Which Virtual Reality headset is the one to get?

ByDuncan Heaney
Samsung Gear VR

VR’s nearly here and I’m very excited. Even writing this now, it’s virtually (heh) all I can do to stop myself from running around the broadbandchoices office flapping my arms around in glee.

That's because this week's announcement of the PlayStation VR means that the biggest VR players have put their cards on the table. We know what devices are coming, what you can do with them, and how much they will cost - so it's time for people to start making decisions over whether they want one, and which one to go with.

And that's what I'm going to do here. You could argue that I'm using the company blog as a way to self-justify a multi-hundred pound purchase that I can't necessarily afford, but… erm… blah blah something distracting.

Let's take a look at the options:

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift

What is it? -  Arguably the highest profile of all VR devices. It didn't take Oculus long to start turning heads with its exciting new technology - it certainly impressed Facebook moneybags Mark Zuckerberg, who promptly bought the company for a head-spinning $2 billion.

The final version of the headset contains loads of sensors, a display for each eye, a camera to aid movement detection, and built-in headphones. At launch, it comes packaged with an Xbox One controller, but there will be motion controllers - called Oculus Touch - that will track arm movements.

What can you do with it? -  Oculus has announced loads of games for the Rift already. Some of the more notable ones include Ubisoft's Eagle Flight which lets you soar freely over a post-apocalyptic Paris; The Climb, which simulates scaling a mountain and is by all accounts exhilarating, and third-person combat game Chronos. The one I'm most excited about though is spaceship dogfighting game Eve: Valkyrie - I've played it and found the experience utterly thrilling.

What do you need to use it? -  Okay, so here's where the bad news starts. You need a pretty beefy PC for Oculus Rift - an NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD 290 graphics card or better, an Intel i5-4590 processor or greater and at least 8GB RAM. Not insurmountable specs, but more than many people have - me included.

How much does it cost? -  If you have the PC you need, you can pick up an Oculus Rift for £500. Yup - that ain't cheap. Plus add in the price of a PC to run it, and you're probably looking more around £1,500.

When's it out? -  The Oculus Rift is out this month - 28 March to be precise. Pre-orders are totally filled though, so you're looking at July or probably even later to get one.

HTC Vive

HTC Vive

What is it? -  HTC has opted to go all out with the Vive. It's a full VR system that gives you everything - headset, motion controls, even wall-mounted lasers that can follow movement around a room. That likely makes it the most immersive option out there.

Also, HTC has partnered with Valve - the company that operates Steam, and made Half-Life and Portal. That immediately gives it a ton of credibility with gamers.

What can you do with it?  - More than 50 games or tech demos have been confirmed for the Vive, including the lightsabre-simulating Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine. Other interesting tiles include The Lab, a set of mini-games based in the Portal universe; role playing game Vanishing Realms: Rite of Steel; and horror shooter The Brookhaven Experiment.

The Vive also comes with a few free games out of the box, including Job Simulator, which lets you experience the thrilling life of an office worker or shop clerk (it's more fun than it makes it sound); and building game Fantastic Contraption.

So the Vive has plenty to do and play - although it's worth noting that none are exclusive.

What do you need to use it? -  Like the Oculus, the Vive needs a similarly powerful PC. It also doesn't have built-in headphones, so you'll need your own if you're going for maximum immersion. On the plus side, it contains controllers and all the equipment you need to get going.

How much does it cost?  - Short answer: a lot. The Vive is the most expensive headset by far, costing £689. Plus, like the rift, if you don't have a decent PC, you're looking at another £1,000 on top of that.

When's it out? -  The HTC Vive is due to launch on 5 April.

PlayStation VR

PlayStation VR

What is it? -  It's VR. On the PlayStation. While the specs are a little lower than the Rift or Vive, those who have had hands-on time with the PlayStation VR seem to be happy with their experience.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the device is that it works with the PlayStation 4 - which many people already have - and has a lower cost of entry than the other headsets.

What can you do with it?  - According to Sony, 230 developers are building software for the PlayStation VR, and 50 games will be available from launch. There are VR versions of big PlayStation names like DriveClub, Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy and Ace Combat.

A new version of classic tank game Battlezone in particular seems to be getting the thumbs up from the games media. Plus there'll be a selection of free mini-games in The Playroom VR.

What do you need to use it? -  Here's one of the inconvenient truths about PlayStation VR - it doesn't have everything you need to play it in the box. For example, you need the PlayStation Camera for it to work at all, and two Move motion controllers if you want to get the most out of it.

How much does it cost?  - At £349, PlayStation VR is the most affordable option of the three big headsets. Of course, you also need to factor in the equipment you may need to use it. The camera is available for around £40, and two Move controllers will set you back approximately £50. Then there's the PlayStation itself if you don't have it - that's around £270 now.

Chances are, you may already have some of the equipment, and Sony is already talking about bundles containing all of it (US only so far), but all in you're looking at around £710 to get going with VR.

When's it out?  October 2016.

Verdict

So which is the one to get? If money was no object, it would be a trickier decision. The HTC Vive looks the most technologically impressive, but the Oculus Rift is tried and tested at this point, with lots of exciting games and applications almost available.

But here's the thing - money is an object. For me, and many others I suspect, it's an easy decision: the PlayStation VR is the only one I can even consider affording. It'll be the easiest to get set up too, and Sony's focus on gaming means there's likely to be more than a few things worth playing.

So it's decided. I'm going to pre-order the PlayStation VR with all its necessary equipment! Just enter my credit card details into Amazon and…

Oh, it's all sold out. Never mind then.

 

Topics: Hardware Reviews

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