Each day brings gamers closer to living in a world where they can immerse themselves in virtual worlds without spending outrageous amounts of money on virtual reality or VR headsets. A few of the most-anticipated virtual reality headsets include Google’s Cardboard, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and Sony’s Morpheus.
Now that some of these devices have reached the consumer market, gamers will want to know how the technology could affect one of their favorite pastimes.
Google’s Cardboard takes a unique approach to giving gamers access to affordable virtual reality headsets. To take advantage of that though, gamers need to learn how to construct their own devices. Google doesn’t actually sell Cardboard devices. Instead, it provides free plans that consumers can use to construct their own headsets (several companies sell their own versions of Cardboard, usually for less than $30).
Building a Cardboard headset requires biconvex lenses, a neodymium ring magnet, a ceramic disk magnet, and other parts. Users can then slip their smartphones into the headset and use apps to create virtual reality experiences.
This is one of the cheapest ways to start playing virtual reality games. The low price however, means that Cardboard has some limitations. The materials won’t last nearly as long as those used to build Samsung’s or Facebook’s devices. The headset also relies on smartphones that Google doesn’t control. People with low-quality devices can expect a low-quality experience.
Expect Cardboard to become a cult favorite among small game developers and fans of DIY. Don’t expect it to have a big effect on the gaming industry though.
The Oculus Rift has gotten a lot of attention from the media. You’ve probably seen articles and videos showing how the device immerses players in virtual worlds. It definitely has cool technology that makes it an attractive piece of hardware. Unfortunately, Oculus Rift has fallen behind some of its competitors.
Facebook purchased Oculus VR, the company that invented the technology behind Oculus Rift, for about $2 billion near the end of March 2014. Oculus VR had already released developer kits so game makers could start using the technology to test their own virtual reality concepts. Since then, the project has stalled. Consumers shouldn’t expect to see a version on store shelves until 2016. Facebook may find a way to release the device earlier than that, but it hasn’t set a firm date. Oculus VR had similar troubles before selling the virtual reality headset to Facebook.
The bottom line is that Facebook has a cool piece of technology that could transform the gaming industry if consumers ever have a chance to use it.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung’s Gear VR headset has several advantages over other virtual reality devices. Samsung developed the technology through a partnership with Oculus VR. The headset includes sensors that track head movement, an external touchpad, and a stereoscopic 3D display. In other words, it has exactly what gamers need to turn fantastical environments into realistic experiences.
Perhaps more importantly, Samsung has already released Gear VR. You can buy one right now. In fact, some experts expect Samsung to sell about 20 million headsets before the end of 2015. That’s good news for consumers who want to get an early taste of playing games in virtual reality environments. It’s also good news for the game developers who have been waiting for a company to release a reliable headset before investing money in games that maximize the benefits of virtual reality.
Samsung has also managed to keep the price low. The Gear VR headset doesn’t come with a screen. Instead, users connect their Galaxy Note 4 devices directly into the headset. The phone becomes the screen. Currently, Gear VR is only compatible with the Galaxy Note 4. Anyone who owns a Galaxy Note 4 from a dependable network can start playing virtual reality games for about $200. Since the headset connects to the mobile-ready phone, players can download games, movies, and other content without relying on other devices. The smartphone can also install software updates as soon as they are available.
A handful of people complain that Gear VR should work with more mobile devices. By limiting it to the Galaxy Note 4, though, Samsung ensures that every gamer has a positive experience. Unlike Google Cardboard, there aren’t any concerns about performance.
Sony’s Morpheus is a virtual reality headset specifically designed for PlayStation consoles. Like most headsets, it offers stereoscopic 3D and head-tracking that turns video games into immersive experiences. Some reviewers believe that Morpheus could save consoles in the upcoming virtual reality war (other headsets are designed to work with personal computers or mobile devices).
Morpheus reportedly has crisp visuals and interactive controls that work well with the PS4. Unfortunately, few gamers have had a chance to try the headset. Sony, like Facebook, simply cannot commit to a release date. That’s a big disappointment in an industry where other companies have managed to give consumers access to strong virtual reality tech.
PS4 gamers will probably buy Morpheus when it comes out, but that assumes Sony can release the set before the PS4 becomes an outdated console. The advantage of headsets like Gear VR is that Samsung can continue updating its mobile devices to offer increasingly immersive experiences without forcing fans to pay high prices for new gear. If Sony waits too long, its headset could fall too far behind to catch up with its competitors.
What Other Industries Will VR Influence?
Virtual reality headsets can turn video games into realistic experiences that give players more control over characters. They can also give game developers new opportunities to explore advanced concepts that make players feel like a part of the game.
The technology could do much more than create fun environments for games, though. Many experts believe that virtual reality will play roles in:
• Education by creating virtual classrooms
• Travel by letting people visit real places virtually
• Product development by letting engineers test concepts before creating prototypes
This is just the beginning of affordable virtual reality. The next few years will likely open new opportunities that today’s researchers can only dream about. What aspects of your life do you think virtual reality will improve?