Virtual reality has slowly been gaining popularity over the past few years, but in 2016 it really hit its stride. If you’re excited about the idea of VR, but don’t really know where to start, we’ve put together this guide to bring you up to speed.
What is virtual reality?
First of all, let's answer the big question – what exactly is VR? Virtual reality is an artificial environment achieved with the help of a smartphone or a computer. Because the headsets fit over your eyes, the different things you see totally surround you in complete 360-degrees, creating an exciting immersive experience.
Different VR systems
If you’ve already been doing a bit of shopping around, you’ll have noticed that there seems to be quite a few options on the shelves right now. So let’s have a run through the big names.
Price band* £££
HTC Vive is a high cost VR platform that not only lets you experience the mesmerising world of virtual reality, but also allows you to move around within it. Using sensors placed around you and the mask, you can walk around in the virtual environment, and interact with your surroundings using HTC’s handheld controllers.
To run HTC Vive you’ll need a powerful gaming computer. The motion sensors and controllers come with the headset.
Order your own HTC Vive from our sister company, Currys PC World.
Rift is owned by Facebook, and once again features a high-end price tag. And in exchange for that cost you get a quality VR experience – one of the best currently available. To interact with your virtual world you use an Xbox controller or Oculus’ own controllers. And just like Vive, it comes with sensors and requires a powerful computer to run.
Order your own Oculus Rift from our sister company, Currys PC World.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is a mixed-reality (virtual-augmented reality combo) headset, and it’s a different beast all together. It’s far and away the most expensive of the lot, but it does offer some fairly spectacular-looking experiences.
The HoloLens doesn’t lock you in a virtual world, but rather blends the virtual world into your world. By using sensors and cameras mounted on the headset, it introduces holograms to reality.
Sony PlayStation VR
Sony’s PlayStation VR, formerly called Project Morpheus, is quite new to market and works alongside PS4. This is a big advantage for those that already own a PlayStation, because you won’t be looking at such a big outlay.
There's currently a solid range of VR games available for PlayStation, and lots more will be added in time. You control gameplay with the usual PS4 controller, the main difference being that you’re now in the virtual world, instead of looking at a flat screen.
Order your own PlayStation VR from our sister company, Currys PC World.
Google Daydream View
Google’s foray into the VR world started with Cardboard (below), but the Mountain View company has recently introduced a more premium headset called Daydream View. Unlike the masks above, this viewer works by slotting a ‘Daydream-ready’ smartphone (like Pixel) in the front - in turn becoming your screen. There’s also a lightweight controller included, which lets you interact with whatever you’re looking at.
As there’s no hefty computer hardware attached, it brings the cost of the headset down a lot, letting you enjoy a great experience that won’t break the bank.
Order your own Daydream View right here.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung has a similar VR solution to Google, using a smartphone as the screen. The Gear VR only works with Samsung smartphones, physically plugging into the headset via the USB port.
Gear VR is powered by Oculus, so the content is really high quality, and as you’re using Samsung’s range of smartphones, the screen resolution is top-drawer, too.
Order your own Samsung Gear VR here.
Low-cost VR: Goji VR headset, Google Cardboard
Last but not least are the budget VR viewers that let you enjoy virtual reality for next to nothing. They also work by slotting the smartphone into the front, but don’t come with handheld controllers – offering a more visual presence. They're a great place to start if you’re looking to experience VR for the first time.
Now that’s out the way, let’s look at a few FAQs about using virtual reality…
Order your own Goji VR headset right here.
Will VR make me motion sick?
Some VR experiences can be quite overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. The more expensive systems are designed to prevent motion sickness with quick frame refresh rates. But feelings of motion sickness can sometimes be induced if whatever you’re looking at is moving quickly – like a rollercoaster simulation, for example.
Your brain is expecting that lurch you sometimes get in your stomach, but as your body isn’t actually moving at all, it can be a bit confusing. This is quite rare though.
Why is VR so expensive?
Like most new technology, prices start high, but they’re likely to drop over time. The more sophisticated systems, like Vive and Rift, will probably stay at the top end, but should gradually come down when newer models are released.
Can I use VR with my phone?
All top level smartphones will be set up for VR. However, if you have a more mid to low-tier smartphone, you might be wondering if it will work with virtual reality at all.
The hard and fast rule is, if it has an accelerometer and a compass, it will be compatible. It needs these two sensors to track your head movements, and orientate the image the right way round. The headsets you'll be able to use are the Goji one we mentioned above, and Google Cardboard, if your phone has this equipment.
Is VR for everyone?
Yes, virtual reality is designed for everyone to enjoy. Obviously there has been a big focus on the gamers, but there’s a lot of other content. You can watch films in your own private cinema, enjoy 360-degree documentaries, experience Google Street View like you’re actually there, walk on Mars… the list goes on.
Do you have any questions about virtual reality? Drop us a comment below and we’ll get back to you.
*Price band (PB) key
££££ = £700+
£££ = £400 - £699
££ = £50 - £399
£ = £10 - £49