The Big Three: The Only VR Headsets You’ll Need To Know
By Tobias Chen
According to a recent market analysis by Deutsche Bank AG, the virtual reality (VR) industry is forecasted to be worth up to $7 billion within the next 5 years. Despite the niche appeal today by artists, engineers and researchers, the ongoing push towards mainstream adoption by tech giants such as Facebook, Netflix, HTC, Samsung and many more, signals the dawn of the VR era.
VR is not a new medium. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, VR has seen periodic surges of interest, always with the promise of delivering an awe-inspiring experience. And as history proves, the lack of good headsets has repeatedly been the limiting factor for VR. By understanding how each of these headsets differ from each other, developers and studios will be able to choose the correct headset to suit their goals.
Before we dive in, here are some terms you should know:
The Big 3
These are currently the top contenders for soon-to-be-released consumer headsets, compared based on specifications alone, as price is yet unknown. (See a full comparative chart below).
HTC Vive (Expected: Q4 2015)
- Included with purchase are two wireless SteamVR Controllers, with full positional tracking.
- Lighthouse offers 4.5 by 4.5 meters of positional tracking volume, which allows for users to stand up, walk around, and interact in a virtual environment.
Sony PlayStation VR (Expected: Q1 2016)
- Plug-and-play with PS4
- Seated experience, tracking volume is limited by the line of sight of the camera.
- Uses either the DualShock 4 or PlayStation Move controller for input, both with positional tracking.
- Most comfortable headset to wear.
Oculus Rift CV1 (Expected: Q1 2016)
- Seated experience, initially the tracking volume is limited by the line of sight of the camera but additional cameras can be purchased and added to the system.
- Xbox One controller included with purchase, not positionally tracked.
- Optional Oculus Touch controller can be purchased which includes positional tracking as well as finger tracking.
Comparison of the ‘Big 3’:
Despite having generally lower specifications than its competitors, Sony’s Playstation VR offers the most appealing solution for consumers simply because of its plug and play functionality with existing PS4 consoles. Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift CV1 require an additional $1000 gaming PC to render the game at an optimum frame rate. Furthermore, the Playstation VR is also set to launch with familiar blockbuster “AAA” titles, including Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy, Tekken, and EVE.
From an experiential perspective on the other hand, the HTC Vive offers a far more immersive and impressive experience than the Playstation VR. And unlike the Playstation VR, the room-scale positional tracking offered by HTC’s Lighthouse system enables players to walk around a virtual environment which is an entirely different experience than seated gaming. This key difference gives the user an intimate feeling of presence and the ultimate illusion of them being inside the virtual environment.
Oculus Rift DK2 (Discontinued)
FOV: 100 degrees
Resolution: 1920×1080 (960×1080 per eye)
Refresh Rate: 75Hz
Panel Type: AMOLED
Tracking: Camera based Positional Tracking
- Most popular headset with over 120,000 units sold.
Starbreeze Studios StarVR (Expected: Q4 2017)
FOV: 210 degrees
Resolution: 5120×1440 (2560×1440 per eye)
Refresh Rate: 60Hz
Panel Type: TFT
Tracking: Marker based Positional Tracking
- The high resolution requires a significantly larger amount of processing power to render each frame.
- The TFT display type retains its pixels until the next cycle and does not update globally, ultimately this limits the smoothness of the experience.
- Pairs with a fully positionally tracked shotgun.
- Despite these limitations, the StarVR remains the most optically impressive display I have tried.
Samsung GearVR Consumer Version (Released 11/20/2015)
FOV: 96 degrees
Resolution: 2560x1440 (1280×1440 per eye)
Refresh Rate: 60Hz w/ low persistence
Panel Type: AMOLED
Tracking: Rotational tracking only.
- User must provide Samsung phone for display.
- Innovator edition already released, consumer version is slightly tweaked to support more models of Samsung phones.
- Other than Cardboard, the GearVR is the only wireless headset currently on the market.
- Bluetooth gamepads and controllers are supported, but are sold separately.
Because I have not tried the Oculus Rift CV1, I hesitate to comment on its quality. Based on the feedback of others who have tried it, CV1 offers comparable image quality to the Vive and the Oculus Touch controllers are said to include a broader range of interactions with the addition of partial finger tracking functionality.
To summarize and rank based on headsets that I have personally tested (everything but CV1), the Playstation VR is the ‘most buyable’ product because of its plug-and-play nature with Sony’s established market of PS4 owners. It’s also the most comfortable and polished VR headset that I have tested.
Of the headsets that I have tried, the HTC Vive is the best overall VR experience. It is incredibly immersive and has a powerful sense of ‘presence’. Room-scale positional tracking is a vastly different experience from sitting, however, and the requirement for an expensive gaming computer will greatly limit the Vive’s audience.
The 210 degree field of view and incredible resolution of the StarVR is the most visually impressive headset I have tried, though it currently suffers from crippling limitations such as frame rate issues and comfort.
However, despite the limitations that exist today, VR exists as an exponentially captivating medium because it allows creators to explore the idea of using shared experiences to curate empathy between the viewer and the content presented. I believe that one of the most exciting opportunities to deliver content with these key principles is through the photorealistic capture of human beings. Though gaming and interactive experiences have their rightful place within the VR ecosystem, live capture and spherical 360 degree filmmaking will allow directors to bring audiences closer to the humanity of an actor’s performance. But without a significant advance in reducing both the cost and bandwidth required for ‘perfect capture’ technologies such as light-field cameras, what we are seeing in Cinematic VR today is only a small sliver of what will be possible in the not-too-distant future.
For more information about other services existing in the VR space, Chris McCann from Startup Digest wrote an excellent summary here including other services like 360 video production, game engines and many more.
Connected Lab works with the world’s most ambitious companies to deliver the best connected experiences across multiple platforms, including mobile, web, smart TV’s and VR/AR. Our clients come to us for our transformative approach to software development, rooted in Extreme Programming and Design Thinking, what we call the ‘Connected Method’.
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