a decent VR experience for the price. The headset comes with a fully functional Media Launcher that can open VR images and videos and a Unity development kit for the curious programmers amongst us. Zeiss is also favorably inclined towards the app developers and welcomes anyone with a good idea to come forward and apply to their app contests, with the winners winning exposure in the Zeiss VR One Media Launcher.
Avegant Glyph is a slick and unobtrusive VR headset that doubles as a highly functional pair of headphones when the VR option is not being used. Described as a “mobile personal theater” on its Kickstarter page, Avegant Glyph hides the 720p optical components within the headphone band, which is simply lowered over the user’s eyes when VR is desired. The headset is surprisingly light, weighing only 16 oz, and will come with a single HDMI connection port. The expected release date is sometime in fall 2015.
Open Source VR represents the idea that all VR content and hardware schematics belong to the general public and should be shared and used without hesitation. The actual headset is called OSVR Hacker Dev Kit and comes with a full set of software and hardware tools that the VR developers can use to create content. By having a large number of individual users create and contribute to a pool of shared ideas and content, Razer aims to create a platform that will make VR a part of the global culture, which is a commendable goal indeed.
Lenovo’s take on the VR phenomenon is of a “cardboard” varietyand requires a Lenovo smartphone to be slid into place. The interface is operated via the remote control. Lenovo VR will be first released in China.
Samantha Kotey is the editor for AvatarGeneration and has a background in educational technology and virtual worlds. A mom of two, she is passionate about all things related to toys and technology.