VR is all about having an immersive 3D experience – and it’s not just for the hardcore gamers out there. It’s being used in many industrial and professional applications, from assisting in surgical and emergency response training, helping architects in urban planning to build better experiences and even car manufacturers are using it to get a sense of how their customers experience their vehicle interiors. In education, children can go on virtual field trips to far away places, all from the safety of the classroom.
Essentially all you need is a high resolution screen that’s good enough to trick you into forgetting you’re wearing a headset and you’re away. Fortunately, manufacturers have come up with a number of different ways of doing this, which should suit most budgets. There are headsets that you simply insert your smartphone into, up to those with their own screens and controls, powered by PCs with high-end graphics, or the latest games consoles. So let’s take a look at some of what’s on offer.
First up is Google Cardboard, a surprisingly low-tech solution from what we normally think of as a high-tech company, a hold-up headset that’s yes, you’ve guessed it, made out of cardboard. Of course you need to pop in one of their Nexus phones to power it, but this low cost solution allows for a wealth of virtual reality experiences through many different apps available, from games to virtual tours and even flying around the universe. You can even download the design and make one yourself.
Similarly, the Samsung Gear VR is phone-powered, using their latest Galaxy smart phone, where you simply clip it on the front of the headset to provide the screen and power for a world of immersive entertainment, in a design with a proper housing and head-strap.
There are also other models such as the Zeiss VR One and Firefly VR offering the same experience, by being able to attach different Android and Apple phones to their headsets.
Then we have the dedicated gaming headsets, such as the HTC Vive, which plugs into the huge Steam gaming platform designed for those into PC gaming, though you’ll need some pretty meaty graphics to run it. The Vive comes with 2 hand controllers and 2 base stations to track your movements and make you feel like you’re really in the game.
Similarly, the Sony PlayStation VR will offer a whole new world of gaming if your console of choice is the PS4, though you’ll have to wait until October to get your hands on one. Expected to launch with over 50 available games, it promises to take gaming to the next level.
Even Microsoft is in on the act, though their Microsoft HoloLens take a very different approach, by merging the real world with virtual ‘holographic’ images, so you can look at a virtual model on your workbench or walk around a virtual tour of the universe, without bumping into anything.
Finally, there is the grandaddy of them all, the Oculus Rift, which really kick-started this next generation of VR when it first launched 3 years ago. Although it relies on a high-end PC to run, with a ton of games, experiences and professional applications, it’s been so successful that the company was bought by Facebook, with Mark Zuckerberg saying VR is “the next generation platform”.
There’s no doubting that this year will be the start of this virtual revolution, the only question is whose headset are you going to wear?