The market of VR headsets is undergoing the phase of rapid development, with many established products receiving an overhaul and peculiar solutions like Google Cardboard pushing the boundaries of what is considered virtual reality. For consumers, this is a chance to get a taste of the technology or up their game with the new generation of hardware. For VR developers, it is an opportunity to harness the potential of innovations and shape the future of the market. Either way, it is a fascinating time to live in, so all you need to not miss out is getting the right equipment. Below is an overview of the best options currently available on the market.
Figuring Out the Definitions
Before we delve into the specifics of the VR development companies, hardware manufacturers, and specs comparisons, let’s cover some of the more technical terms and definitions used in the article to avoid confusion.
- Resolution: The number of vertical and horizontal pixels used in a display to output an image. Because VR is all about high-fidelity visuals (and because they are so close to the wearer’s eyes), the higher this parameter, the better.
- Refresh Rate: The frequency at which the display can refresh the image. Low refresh rate can cause eye strain as well as a number of unpleasant effects like nausea, not to mention ruined immersion, so again – the higher, the better.
- Latency: Another technical term that refers to the time between an input and the reaction you get on the screen. In the case of a VR headset, this includes inputs from head movements, where delays can induce nausea, so low latency is absolutely crucial.
- Field of View (FOV): The breadth of your vision in a VR headset – the higher the FOV, the more you can see at once (and the more enthralling virtual reality will feel).
- Degrees of Freedom: The extent to which the game or application can be controlled by user’s moves, e.g. three degrees of freedom for looking around or six degrees for moving in any direction.
- Screen-Door Effect: An immersion-breaking graphical artifact resulting from low resolution that can be masked through ingenious hacks by top VR game developers.
Best PC-based VR: Valve Index
Until recently, Valve has not been associated with stellar gaming peripherals, with things like the Steam Controller being more of a bold experiment than a usable piece of hardware. However, with its recent entry in the VR domain, things just might change. Their latest product, the Valve Index headset, is pretty much the best thing the VR market can offer:
- The superb resolution of 2880×1600
- The refresh rate of 120 Hz
- The 130-degree FOV
- Crisp audio
- Top-notch ergonomics
On top of that, Valve has managed to get rid of the annoying screen-door effect to achieve maximum immersion. It also comes equipped with quite advanced and handy controllers capable of per-finger tracking, which offers interesting possibilities for VR game developers. The only thing that lets it down is the headset’s price tag, which is three times higher compared to other options on the market. Still, to be fair, when it comes to flagship products, this is something you should be prepared for.
Best Console VR: Playstation VR
This one should not come as a surprise for anyone. While PC gamers offer a variety of options to choose from, Sony’s VR headset is pretty much the only choice for the console folk. Fortunately, this does not mean that the experience with it will be in any way underwhelming.
Admittedly, in terms of specs, the PS VR does lag behind, with its modest resolution and refresh rate. Nevertheless, it has no latency issues and works well overall, both in terms of in-game performance and comfort. It also comes with a sizeable library of supported games, many of which are Playstation-only exclusives. So, while you may not get your long-time favorite VR game from Singapore, you are still getting a great deal. On top of all that, thanks to being on the market for several years now, the PS VR has become quite affordable, making it the hands-down best choice for the platform.
Best Mobile VR: Samsung Gear VR
Compared to consoles and PCs, the mobile VR experience is somewhat difficult to compare – for several reasons. For starters, many models, including our pick, are only compatible with a certain line-up of devices. On the other hand, most mobile users are loyal to one brand anyway, so it should not be a problem.
Another aspect that is difficult to put a finger on is performance, which will depend on the device connected to the headset. Samsung Gear is outfitted with good-level hardware and works exceptionally well with higher-end phones. Still, this is something to remember when choosing your entry point into virtual reality.
Best Standalone VR: Oculus Quest 2
All of the entries above share a common trait that might be considered a weakness – their performance depends on the hardware they are tied to. In this light, a standalone headset has a distinct advantage of achieving higher performance with a built-in chip.
The second edition of the headset is also an improvement in nearly every regard over its predecessor. It has a higher refresh rate, resolution, a faster processor, and more RAM. It is also lighter and more convenient to wear. Most impressively, it now has a lower price than the first generation of the device, making it an all-round winner.
As a cherry on top, Oculus Quest offers access to a solid library of content, which includes both games and educational applications. The only downside is its mandatory connection to Facebook, which will cost it a good chunk of privacy-conscious audience.
Most Fully-Featured VR: HTC Vive
This headset’s main distinctive feature is the immersion it offers. The collaboration between HTC, a famous hardware manufacturer, and Valve, currently one of the leading VR development companies, has led to some interesting results. Not only does it add protection from environmental hazards with the Chaperone system, it is also capable of mapping out a traversable environment. As a result, unlike some of its competitors, the headset provides six degrees of freedom.
Another interesting addition is its controller, which has some interesting mechanics like reaching out for distant objects. As an added bonus, the device looks incredibly cool, compared to the more toy-like appearance of some other devices on this list. Still, it is worth mentioning that preparing a room suitable for such a sophisticated experience may be a source of frustration in its own right.
Best Professional VR: HP Reverb G2
If you are looking for a reliable professional tool rather than an entertainment gadget, this might be the thing you are looking for. The headset in question has an excellent resolution and field of view and is comfortable and lightweight. It certainly is not a powerhouse like the Valve Index discussed above – yet it will do for most professional applications. It is also far more affordable than the top-tier devices, which certainly adds to its appeal.
One thing to note is its use of the Mixed Reality that prioritizes the Windows’ ecosystem, which may not be suitable for some users. Otherwise, it is a great device that is both reliable and advanced.
Biggest Games Library: Oculus Rift S
Another entry that is intended as a replacement of the previous-generation hardware, Oculus Rift S exceeds the original Rift in many aspects. However, these improvements are not uniform, with reduced frame rate and lower-quality screen. The latter is a particularly controversial downgrade since the visual component is hands down the most important component of the virtual reality experience.
Where Rift S truly shines is in the selection of games. This treasury offers something to everyone’s taste, from a high-profile multi-platform title to a hidden gem from an obscure VR developer in Singapore. It is also priced quite modestly compared to competitors, which makes up for its shortcomings. Overall, this is a solid mid-tier entry that is great for newcomers and casual gamers.
Honorable Mention: Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard is more of a curiosity than a full-fledged headset. Its primary purpose to provide an accessible alternative that can be assembled from nearly anything and start meddling with the technology. While it is not by any means stellar in its capabilities or performance, it does enjoy support from high-profile vendors like Google in the form of development kits and similar tools.
With this in mind, it is probably closer to a publicity stunt. However, it does serve its purpose of being an entry point to VR in Singapore or anywhere in the world. On top of that, its price tag allows getting a taste of virtual reality nearly free-of-charge, which makes it a great value proposition.
How to Choose the Best VR
At this point, some of you may have your head spinning from the variety of models and specifications. To help you out, here is a checklist of three main things you should factor in to make the right decision:
- Hardware: Some headsets are compatible with a broad variety of devices but only show their full potential with high-end PCs or phones. Make sure yours is up to the challenge – otherwise, you might be disappointed.
- Space: Six degrees of movement place certain requirements on the room where you will be using the VR headset, so make sure you have enough space or consider options with less mobility.
- Ergonomics: How long are your VR sessions expected to be? A heavier headset is not a problem for a game or a movie but will wear you down during prolonged professional use.
VR can be many things. To some, it is a new thrilling way of experiencing familiar games and movies. To others, it is a convenient professional tool or an opportunity to innovate. There are already plenty of examples where this synergy of VR developers and users producing stunning results, and there’s probably more to come. Let’s hope this article helps you make the right decision and experience this exciting world in the best way possible.