This blog talks about Virtual Reality. Check out our augmented reality blog here.
For decades, virtual reality has been a thing of science fiction and imagination. In the past few years, however, virtual reality (VR) has not only emerged on dedicated headsets but made it to our fingertips, available now on many smartphones. Virtual reality is the computer-rendered simulation of a 3D environment that we (people) can interact with in natural ways. The technology used to deliver VR experiences varies greatly. On one extreme, you have a dedicated headset with onboard hardware but that is ultimately connected to a computer via wires to outsource graphics processing. Alongside that headset, you might hold joysticks or gloves with sensors to allow your hands to become part of the virtual environment. On the other extreme, you have a wireless plastic headset that merely holds your smartphone which processes all aspects of VR rendering. In this blog, we will talk about these two different major types of VR tech.
Dedicated VR Headsets
Dedicated headsets, or 'tethered' headsets as they are sometimes called, are VR devices that contain sensors, motion tracking, screens, etc built into them and do not require the user to insert a smartphone for them to function. Now, these headsets are called 'tethered' headsets because they also have to be connected to a computer which takes care of video processing and actually running the VR environment. To explain in simpler terms, these headsets are basically like super awesome face TV's which 'play' the visual content provided by the attached computer. So these VR devices are like TV's while their attached computers are like an Xbox or a Blu-Ray player, so to speak.
The most popular dedicated VR headsets are the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the Playstation VR. Oculus and HTC plug into PCs, the Playstation VR plugs into a PlayStation 4. With this type of system, you face some pros and cons.
- Dedicated on-board sensors and screen = better image quality and motion tracking
- Outsourcing video processing to a computer allows for more powerful video processing, which means you can play more complex games smoother and faster
- More comfortable than mobile devices
- TONS of games available, with more constantly coming out
- Not limited by smartphone battery... and your smartphone battery isn't 0% by the time you're done using it
- Cables are always annoying
- Huge price tag compared to mobile headsets
- Need expensive accessories such as remotes
- Require powerful (and expensive) external PCs (or a PS4) to function.
Given these pros and cons here, the dedicated or tethered VR headset is the obvious choice for individuals who want the best VR experience money can buy and are willing to spend tons of money to get that experience. A fully decked out VR system from HTC, Oculus, or Playstation is going to cost you about $800-1000 just for the headset, remotes, and accessories, and then another $1500+ for a computer powerful enough to power them (or ~$250 for a PS4). Keep in mind that doesn't include the cost of games.
Mobile VR Headsets
Mobile headsets earn that name in two regards -- for one, you physically put your mobile smartphone into them and secondly, they don't require any wires, making them comparable mobile to their much more expensive counterparts. As I have alluded to, smartphone (or mobile) VR headsets are just casings that strap your smartphone to your face and let you view its screen through two lenses. Your smartphone takes care of everything to do with the VR environment, from image processing to motion sensing. Our phones have incredibly advanced sensors built into them already and every-improving screens. Mobile VR tech takes full advantage of this.
Current Mobile VR headsets are the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View.
- Significantly cheaper ($70-150)
- No wires (yay)
- Mostly free apps and games, or they are very cheap compared to Oculus or PS4 VR games
- Growing technology
- Weaker performance and graphics
- Smartphone battery drains during use
- It's really scary when someone tries to call you and your phone is strapped to your face
- (in my experience) these devices get hot because your phone screen generates a lot of heat, especially when your phone is working super hard to generate the VR environment
- Limited app selection
- No iPhone capability... only works on androids.
To summarize, the mobile headset is the perfect option for someone who wishes to experience VR at a low price-point and doesn't need industry-leading performance. Unfortunately, however, the current mobile VR headsets only work with Androids... so unless you want to buy a Samsung Galaxy just to experience VR, you might as well buy a dedicated VR headset if you own an iPhone.
In the future, I anticipate that we will see significant growth in dedicated headsets. Tons of research and development is being directed into these products. For mobile headsets, I do not anticipate that the actual hardware will change drastically, rather the associated apps and games will get better. I argue this because Samsung's top priority in creating a Galaxy device is to create a high-end smartphone competitive with Apple's flagships... not to create a VR device.
Also, for your reference and enjoyment, check out this FANTASTIC infographic from Lumus on the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality.