Virtual reality is in a really weird place right now. We have technology, such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, that can sort of deliver on the concept of virtual reality, but while we may have technology for it, there’s not exactly a whole lot of software available for it. And if there is software available for it, much of it are just tech demos and not necessarily full-fledged games.
Now, there are a few full-fledged virtual reality games games out there, such as Alien Isolation, Dear Esther, and Dying Light, to name just a couple. However, there’s not necessarily enough content to make it worth dropping nearly $2000 to play them, as you’ll not only need the virtual reality headset, but a high-end machine as well.
With those thoughts in mind, virtual reality really is in a interesting place. The technology is sort of there, but not quite there, and there’s not even close to enough software available yet. It really is in a weird place. But, the emerging technologies still have a lot of potential.
The Oculus Rift will truly be the first PC gaming virtual reality headset available, and at a cheap price point in comparison to what the Vive will be. However, the Oculus isn’t exactly what we picture virtual reality to be…yet. It requires a hard connection to your PC for the user to be able to play, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but many folks imagine virtual reality is a truly wireless experience. In this case, users will be sitting down, playing with a controller in hand, kind of as you would on a gaming console.
Oculus’ Rift will cost a whopping $600 for those that are interested in making a leap into virtual reality. It has some hefty PC requirements, and there won’t be a whole lot of quality software available for it on launch day, particularly because it doesn’t have Valve backing the project. However, there will still be some good games available, but not many. You can find a whole list of games available around launch day here. As a forewarning, the only software the Oculus Rift will be able to run are PC and Xbox One Games. VR-compatible movies will be available for it, but companies are still deep in production for those.
Oculus says the Rift’s minimum requirements are a Intel i5-4590 processor, 8GB of RAM or more, and Windows 7 SPI (or higher). A Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 graphics card or higher will be required, as well as access to a few ports on your computer (USB, HDMI, DVI, etc). The Rift will be able to run on less than this, but performance isn’t going to be great at all. That said, it’s highly recommended to have a high-end machine available for it.
The HTC Vive, created in conjunction with Valve (or SteamVR), will be much pricier, sitting at a whopping $800; however, you do get a little more bang for your buck, as it comes bundled with some other accessories and VR-based video games. And similar to the Rift, the Vive requires a hard connection to your PC for it to work.
HTC’s virtual reality headset is a bit more unique than the Rift, though. It has two motion tracking base stations that you’ll need to setup in whatever area you plan to use the headset in. Keep in mind that they’ll need to be above eye level on opposite walls for it to work properly. Unlike the Rift (the Rift is largely meant to be played sitting down with a controller, at least in my experience), you’ll need some space to move around. Not only that, but the Vive has some very obvious sharper and smoother graphics.
HTC has also added in a handful of convenience features as well, such as being able to navigate through menus by moving around. And, you can even connect up to your Android or iOS device, allowing you to respond to text messages through a handful of preset options.
The HTC Vive has many of the same requirements as the Rift as far as specs go. However, it will be able to operate fine with 4GB of RAM, according to early reports. Minimum specifications are still kind of being thrown around, so that may change in the future.
As far as content goes, you can find a whole list of games available for the Vive here. But, most notably, Valve has made the entire Half-Life series compatible with the VR headset. You’ll also be able to find games like Company of Heroes 2, Portal, and Don’t Starve. Video games, at least initially, seems like it will be the only content available for the Vive, but similar to the Rift, it shouldn’t have a problem playing VR-compatible movies in the future. We’ll obviously hear more when both headsets officially launch.
At $800, it’s obvious that the Vive offers some killer value in comparison to the Rift. But what about the other competition?
The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive don’t have much competition. Truth be told, they are the front runners in virtual reality headsets, at least as far PC gaming goes. However, virtual reality technology is emerging elsewhere, particularly in the mobile field.
As far as mobile-powered virtual reality goes, you have things like the Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Cardboard. One other startup offering a similar wearable is called Merge VR However, these aren’t really “true” virtual reality headsets, as they require your smartphone to be the operating power, and not the headset itself. This makes virtual reality a bit cheaper on the mobile front, but once again, the software/content still isn’t there to really make proper use of something like this.
However, the real idea behind mobile virtual reality, at least as of right now, is that people can get a taste of the possibilities behind VR. Since everyone has a smartphone (the operating power behind mobile virtual reality), things like the Gear VR and Google Cardboard can be cheap. That way everyone can get a taste of this new technology, as the Google Cardboard can run as cheap as $25, and more often than not, you’ll find Google Cardboard being given away for free, too.
Keep in mind that there’s still hope for the future. There are startups that are working hard at trying to figure out how to create productivity-based virtual reality applications (e.g. Envelop VR) as well as other types of content, but we’re still a long ways off before any of that will be ready for prime time.
All in all, virtual reality is in a weird place, but that’s ok, because it really is a emerging technology. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive show how endless the possibilities are in the future, and things will only get better as developers decide to support the technologies as well, which is truly virtual reality’s biggest battle right now.
We’d love to open up that discussion to you, either below in the comments or over on the PCMech Forums. What do you think of virtual reality right now? Do you believe it’s in a good place, or a weird place with possibilities for the future? Let us know!