In order to take advantage of the amazing Virtual Reality (VR) technology that exists in today’s consumer (and enterprise) market, users require custom hardware – to date this has proved to be a major barrier in terms of widespread, mainstream adoption of VR. For the completely uninitiated, in order to experience VR and leverage it’s capabilities to their full potential, users will first and foremost require a HMD (head mounted display), often referred to as a HUD (heads up display). We recently explored the top VR trends for 2019, today we’re exploring the best virtual reality headsets available to buy on today’s market.
What’s the difference between Virtual and Augmented reality?
HUD’s are ‘wraparound’ headsets that remove all interaction with the outside world. They do not enable the user to view any images or light from the real-world to interfere with the users experience, thus creating a sensation that is completely immersive. This differs from Augmented Reality (AR), in that AR is a partially immersive experience, whereby users can view digital information and 3D objects that are overlaid on top of the real-world via an AR compatible mobile device or HUD, such as the Microsoft HoloLens or the Magic Leap.
What is the size of the Virtual Reality market?
Through the utilisation of custom software and hardware, virtual reality (VR) – often referred to as ‘immersive multimedia,’ or a ‘virtual environment (VE)’ – enables software developers and businesses to create or replicate a specific environment, all driven by the creativity of the developer. The purpose of VR is to develop a highly immersive, sensory journey or experience for the player or user. The VR market is currently growing at an astonishing pace and it’s estimated that in 2016 there were 7 million HMD’s sold, with approximately 37 million units forecast to be sold by 2020. This represents a compelling commercial opportunity for brands and businesses seeking to understand the engagement potential of VR in the next three to five years and beyond. In 2017, the best selling VR device was the Sony PS VR which shipped over 1.7 million units, with this figure expanding to 2 million units shipped in 2018. There were a number of other VR device manufacturers which shipped in excess of 300,000 units and these included Windows Mixed Reality, HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
What is the value of the Virtual Reality Market?
The value of the VR market is also increasing rapidly, with a total combined revenue of $2.2 billion in 2017 which is expected to grow to over $19 billion by the year 2020. What’s interesting about the breakdown of these numbers, is the significance of mobile technology in terms of the key growth drivers in the VR market. Similar to the market for augmented reality, it’s compatible VR enabled mobile devices, or mobile VR as it’s often referred, which will account for nearly 75% of all global VR display sales by 2020. It’s estimated that by 2020, there will be in excess of 130 million mobile VR users globally. The reason for this is relatively simple, consumers and workers alike all use mobile devices for personal and professional purposes. This means that mobile AR and VR can both be experienced without the cost of additional hardware and the requirement to buy a HMD or high powered PC for the purposes of tethering to the device.
VR is in an interesting place. The technology has surpassed the realms of being considered a technological novelty or fad designed for overly enthusiastic early adopters and evolved into being an ‘almost mainstream’ form of mass entertainment. But there’s still work to do. If you’re a business owner or consumer keen to explore the capabilities of VR, there are a number of different types of VR you can explore based on your individual, personal requirements, or based on the requirements of your business, or the specific project you’ve been tasked with resourcing.
The three main types of VR are: PC/Console based (i.e. the HMD is tethered to a high powered PC or a games console), Mobile VR (these are head worn devices that enable the user to insert their mobile into the device in order to power the VR experience) and standalone VR (these are VR HMD’s that do not require any additional processing power from a tethered PC or a mobile device and are completely wireless).
Within the PC/console based VR HMD’s there are a range of devices available to purchase including: the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. Examples of mobile VR include the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream View and in terms of standalone VR headsets, the options include the HTC Vive Pro, the HTC Vive Cosmos (not yet released), Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. Rather unsurprisingly, the best VR HMD’s are also the most expensive.
Each device possesses its own unique strengths and weaknesses and the following information is designed to act as a guide to help navigate the different options available. Here are the best virtual reality headsets in no specific order:
The HTC Vive was originally unveiled at HTC’s Mobile World Congress keynote back in March 2015, with development kits brought into distribution shortly after in August and September 2015. The first iteration of the HTC Vive was made available to consumers on April 5th 2016. At the time, HTC Vive was perceived to be significantly ahead of its nearest competitor, the Oculus Rift. Upon launch in 2016, the HTC Vive supported room-scale tracking ‘off-the-shelf’ and was shipped complete with two motion controllers.
Fast forward to today and the gap between the HTC Vive and its nearest competitors has narrowed significantly. For users seeking to purchase a VR HMD in today’s market, the Oculus Rift now also comes equipped with two motion controllers and has also narrowed the competitive gap in terms of functionality and overall performance.
The HTC Vive was unveiled during HTC’s Mobile World Congress keynote in March 2015. Development kits were sent out in August and September 2015, and the first Consumer version of the device was released on April 5th, 2016.
Whilst Oculus has managed to some extent to close the gap in terms of performance, the HTC Vive still possesses a significant edge as the room-scale tracking is significantly better optimised. The HTC Vive room-scale tracking enables users to explore a space that measures 4.5m x 4.5m, providing a more immersive experience as users can physically walk around rather than relying solely on an analogue stick for movement (assuming you have sufficient space to move around in your surroundings).
The HTC Vive represents excellent value in terms of price when compared to competing headsets such as the Oculus Rift and for users who aren’t keen on the additional cost of an HTC Vive Pro. If you’re new to the world of VR and in the market for a headset that provides great functionality at a reasonable cost, the HTC Vive is a great bet.
The HTC Vive Pro’s:
– Provides the best overall VR experience in today’s market
– Partnership with Valve provides great content and distribution
The HTC Vive Con’s:
– Requires a tethered connection to a high performance GPU
– Very expensive for mass market and casual users
How much does the HTC Vive cost?
– The HTC Vive is available today for £279.46
The arrival of the Oculus Go symbolises the dawn of a new frontier in Virtual Reality headsets in that it does not need to be tethered to a high end PC, console or smartphone in order to deliver a high end experience. As a standalone VR headset, the Oculus Go provides an experience that is comparable with other tethered VR headsets that are available on today’s market, without the comparable price tag. The Oculus Go combines highly impressive visuals with a reasonably comfortable fit and provides access to over 1000 experiences, movies, apps and games, with this number set to expand as Oculus Go content is also compatible with Samsung Gear VR content and vice-versa. The Oculus Go is available to purchase with two separate storage options depending on your requirements with 32GB and 64GB models both available.
One potential downside to the Oculus Go is arguably the comfort of fit that the device provides – some users have complained that the headset is heavy which causes discomfort and that the bottom of the device is prone to leaking light which impacts the user experience. Another downside to the Oculus Go is the ratio of charging time to available battery life which provides approximately two hours of usage based on a full charge.
If you’re a newcomer to the rapidly expanding world of VR and interested in purchasing your first ever headset, the Oculus Go is definitely a great choice. The experience that Oculus Go provides vastly outsrips all of the mobile VR solutions available on today’s market, whilst providing greater affordability than some of the high powered, tethered alternatives. The Oculus Quest is scheduled to be launched this year with a release date pencilled in for Q1 2019 and early indications suggest the new device will provide unparalleled performance and user experience, with a plethora of new content set to be made available.
The Oculus Go Pro’s:
– Brilliant overall experience for a standalone VR headset
– Well priced and accessible to a mass market audience
The Oculus Go Con’s:
– Can feel uncomfortable and heavy
– Suffers from slight light leakage which negatively impacts user experience
How much does the Oculus Go cost?
– The Oculus Go is available now for £195.93
The HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro and Oculus Rift all exhibit one common characteristic which acts as a major barrier to widespread consumer adoption: the requirement for each headset to be tethered to a high powered PC. For the price sensitive consumer, investing in such a setup entails a sizeable financial commitment. The PlayStation VR, whilst not completely untethered, provides a middle ground in terms of accessibility, as the headset can be utilised if you already own a PS4.
One aspect to consider when thinking about the PlayStation VR headset is the performance of capabilities of the PS4 relative to a high-end PC. On paper, you’d expect that VR headsets would perform to an optimal level when tethered to a PC but the PlayStation VR performs surprisingly well given the specifications of the PS4 itself. In addition, the refresh rate is smooth and intuitive and the head-tracking functionality is very reliable.
One of the PlayStation VR’s major string suits is the availability of content. Upon launch, there were dozens of games and apps available for the PlayStation VR, largely thanks to Sony’s back catalogue, with a myriad of new titles being added in the subsequent months after launch. One of the major drawbacks with the PlayStation VR is the need for you to purchase lots of different peripherals and accessories. Whilst Sony do sell the PlayStation VR as a bundle complete with different accessories, certain packages won’t include peripherals such as the PlayStation Camera or PlayStation Move controllers.
If you’re already an owner of a PS4, the PlayStation VR represents an attractive option when compared to the alternatives, both in terms of price and performance. However, if you’re starting from scratch without a PS4, it might be worth exploring other headsets.
The Playstation VR Pro’s:
– Provides almost the same experience as a PC tethered headset
– Offers a competitive price point for casual users
– Great selection of content and games for all users
The Playstation VR Con’s:
– Suffers from an inability to block out light
– Motion controller tracking could be much better
– Needs to ship with more accessories as standard
How much does the Playstation VR cost?
– The Playstation VR is available now for £199.95
Oculus is now considered to be the biggest name in the Virtual Reality industry, largely thanks to Palmer Luckey who was the original founder before the company was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion. Luckey had taken a keen interest in Virtual Reality technology as a teenager and developed early prototypes of the Oculus headset which ultimately led to the Facebook acquisition. Since its original inception, the Oculus Rift has undergone numerous upgrades and enhancements such as the inclusion of Touch controllers and some much needed price reductions. The Oculus Rift Touch controllers are comparable to those provided by the HTC Vive but arguable possess greater performance.
However, one area whereby HTC Vive possesses a significant advantage over the Oculus Rift is the room-scale functionality. The HTC Vive remains the market leader in this category as the room-scale technology is designed to enable the user to move around in any given direction, whereas by default, the Oculus Rift requires the user to position two sensors in front of themselves which renders tracking more single-sided. This creates an unusual experience for the user whereby if you turnaround to quickly the built-in sensors will lose track of your position.
In terms of enhancing the performance and tracking of the Oculus Rift, there is the option to integrate a third sensor into the mix, but for purely comparative purposes, when it comes to room-scale tracking and performance, the HTC Vive is still the best in its class. One major plus point for the Oculus Rift is the price-point which is a great fit for VR users with less space to operate in and where high performance room-scale tracking is less of a priority.
The Oculus Rift Pro’s:
– Backed by Facebook and well funded
– Market pioneer and first of its kind
The Oculus Rift Con’s:
– Room-scale performance capabilities often lacking
– Sensors easily lose track of device position
How much does the Oculus Rift cost?
– The Oculus Rift is available now for £369.16
HTC Vive Pro
The HTC Vive Pro was originally launched on the 5th April 2018 and started selling as a package that included the original 1.0 base stations and controllers. On 23rd April 2018, HTC began shipping the Vive Pro with controllers and the updated 2.0 base stations. If you’re familiar with the world of VR already, it’s no secret that the HTC Vive Pro is positioned as a market leader, equipped with some seriously impressive specifications. The Vive Pro headset is ships with a resolution of 2880 x 1600 and offers a 78% increase in DPI (dots per inch) when compared to the original HTC Vive.
For prospective buyers, this means the HTC Vive Pro packs some ultra impressive visuals that enable you to enjoy shadows and textures in highly immersive way not comparable with other VR experiences. The headset also comes equipped with a new nose guard to block out interference from unwanted light and much better headphones. Overall, in terms of specifications and performance, the HTC Vive Pro represents a significant leap forward when compared to its predecessor.
However, the HTC Vive Pro is not without its negative points and perceived drawbacks. The first (and arguably most obvious) issue is the fact it’s very expensive, which means the HTC Vive Pro is highly unlikely to set the mass-market on fire. Based on its current price point, the most likely buyer persona for the HTC Vive Pro is a VR enthusiast who probably has experience in purchasing a previous iteration or a competing alternative. Despite the sleek navy blue exterior of the HTC Vive Pro and the impressive selection of games available, another drawback is the fact that the device ships in its current format with no accessories, which means that controllers and sensors must be purchased separately at relatively significant cost.
So in terms of the negatives associated with the HTC Vive Pro, price is an obvious issue. One other major flaw associated with the HTC Vive Pro is the complexity of setup and configuration, again this will be a major barrier to mass-market adoption and further reinforces the idea that this is a serious gadget for VR fanatics rather than new users purchasing a headset for the first time. One of the main reasons for the setup and configuration being so complex is the fact that the device constantly needs to be up to speed with all of the latest firmware, again not ideal for a non-technical, mass-market audience. Not only that, but many users have complained that its still difficult to set up even when all of the latest firmware has successfully been installed.
Whilst the HTC Vive Pro is a truly awesome piece of kit, with high-end performance capabilities and unparalleled specifications, the headset also possesses some very obvious constraints. If you’re in the market to buy your first ever VR headset, this is probably not the right option, both in terms of its expensive price tag and the fact that the original (and more accessible) HTC Vive is now significantly less expensive – not to mention the setup and configuration challenges. This device is definitely not for the first-time VR buyer and more suited to niche enterprise use cases, virtual arcade owners and hardcore VR enthusiasts.
The HTC Vive Pro Pro’s:
– Great sound with built-in headphones
– Omits light better than its nearest competitors
– Impressive graphics and high resolution display
The HTC Vive Pro Con’s:
– Setup is complex and not suitable for casual users
– Price is prohibitive for a mass market audience
How much does the HTC Vive Pro cost?
– The HTC Vive Pro is available now for £449.99
Samsung Gear VR
The Samsung Gear VR has always been a great option for casual or first time VR users and buyers. The headset is super accessible as a smartphone-tethered device and has recently pushed its capabilities to the next level thanks to the addition of a motion controller. Not only does the Samsung Gear VR now come equipped with a controller, but the updated version is now considerably lighter and more comfortable as a consequence and the device appears to be significantly more streamlined than the previous iteration. The new version is also equipped with a USB-C connector that connects directly to any compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone. If you’re interested in extending the functionality of your Samsung Galaxy device and looking for a ‘quick-win’ VR experience, you’ll require a Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus, Galaxy S9 or Galaxy S9 Plus to ensure compatibility with the Samsung Gear VR.
The Samsung Gear VR motion controller is very similar in terms of aesthetics to the HTC Vive controller and comes equipped with a trigger button and touch pad. One observation of the Samsung Gear VR is the fact that it really does require use of the controller to provide optimal performance, as it enables you to interact with the surrounding virtual environment in an entirely new and highly immersive way. In terms of overall performance, results will vary wildly depending upon the type of Samsung Galaxy device the headset is tethered to. This is much less of an issue with the newer, high specification Galaxy handsets, but can become more problematic when tethering to older versions of the device.
As the market for VR headsets shifts at pace towards untethered experiences, it does raise questions about the future of mobile VR and how long tethered headsets and mobile VR systems will continue to be supported by manufacturers. However, the good news is that because Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR share the same content store for apps and games, users can expect the Gear VR to be supported for the next few years at least. If you’re an existing Samsung mobile device owner with a compatible handset and are looking for a low-cost and easily accessible VR option, the Samsung Gear VR represents a good choice.
The Samsung Gear VR Pro’s:
– Great sound with built-in headphones
– Omits light better than its nearest competitors
– Impressive graphics and high resolution display
The Samsung Gear VR Con’s:
– Setup is complex and not suitable for casual users
– Price is prohibitive for a mass market audience
How much does the Samsung Gear VR cost?
– The Samsung Gear VR is available now for £449.99
Google Daydream View
The Google Daydream View was originally launched on November 10th 2016 and if you’re an existing Android user (with a compatible device) this is a VR headset you should seriously consider. Priced at £100, the Daydream View is a compelling option and is a great headset that is accessible to everyone, VR beginners and experts alike. Setup and configuration is simple and requires the installation of an app. Once the app is installed and you’re immersed in your virtual environment nof choice, the controller that’s included in the bundle makes it easy to navigate your surroundings.
One of the more obvious drawbacks of the Google Daydream View is the fact that it doesn’t compare to high-end tethered VR headsets in terms of technical specifications and performance. But, what the Daydream VR offering lacks in performance, it more than makes up for in terms of cost and accessibility. Another drawback is the availability of content. There are not a huge number of games and apps to experience, but there is a reasonable variety of content to suit users with different tastes and requirements.
The Google Daydream View VR headset is by no means the best available on the market, but it’s a great choice for existing Android users who own a compatible headset and are looking for a quick and easy entry point into the world of VR.
The Google Daydream View Pro’s:
– Good performance for a mobile enabled VR headset
– Well priced for first time VR headset buyers
The Google Daydream View Con’s:
– Can feel quite uncomfortable
– Not enough high quality content
How much does the Google Daydream View cost?
– The Google Daydream View is available now for £50
At the recent Oculus Connect 5 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Oculus Quest would be made available to North American consumers in ‘spring 2019’ and whilst the exact date remains unclear, there is huge excitement surrounding its arrival. Upon arrival into the market, its anticipated the Oculus Quest will cost somewhere between £349 and £399 which represents a compelling option for casual gamers and existing VR users (this is roughly the same price as a new console). When compared to its more expensive counterparts, this is an impressive and very attractive price point that could capture the imagination of the mass-market.
On first impressions, the technical specifications of the Oculus Quest are similar to that of the Oculus Go. However, upon further exploration there are many compelling user benefits associated with the Oculus Go. In summary, the Oculus Quest is a massively enhanced standalone VR headset that provides full 6DOF (6 degrees of freedom) tracking, whilst providing the performance and quality associated with some of the best tethered headsets available on the market.
How much will the Oculus Quest cost? When it arrives the Oculus Quest will cost somewhere between £349 and £399 which offers great value for a VR headset with such high specifications and performance capabilities. Considering that the HTC Vive cost £799 when it initially launched, this represents a fantastic achievement for the team behind the Oculus Quest.
The Oculus Quest Pro’s:
– Excellent freedom of movement
– Good array of games and content
The Oculus Quest Con’s:
– Battery life quality is unknown
– Some tracking related constraints and issues
How much does the Oculus Quest cost?
– The Oculus Quest should be available in March/April 2019 and will cost between £349 and £399
HTC Vive Cosmos
The HTC Vive Cosmos represents HTC’s fourth VR headset release since 2015. It was the release of the original HTC Vive that created the success benchmark for all VR headsets when it was initially launched in 2015, with the Vive Pro hitting the market the next year in 2016 and the HTC Vive Focus made its debut the following year.
One of the major criticisms of the HTC range of VR headsets is the fact that they appear to be solely focused on hardcore users, with little or no focus on penetrating the casual end of the market, which appears to be one of the biggest challenges for VR. Both the Vive Focus and the Vive Pro are great devices that provide high end performance capabilities, but they’re not designed for everyday users and this will always constrain their ability to reach a mass audience.
With this in mind, HTC are positioning the Vive Cosmos as a consumer focused mass-market VR headset. The device is designed and developed to play games and offer users unique social experiences that are compatible with the new HTC Viveport Infinity subscription platform for games.
Whilst the precise details surrounding the launch of the HTC Vive Cosmos are to some extent shrouded in mystery, the headset promises to offer the ability to ‘plug into whichever device you have around’ – this could be a smartphone, tablet, PC or console, which could solve a key accessibility barrier for the wider VR industry. Giving users the ability to power VR experiences via existing devices removes the need to purchase additional equipment which provides a compelling marketing proposition.
The HTC Vive Cosmos Pro’s:
– Sleek design
– Works with multiple devices
– Easy to setup and configure
The HTC Vive Cosmos Con’s:
– Does not support eye tracking
How much does the HTC Vive Cosmos cost?
– The HTC Vive Cosmos should be available in early 2019 at a cost of £499
HTC created a significant buzz across the VR ecosystem with the launch of the Vive Pro and now Hewlett Packard is set to enter the market with a high-powered headset of its own: HP Copper. In terms of overall specifications the HP Copper possesses dual 2160 x 2160 displays (one for each eye) which significantly trumps the HTC Vive Pro which clocks in at 1440 x 1600 pixels-per-eye. However, one immediate drawback associated with the HP Copper is the fact that the headset does not seek to enhance field of view.
Similar to HP’s previous VR headset offering, the HP Copper operates on the Windows Mixed Reality platform and will be heavily focused on creating an offering for serious VR users rather than early adopters and casual users. The HP Copper is designed to be more comfortable than its previous iteration and whilst the exact specifications and weight are as yet unknown it’s designed to feel light and easy to use for extended periods of gameplay.
Whilst the vast majority of Windows Mixed Reality headsets sit on a plastic circle around the user’s head, the HP Copper is more similar in appearance to the Oculus Rift. The HP Copper does utilise the same camera tracking technology as many of the other Windows Mixed Reality headsets on today’s market, which in turn makes the devices heavier and less comfortable but easier to setup and configure.
The HP Copper Pro’s:
– Impressive resolution and graphics
– Designed for comfort
The HP Copper Con’s:
– Lacks enhanced field of view
How much does the HP Copper cost?
– The HP Copper should be available in 2019 at a cost of £400
If you’re a consumer looking for your first VR headset, there are a tonne of factors you need to consider. In terms of ease of accessibility, mobile tethered VR headsets offer a cost effective and convenient way to get yourself started. Similarly, if you’re looking for something with better functionality and performance, standalone device will offer a good balance of quality versus cost. If you’re already bought a VR headset and are seeking an upgrade, or you’re new to the world of VR but only interested in high end performance, then a PC tethered VR headset will be the best way to go but the price tag will be reflective of the performance capabilities.
If you’re a business interested in Virtual Reality, there’s never been a better time to get started, but again there’s a tonne of stuff to consider. If you’re new to the rapidly expanding world of VR and interested in it’s commercial capabilities, it’s worth checking out our top VR trends for 2019 (we’ve also dissected the top AR trends for 2019 you should be aware of and the best AR SDK’s). With offices throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK (Dundee, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow), Mozenix is ideally positioned to help elevate your Virtual Reality development initiative to the next level. If you’re interested to learn more, contact Mozenix today to kick-start the conversation.