Dorkaholics.com / An Introduction to Virtual Reality (VR)

An Introduction to Virtual Reality (VR)

by Kat Liu
Experience PlayStation Virtual Reality

Experience PlayStation Virtual Reality

The virtual reality hype is real – as real as the possibility that pretty soon acquiring and using this technology will be as common as owning an Xbox or PlayStation console. I remember first hearing about VR (in the context of being a consumer product and not an attraction at an amusement park or high-end arcade) in 2014 when Facebook purchased Oculus Rift for 2 billion dollars – chump change. Shortly after PlayStation, Google, Microsoft, HTC (you know, the “small guys”) started unveiling their own plans to produce and launch their own VR technologies. The internet buzzed for a few weeks but soon petered out – things returned to business as usual and I didn’t really see or hear anything more about it for most of 2015. Fast forward to 2016: it seems like this is the year for VR to go mainstream– awwww yeahhhhh. The companies that I mentioned before – true to promise, their VR products are finished and ready to be consumed, nom nom nom. And whaddaya know, just in time for the holidaze. But before you start emptying out your wallet for the first shiny head device that may or may not come free with a cellphone plan, take a minute to browse through our crash course. What exactly is VR and what devices are available for purchase? Good questions. Ah ha hemmmm. *Clears throat dramatically* We have answers. You’re welcome. Here at Dorks, we have your back.

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality technology is a simulation of a 3-dimensional environment that is experienced and/or controlled by the user’s body movements. From the user’s perspective, the main difference between virtual reality vs. 3D technology (your typical console or PC experience) is the degree of interactivity and immersion the user experiences. Picture this – you’re playing a first-person shooter on your console or PC, crawling around and peeking around corners, hoping to catch your friend off guard so you can bust a cap in his/her face. It feels pretty real, right? You look at a screen, and your controller/mouse allows you to look around 360 degrees, all the graphics are in 3D, and motion capture makes everything look super real. And that’s awesome, but it’s still a passive experience. Transporting yourself out of the game is as easy as looking away from the screen. You use your hands to program a sequence of knob turning and button mashing which in turn controls your movements/actions in the game. In the same scenario – with a virtual reality headset – your virtual environment is 360 degrees around you. Your movements and actions in the game are controlled by your physical actions and movements.  Turning your head in real life means you get to look behind you in the virtual world. Also, you can’t really look away from the screen because your screen is strapped to your head via headset. Basically, this “fully immersive” experience is brought to you by technology that tracks your head (and sometimes body) movements in a 3-dimensional world. It’s pretty cool, right? But as it turns out, not all headsets are created equal. Those “small companies” that I mentioned earlier all have their different versions– read on for a list of the ones (we think) are most relevant, just in time for Black Friday and Christmas.

Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift was actually incepted by a Kickstarter headed by this dude named Palmer Luckey. You might have heard about him as the Silicon Valley douchebag who secretly funded a pro-Trump organization called “Nimble America”. Anyway, Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift technology in 2014 started this whole VR craze and two years later – tada – they deliver. The Rift is commonly compared with the HTC Vive, HTC and Valve’s virtual reality love child. They’re both considered the premiere “high end” VR devices available on the market right now. The Oculus Rift is around $200 cheaper but lacks Vive’s room tracking feature, which tracks the user’s body movements in relationship to the room he/she is playing in. Here’s the breakdown of the Oculus:

Release Date: March 28, 2016

Cost: $599.99

Platform: Windows PC

Minimum PC Spec Requirements: Nvidia 960 or greater (graphics card); intel i3-6100 / AMD FX4350 (processor); 8 GB + RAM; HDMI 1.3 video output, 1 x USB 3.0; Windows 8 or newer

What’s in the box: Oculus Rift Headset, Camera Sensor, Oculus Rift remote, Xbox One Wireless Controller, Xbox USB Wireless Adapter, 2 AA Batteries (probably for the Xbox One Controller), Integrated Headphone Removal Tool, 2 Oculus logo stickers, Oculus Lens Cloth

Headset weight: 1 lb.

Field of View: 110 degrees

Display Resolution per eye: 1080 x 1200

Refresh Rate: 90 Hz

Experience: Positional tracking, Standing VR, Seated VR

Most commonly compared with: HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR

Considerations: Price, PC requirements, limited number of games, degree of interactivity compared to VIVE

HTC VIVE

HTC and the Valve Corporation joined forces and created the HTC Vive, which was released only a few days after its most notable competitor, Facebook’s Oculus Rift. The Vive is available at a considerably higher price point, $799.99 vs. $599.99; however, Vive’s room scale technology allows users to experience another level of interactivity as compared to the Rift. Vive’s kit requires you to set up base stations around the room which track your body’s movements so that walking around in real life moves you around in the virtual world. At E3 this year I was able to try both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The Vive’s room scale technology really did make my VR experience feel a lot more realistic. Walking around in real life, reaching up and down, and having all those movements tracked made my subsequent Oculus Rift experience feel kind of meh in comparison. That being said, I live in San Francisco where my living space is severely limited, so I’d have a hard time recreating that same Vive experience.  For those who have space, HTC Vive may be the ultimate virtual reality gaming experience you’re looking for – the room scale technology really does make a difference, and in my opinion, it’s worth spending that extra $200 and some odd change for that extra layer of immersion.

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Cost: $799.99

Platform: Windows PC

Minimum PC Spec Requirements: Nvidia GTX 970/ AMD R9 290 or greater (graphics card); intel i5 4590/ AMD FX 8350 or greater (processor); 8 GB or greater RAM; Windows 7 SP1 or newer

What’s in the box: Headset with 3-in-1 cable and audio cable, 2 face cushions, 1 nose rest, 2 wireless controllers, 2 micro USB chargers, 2 base stations, 2 power adapters, mounting kit, sync cable, link box, link box mounting pad, HDMI cable, USB cable, earbuds, lens cleaning cloth

Headset weight: 1.2 lbs

Field of View: 110 degrees

Display Resolution per eye: 1080 x 1200

Refresh Rate: 90 Hz

Experience: Positional tracking, Standing VR, Seated VR, Room-scale VR (up to 5 m diagonally)

Most commonly compared with: Oculus Rift, Sony Playstation VR

Considerations: Price, PC requirements, Space available to use the room tracking feature

Sony PlayStation VR

Sony clearly didn’t put too much into naming their virtual reality product– the Sony PlayStation VR. Maybe because they wanted a straightforward name to reflect its ease of use. The PS VR is literally a “plug and play” product. Unlike the Oculus Rift and Vive, you don’t need a PC with pesky spec requirements. If you already have a PlayStation 4, then purchasing a PS VR is probably the best option if you’re looking for a solid VR experience. For $399.99 Sony offers a product that lies right in the middle between the high-end, pricier headsets and the mobile ones. The difference in price does reflect a slightly lower quality experience, but not by much. Check out the breakdown of the PS VR as follows:

Release Date: October 13, 2016

Cost: $599.99

Platform: Sony PlayStation 4

What’s in the box: Headset, Processor Unit, connection cable, HDMI cable, USB cable, Stereo headphones, AC power cord, AC adaptor, demo disc

Headset weight: 1.3 lbs

Field of View: 100 degrees

Display Resolution per eye: 1080 x 960

Refresh Rate: 90-120 Hz

Experience: Positional tracking, Standing VR, Seated VR

Most commonly compared with: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift

Considerations: quality of VR experience

Mobile Device Headsets

Mobile device headsets allow the user to experience VR “lite” at a much lower price point, starting at a $20 bucks (Google Cardboard). From a technological standpoint, the main difference between mobile VR headsets and PC/console ones is that the mobile headset is basically just a frame for your smartphone, which you strap onto your face. Thus, the quality of your VR experience, when using a mobile headset, depends heavily on the app that drives the experience. Basically it’s just a viewer that lets you passively look around in a 360 degree view, without actually interacting with it. The following is a break down of the mobile device headsets that are available for purchase.

Samsung Gear VR

Price: $99.50

Powered by/Compatible with: Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy s6 edge Plus, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge

Notable Apps/Games: Minecraft: Gear VR Edition, Land’s End, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Summary: This headset seems like a pretty solid experience if you already own one of the above mentioned Samsung phones. The visual quality of your VR experience, will however, be reliant on which phone you use– the Note 7 actually had the best specs for an optimal viewing experience with a 5.7 inch screen and 1440 x 2560 pixel resolution, but those all got recalled and  so.. womp. Now for the upside-Gear is powered by Oculus, which is the same platform behind the Oculus Rift. This means that these two devices share the same Play Store which boasts a much wider selection of games and apps than it’s most notable competitor, Google’s Daydream View.

Google DayDream View

Price: $79

Powered By/ Compatible With: Google Pixel phone

Notable Apps/Games: Youtube VR, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Summary: At a lower price point than Samsung’s Gear, the Daydream seems to be pretty comparable and arguably even better because of Daydream’s sleeker, more aesthetically appealing design. It’s disappointing, however, that the device is not iOS compatible. It seems to be a trend with these mobile headsets– that they’re an afterthought to their mobile device counterparts.  Another drawback to the DayDream is the sparse selection of games and apps that are available: as of right now, there are only 25 games and apps in the Play Store.

Google Cardboard

Price: $13.99

Powered by/ Compatible With: Most smartphones

Notable Apps/Games: Starwars VR, Roller Coaster VR, Wizard Academy VR

Summary: Finally a headset that’s able to house an iPhone! And it costs less than the price of a large pizza– even cooler. Yes, it may seem a little silly to strap a DIY cardboard VR rig on your face, but it works. I know because I got a free one at E3 and I enjoyed using it up until I accidentally sat on it a couple weeks later. So obviously, the fragility of the headset is a drawback, but other than that it’s a pretty great “on a budget” way to experience VR. Itching to try out VR and don’t have the fund? Take a hammer to your piggy bank, go to Constar and get a cardboard- it’s worth it.