There are many different hardware options for someone interested in investing in the virtual world. Prices range anywhere from $15-$799, which can cause confusion and uncertainty for consumers.
VR hardware can be split into three main categories:
- Lower end devices which are poorly constructed devices that are used with cell phones; they are limited mostly to watching 360 degree videos.
- Mid-range devices are more durable headsets that also use cell phones as their screens but they are only slightly more immersive than the lower in products.
- Higher-end products are usually connected to a computer and are extremely interactive.
We will go over some of the more popular and effective hardware options in each of these categories, along with the benefits and drawbacks of each.
There are numerous cheap VR hardware options that utilize cell phones and plastic lenses to give the consumer a poorly constructed virtual experience. They often lack the immersiveness of other VR hardware options and interactiveness because of a lack of buttons, an uncomfortable design, and significant light bleed.
Although some have a single button to work with, others just have a hole for the consumer to use their finger on the smartphone screen or no button at all.
The most popular of these types of hardware is Google Cardboard. Although it is widely used due to its low price, customizability and portability, it is uncomfortable and not meant for long-term use.
Pricing for this type of hardware can range anywhere from $15 to $30, depending on the level of customization. However, you also have to take into consideration the need to have a new and up-to-date smartphone to run the applications.
These options are not awful for the price, but anyone with a serious interest in VR shouldn’t try to settle. Their low comfort levels, poor graphics and lenses, failure to block out light, and lack of a means to be interactive with the VR world you are seeing combine for an altogether poor VR experience.
When enthusiasts make the switch to mid-ranged VR hardware options they are likely to notice that most have additional tracking sensors, built in controls, and better lenses.
Although they both are better constructed and fit most modern smartphones, neither have motion tacking or controllers – so the experience is nearly the same as google cardboard.
Of the more popular, Google just released the Google Daydream, a VR headset that is rated highly for its light weight, included controller, and wide range of apps all for a low price.
Although critics claim there are both comfortability and light bleed problems with the Daydream, it seems to be a popular hardware option. It currently only works with a limited number of smartphones, like the google pixel, but is expected to diversify over 2017.
Another interesting and popular mid range VR hardware option is the LG 360 VR. Unlike most other options in this category, the 360 VR has a built in screen – which allows it to be smaller, lighter, and thus one of the most comfortable options.
However, it still needs the new LG G5 to run applications, which is connected through a USB-C cable. In addition, the screen has a lower resolution than most modern smartphones, like the Galaxy S7 and the hardware is notorious for being glitchy compared to other options.
The most popular of these mid range options is the Samsung Gear VR, which works with the latest Samsung flagship phones.
Gear VR uses a track pad as it’s controller, and is both one of the most comfortable and advanced of the mid range options.
Although all of these options are more comfortable than the Google Cardboard type hardware and more portable than any of the high end options, they do have their own pitfalls. Specifically, this type of headset opens the door to motion sickness because of a universal lack of positional tracking.
This makes the mid range options hard to use for very long periods of time. Therefore, if you are a serious VR advocate or using VR in any professional or educational application, you will likely opt for one of the higher end options.
When it comes to the higher end options, the most affordable is the Sony PlayStation VR. Not only is it sold for the relatively low price, the only other necessary hardware is the Sony PlayStation 4 console.
Along with PSVR, you can purchase the PlayStation Camera and Move Motion Controllers. For the most part, the system is comparative to other PC options. However, since there is only a single camera option for motion tracking it can be spotty and confine the VR experience to a smaller space than the Oculus or HTC Vive.
The system is also a little more unreliable at picking up the motion controllers than is preferred, and has higher light bleed than you would expect for the price. Nevertheless, with dozens of gaming titles already released for the hardware, the PSVR is certainly the platform for potential VR gamers.
Next is one of the two leaders in the field of VR, the Oculus Rift. Consumers can purchase both the headsets and touch controllers necessary for a fully immersive experience. However, a hidden cost of the system is the need for a top-of-the-line computer system to run the Oculus – some costing over $1,000 – and additional cameras will be needed to get a “room-scale” VR experience.
The price is well worth it. For a fully immersive and quality VR experience, only the HTC Vive rivals the Oculus. It is hard to explain just how much the Rift is better than the previously mentioned options.
It is made with a comfortable design for long term use, provides an extremely immersive and interactive experience, and with the right accessories unlocks nearly all of the advantages of VR.
The only hardware option on par with and sometime even rated better than the Oculus is the HTC Vive. Like the Oculus, it requires a high spec computer, meaning hidden costs may be high as well, but every Vive comes with the necessary accessories like motion controllers and camera base station for the full experience.
The benefits of the Vive floor most competition. The Vive has optimized one-to-one movement tracking, gives a natural 110-degree field of vision, has virtually no lag when ran on the recommended computers, and provides generally the best VR experience on the market.
These three are the main high end options for VR hardware. Unless you are a VR gamer, though, the Oculus and Vive stand out in their field as the best options.
What’s Next in VR Hardware?
At the pinnacle of modern technology it is always important to look to the future, because it will be upon us before you know it. That being said, we must address the important question of “what’s next in VR hardware?”
One of the most anticipated advancements is surely the promise from Microsoft to power VR experiences with the next XBox scheduled to hit the market later in the year. Rumors say that it will have graphics rivaling PC VR experiences at a lower cost, making it a good middle point between options like the PSVR and Oculus Rift of HTC Vive.
For those popular PC VR platforms consumers are most anticipating wireless streaming from the computers to the headsets to be available in the coming years.
Of course, the Rift and Vive will continue to push the limits of their graphics and VR experiences, and the future is sure to hold an even more realistic virtual world.
Tackling the Cost of VR
Although the cost for these high end VR hardware options is steep, there are ways to alleviate the cost when planning to use VR in the right environment.
For example, VictoryVR is currently working with K-12 schools all across the nation to bring Virtual Reality into the classroom through our virtual curriculum and partnership programs.
VictoryVR has and will continue to help schools apply for the grant funding through corporations and foundations interested in advancing education, specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Through this funding the schools can purchase not only the hardware needed to facilitate VR experiences, but VictoryVR Science a comprehensive VR curriculum written by VictoryVR.
This partnership programs allows schools to fully embrace the positive aspects of VR in the classroom and immersive experiences, all with the costs to the school paid for.
If you know of a school that would be interested in partnering with VictoryVR to give their students the plethora of opportunities that VR in the classroom has to offer, please feel free to contact us.