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Virtual Reality… for real this time?
If I had asked you in 2010 which technology would attempt a massive comeback just six years later, I’m guessing VR would not have been on the top of your list. Yet, just this year we will see the release of three different sets of VR gear aimed at the mainstream public. Let’s look at the hardware, pricing and outlook for each of these competitors to see who you may want to put your money behind.
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Of the three products discussed in this article, Oculus is the one you are most likely to have heard of. It may have something to do with a little company called Facebook and $2 billion dollars. Oculus was founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey at the ripe old age of 19. Mark Zuckerberg was so impressed with what Palmer and his team were able to do that Facebook acquired the fledgling VR company in 2014 to the tune of $2 billion dollars.
What is the Rift?
Of the devices discussed here, the Oculus Rift will be the first to market in March 2016 at a price of $599. The box includes the head mount, sensor for tracking, Xbox One remote, Oculus remote and a copy of Lucky’s Tale – a VR platformer.
The kit includes a headset with microphone so no additional accessories are needed. You do need a pretty beefy computer to get this to run though.
30 games will be available at launch with many more in the pipeline.
What Makes the Rift Unique?
There is a LOT of money behind Oculus and the Rift. Facebook didn’t spend $2 billion dollars on a whim. Facebook sees VR as the future and you can perform some simple foreshadowing to see where Facebook may take the Rift in the near future.
Who is it for?
The Rift is aimed at the mainstream PC gamer. With great technology and a price lower than the Vive, Oculus is hoping to be the VR solution for PC gamers.
It’s impossible to say at this time how the outlook is for the Rift, but based on several factors I’d have to say “pretty good". Oculus will have 30 games available at launch with many more in the pipeline. They also are helped by their competition. The more people who buy into VR as a platform will increase interest across the board. Having a huge company behind them will also help.
The cost is really the biggest “gotcha" at this point. Once you add up the cost of the Rift, and possible cost of a new PC with supported video card, you may need to dish out over $1500. The cost of entry could be pretty high if you don’t already have a high end computer and card.
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What is the Vive?
Valve – the company behind Steam, Half-Life and Portal is partnering with HTC – maker of mobile phones to produce their first foray into VR. The Vive consists of a head mounted display, two tracking stations and two wireless controllers for $799. The Vive will have about 50 games available at launch in April 2016.
What Makes the Vive Unique?
The big selling point for Vive is that the two base stations allow for full room tracking. Whereas the Rift and PlayStation VR limit the users to standing or sitting in a single position, the Vive allows users to walk around. This can be a drawback if you are limited in space – Valve recommends an open space of 15x15 for the full “room scale VR" experience but a space of 5x6.5 feet is the minimum.
Who is it for?
The Vive is aimed at the hardcore PC gamer who wants the best possible VR experience and isn’t afraid of the hefty price tag.
If anything hurts the Vive it will be the price. Although (arguably) technically superior to other solutions, the price is going to seriously hamper wide-scale adoption. Then again, Valve isn’t some small startup. They have plenty of money in the bank so I would expect to see regular hardware (and price) improvements moving forward.
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What is PSVR?
PlayStation VR (PSVR) is the unsexy name giving to Sony’s VR offering. The PSVR was developed in house at Sony and is being built for the PlayStation 4 gaming console. The PSVR will utilize existing PlayStation Move or DualShock 4 controllers. The package will include the headset, cables and a processing unit. Users will need to supply (or purchase) a PlayStation 4 Camera to be used for tracking.
What Makes the PSVR Unique?
Although the PSVR specs aren’t as impressive as the Rift and Vive, PlayStation is going to be the first console VR product on the market when it releases this October for a price of $399. Of the demos I’ve seen the PSVR is shooting for more of a social experience when compared to what Vive and Rift are offering. Other players can be sitting on the couch next to the person wearing the visor playing along (or against) them.
Who is it for?
If you’ve already got a PS4 you’re half way there. There’s no need to buy a new PS4 or new video card for PSVR to be compatible. Make sure you have a PS4 camera and the PSVR kit and you’re good to go.
Let’s be honest - Sony doesn’t have the best track record with their accessory hardware. Sony has built some cool things in the past but they’ve abandoned them just as quickly. Just look at the short lifespans for the EyeToy, Wonderbook, and 3D TVs. However, Sony’s biggest problem has always been lack of developer support. It looks like this time might be different as they currently have 230 developers working on games. Sony expects about 50 games at launch.
This was just a brief overview of Valve, Oculus and Sony’s VR offerings – let me know in the comments if you want coverage on any of the other upcoming products!