It took a while, but VR is here – and with it a wide range of VR headsets for designers and artists to get creative with.
As well as the obvious utility for gaming, VR looks set to become big business in a huge range of other industries, including film-making, architecture and medicine. This presents a growing opportunity for designers and developers to get in on the ground level.
If you want to start exploring this new form of 3D art, you'll need to choose the right hardware. Here are some of the best VR headsets around to help you decide which one is best for you.
01. Microsoft HoloLens
This VR headset leads the way on what VR can do.
The first untethered holographic computer, HoloLens overlays different CG elements onto the transparent screen in front of each eye to create real-looking 3D holograms. HoloLens is perfect for experiences that benefit from mixing the real world with the virtual – from seeing how a chair would look in your living room to highly empathetic social experiences, such as meeting a hero or figure from the news.
HoloLens can really read a room. Not only can it identify what an object is, it can tell what material it’s made from. It features 12 sensors including four environment-understanding cameras and four microphones, and includes spatial sound, gaze tracking, gesture input and voice support.
Sounds perfect then – if you can afford it. Sadly the HoloLens doesn't come cheap. Budget for a few thousand pounds if you really want this kit.
02. HTC Vive
Hands down better than most of the current crop of VR headsets.
The HTC Vive needs to be tethered to a powerful desktop GPU – but the result is the ability to create immersive, active VR. One huge benefit is the ability to move around space (a minimum of 2x1.5m is recommended by HTC). It works by using two sensors positioned in the corner of the room that track the whereabouts of the headset by sweeping with lasers.
The Vive comes with two handheld controllers, meaning greater capability for menus, navigation and gesture recognition. The headset also sports a front-facing camera, giving designers the ability to build the real world into games or experiences. And if you feel like you'll need something even more powerful, then the duel OLED running HTC Vive Pro will soon be on the market, too.
03. Oculus Rift
The best VR headset for price and experience.
Much like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift requires a wired connection to a high-spec (and often very expensive) gaming PC, running Windows 7 or higher, but the payoff is the ability to create processing-heavy interactive experiences and games.
When it first launched, the Rift couldn’t do room-scale VR (so users had to sit, or stand still). But recent updates bringing in an additional low-latency constellation tracking system means users can now walk around – just be aware, not all users will have this capability.
The same applies to the newly launched Touch controllers, which need to be purchased separtely to add greater interactivity. The Rift’s integrated VR audio system is excellent, and is widely considered to be better than its competitor, the HTC Vive.
04. Playstation VR
The best cheap VR headset.
A more affordable option than the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR is tethered to a PS4 rather than an expensive PC gaming rig. That makes it the obvious launchpad into VR if you already own a PS4.
The downside of this is less power – and so potentially less immersion. The PlayStation Camera tracks nine light points on the headset so room-scale VR is technically possible, but as Sony has opted for one sensor instead of two, the tracking is not as good as on the HTC Vive.
Although, at present, PlayStation VR content is more gaming-focused, the headset’s huge sales figures makes it a serious proposition for the mass market. So if you have a PlayStation already and aren't completely sold on VR, then going for this model makes a nice affordable option by way of a convincer.
05. Samsung Gear VR
A great cheap VR headset to team up with your Samsung mobile devices.
Powered by Samsung Galaxy smartphones, Samsung Gear VR effectively splits the phone screen in two to create 3D visuals, to offer affordable, wire-free virtual reality. Lacking the power of a high-spec PC, Gear VR is a natural home for 360-video (passive content) or semi-active experiences that require moving the head to hotspots, rather than hugely interactive projects.
Originally launched in 2013, the Gear VR is the go-to VR platform for many. It’s widely understood by the public and a large number of experiences already exist for it. This has been boosted by a partnership with Facebook, bringing the Oculus VR store to the platform.
And an upgraded headset has improved the size of the lenses to widen the field of view, making the Gear VR’s experiences feel more immersive than the original launch model. Not bad at all for the price.
06. Google Daydream View
A good way to dabble in VR on the cheap
With the revamped Daydream View, Google has made possibly the most attractive VR headset on the market. But this isn't a case merely of style over substance - there's a lot to like about the search giant's effort and at an excellent price.
The Google Daydream uses a phone to power your VR experience, but unlike Samsung’s ‘walled-garden’ Gear VR, is not exclusive to Google’s own Pixel phones – it also works with Samsung Galaxy handsets, LGs and oddly the Moto Z, and is expected to support other Android devices in future. The Daydream is best suited to passive (think 360-video and animation) and semi-active content.
The headset comes with a handheld controller, for easier navigation than with the Samsung Gear VR’s on-headset buttons. The cheapest headset is fabric-covered and designed for comfort. There’s not much content for Daydream yet, but given the cost – not to mention partnerships with Netflix VR and HBO NOW VR – there’s a good opportunity to make your mark using this tech.