In the 1930s science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum introduced the idea of a pair of goggles (Pygmalion’s Spectacles) that let the wearer experience a fictional world.
Fast forward to 1987, Jaron Lanier popularized the term “virtual reality”. He founded VPL, a company that developed and sold VR goggles and gloves.
Fast forward again to 2016, we’re now at the dawn of a whole new era in VR. Finally technological developments have enabled developers to create mind-blowing immersive experiences that will revolutionize gaming and entertainment. The technology has also become affordable enough to be accepted by the mainstream.
The most popular VR headsets (aka HMD or Head Mounted Display) in the market today are the Samsung Gear VR, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The Samsung Gear VR was released in November 2015, the Oculus Rift in March 2016 and this was closely followed by the HTC Vive in the following month.
The Oculus Rift is clearly the leader in the high-end VR headset segment at this moment, trailing behind by the HTC Vive. Both the Rift and the Vive are light years ahead of the Gear VR which does not belong to the high-end category.
Palmer Luckey was a teenager tinkering with VR as a hobby. In 2012 before he turned 21, he formed Oculus VR and launched his Kickstarter campaign for a VR headset. It hit a million dollars in 3 days. Two years later, Facebook came along and scooped up Oculus VR for a cool $2 billion.
The Oculus Rift is the favorite choice for serious VR enthusiasts. With the Rift, you need a powerful gaming PC for a great VR experience. At $599, it’s a little steep but for the high-end performance and out-of-this-world experience, it’s worth it.
The HTC Vive is the Steam VR headset made in collaboration with Valve, the makers of legendary gaming series Half Life. The Vive similarly requires a power gaming PC to operate and has a similar resolution as the Rift. The HTC Vive scored in its Lighthouse room tracking that enables you to move around with the headset on for a more immersive experience. However it costs $200 more than the Oculus Rift.
Computers that don’t meet the Rift and Vive’s recommended specs might still run some VR games. But to get a good VR experience, expect to spend around $1,000 if you’re buying a new desktop and maybe a little less if you buy a headset and PC bundle.
Oculus and Samsung collaborated to develop Samsung Gear VR as a lite version of the Rift. The Gear VR is simply a case where a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone is slotted in front of the lenses. The visuals are a little grainy, but at $99 what more could you ask for?
Then there is the upcoming Sony PlayStation VR scheduled to release in October 2016 in time for Christmas. The PS VR has the chances to go big too. It is designed as an accessory to the PS4 console and does not require a PC for its operation.
Things are heating up and 2016 will indeed be an exciting year for VR enthusiasts.