How Do VR Headsets Compare?

Tech Tips
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Virtual Reality technology is one of the hottest items on Santa’s list this year. VR tech consists of headsets that let you enter a virtual world and feel as though you are really there.  For some, that may be inside a videogame, for others at a virtual conference halfway around the world, virtual reality does all this and more. Some other amazing potential uses for VR tech include applications for health care, virtual museum tours, space exploration, even reconstructing crime scenes in a courtroom. For the average VR consumer, entertainment is the name of the game.

 

Starting with the Oculus Rift to the HTC Vive to headsets that work with your smartphone like Samsung’s Gear VR or Google Cardboard, there are a wide variety of options for VR tech this year.  

 

There are two main types of VR headsets, wired and mobile. Mobile devices are headsets you place your smartphone into and it has lenses to create the virtual experience from 100s of free and even more paid apps. The two main benefits of these types of VR is the wireless freedom and the price point.  These headsets are general under $100 with the cheapest going for as little as $15.

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Google Cardboard. Available on the Google Store.

On the cheaper side are devices like the Google Cardboard, a viewer made from cardboard that you can buy for $15 or find the specs online to build one yourself. The obvious upside of this viewer is the low price lets those who aren’t sure whether VR is for them try it out without much out of pocket expense and since it works with the user’s smartphone the graphics and resolution are as good (or bad) as their phone. One downside of this option is the viewer must be held up, it doesn’t offer a hands-free way to secure the headset.

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Smart Theater VR Headset available at Walmart.com.

 

If a cardboard viewer just doesn’t sound good enough or you’d rather have a hands-free option at a cheap price, something like the SmartTheater VR might be up your alley.  At $20 it is an easy way to begin exploring the virtual world without committing a lot of resources. This headset offers an adjustable head strap, works with any smartphone up to 3.1” wide and 6.5” tall, and has adjustable lenses and focus.

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Samsung Gear VR available at Oculus.com

On the upper end of the mobile spectrum is the Samsung Gear VR; working with the most recent Galaxy series of smartphones, it offers gaming, 360° videos, and a variety of virtual tours. Features include a touchpad on the headset, a focusing wheel, and a wide headband that is fairly comfortable.  The display uses the smartphone’s resolution, 2560 x 1440 and refresh rates of 60Hz. The graphics and motion tracking are purportedly good, but are not as smooth as the higher priced, wired sets.

 

While the options for the mobile headsets are pretty varied, there are 3 basic names for wired headsets: the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the Sony Playstation VR. These wired headsets offer a lot more in the way of quality and have a price point to match.

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Oculus Rift available at Oculus.com

The Oculus Rift is priced at $599 for the headset and an optional $199 for their unique Touch controller which debuted Dec 6th. The Rift is the headset that kicked off the current VR craze. It plugs into your computer and has specific requirements including Windows 8 or newer, 8GB of memory, 3 available USB ports (one of which needs to be 3.0), a HDMI 1.3 video output and more. They warn that these minimum specs may not run every Rift experience and to check your intended experience for more details before buying a new PC. Rift experiences include games, a virtual desktop which includes the option to watch Netflix, and the ability to meet virtually with friends or family across the world.

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HTC Vive available at htc.com.

The HTC Vive has a price tag of $799, which includes the headset, two controllers, and two base stations that define the area of your room and track 360° of motion, a feature unique to the Vive. Both the Vive and the Rift have a refresh rate of 90Hz, meaning the lag between movement and video is minimal, decreasing the chance of motion sickness. The needed computer setup is similar to that of the Rift, but only requires 1 USB port. The freedom of movement within the room while wearing the Vive is it’s best selling point.

 

Finally, the Playstation VR, as it’s name suggests requires a Playstation 4 rather than a computer, and at $399 is a bit more affordable for many, especially those gamers who already own the system. As is logical, this system’s marketing largely focuses on gaming experiences, offering some of Playstation’s big titles including Star Wars™ Battlefront™, Resident Evil 7 biohazard, and Batman Arkham VR. Those titles that are not currently supported on the VR platform can still be played while wearing the headset which make it like playing in front of a large screen. The refresh rate for the Playstation surpasses all the others at 120Hz, however the field of vision is slightly less than the Rift and Vive, coming in at 100° versus 110°.

 

Whether you’re interested in diving head first into the deep end of Virtual Reality or just dipping your toes in the virtual pool, there are a variety of VR headsets to make any tech lover happy.

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