I’m the kind of person who does a lot of research before I buy. It doesn’t matter if what I’m purchasing is something as simple as a new brand of peanut butter or as complicated as virtual reality technology—I want to know what I’m getting into ahead of time so that I can have everything I need right away rather than having to put off making a sandwich or playing with my new game system to wait for another piece of equipment to arrive.
With virtual reality being such a new thing for most people, there’s a lot of confusion about what is and isn’t necessary when getting ready to purchase a VR system. There’s an incredible amount of technology out there, ranging from the absolutely essential to the totally superfluous. Do you need a biofeedback sensor? What gear is right for you? Should you buy a controller or will your set come with one? Fear not, we’ve got the baseline requirements with a few extra goodies for those looking to enhance their VR experience.
Mobile Systems Satisfy Entry-Level Interest
Jumping right into the deep waters of VR isn’t for everybody. Some like to just dip in a toe or two to warm up, and for those consumers there are a couple of options to ease you into the powerful potential of virtual reality.
Google Cardboard is on the low end of the VR spectrum. This system, starting at $15 from Google directly, works with your smartphone to deliver a variety of VR experiences to you at a low cost. The games are about what you can expect from a smartphone, meaning you’re unlikely to find super powerful graphics or gameplay. You exchange low cost for simplicity, which is great for showing how exciting VR can be, but more of an entry point than a serious device for hardcore virtual reality fans. Check out Sisters, a short horror game featuring jump scares and terrifyingly immersive sights and sounds, to see what the technology is capable of.
Next in line is the Samsung Gear VR. For just $99, this system is compatible with several Samsung phones, looking and feeling more like you expect from a virtual reality headset (which is reflected in the price). Because it’s still powered by your phone, the technology isn’t at its finest—that close to your screen, you’ll see pixels and, unfortunately, be more prone to motion sickness than with more advanced models. It’s a solid system, but not ideal for those looking for the ultimate VR technology. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a social, cooperative game with real-world props, shows off the fun of VR without subjecting players to troublesome motion sickness—a great start for those new to VR.
Dedicated VR Gaming Systems Offer Unique Benefits
Though it hasn’t hit the market yet, PlayStation VR is one of the most talked about. Beginning at $399, the system is designed to give you the ultimate gaming experience right away. Rather than requiring upgrades to your computer to handle the demanding specifications for virtual reality, this system works with your PlayStation 4. And its specifications are impressive, boasting 1080p visuals and frame rates around 120 per second, eliminating many common causes of motion sickness. You will have to pay a little extra for the PlayStation Move controllers and camera, required for play, but a launch bundle is available for an extra $100, including PlayStation VR Worlds, a collection of VR games to try out. With plenty of exciting titles like Loading Human, a sci-fi narrative adventure, becoming available, it’s definitely a great system that offers plenty to play with.
Oculus Rift is the name in VR; it’s the system’s Kickstarter that drove virtual reality back into the limelight, though other systems are giving it a run for its money in popularity. Though the Rift lacks the gaming focus of PlayStation VR, its specifications can be customized depending on your computer hardware, making it a more flexible system. The higher price point—$599—also includes the system itself, a headset, remote, Xbox One controller, and a copy of Lucky’s Tale to get you started. If you already have a dedicated gaming computer, Oculus Rift is a solid choice to expand your gaming library. Exciting upcoming titles make the Rift a great choice for the experienced gamer as well as those looking to explore all the technology has to offer.
The HTC Vive is the priciest system up front at $799, but it does come with a variety of goodies, including two controllers, a base station, and earbuds. Its specs are comparable to the Rift, but it does have two pretty unique features, namely its proprietary controllers, developed specifically for virtual reality, and 3D room tracking. The benefit to room tracking is that you can play games developed with physical movement in mind—with the system’s Chaperone system, real-world objects will shimmer in-game via a switch, giving you the ability to walk through a virtual world without running into real-world objects. Room tracking lets you experience the full physicality of VR, leading to unique games like The Gallery: Call of the Starseed, where engaging with your environment through exploration and interaction are the core game mechanics.
Virtual Reality Technology Lets You Build on Core Systems
Systems aren’t even the end of VR’s capabilities—some games use biofeedback to connect your heart and breathing rates directly to their content, gloves let you actually feel the objects you interact with in-game, and a VR treadmill can allow you to wander expansive virtual worlds without running into objects or walls.
Of course, not all of these objects are necessary from the beginning. The great thing about virtual reality technology is that much of it is customizable. You can start small and build on what you have, increasing your computer capabilities or technology collection as you go. With more games of varying types in development, VR will soon be a field packed with endless choices in gameplay and technology; what we have now is only the beginning, signaling a healthy, innovative field ready to be explored for developers and consumers alike.
Loading Human explores the incredible storytelling potential of virtual reality in a futuristic sci-fi narrative. Preorder your PlayStation VR copy today!