Virtual reality is about to go mainstream
HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets, gaming and movies – Google and YouTube. How virtual reality is set to rock your world…
Virtual reality has been the biggest tech trend of 2016. We’ve seen several new VR headsets launched and the emergence of virtual reality games and other content. VR also dominated tech shows like CES and Mobile World Congress
How the VR magic happens
Manufacturers of virtual reality kit say VR is the ‘gateway for exploration’ – giving us the chance to explore fictional worlds and travel to far-flung locations from our living rooms.
At first, VR was only available from a couple of companies such as HTC and Oculus, however, as 2016 has progressed we have seen more and more headset releases from the likes of Samsung, PlayStation and Google. With tots more big names also rumoured to be working on their own headsets and 360° YouTube content becoming ever more common, it’s clear that virtual reality is here to stay.
Different types of virtual reality headset
There are 2 types of VR headset – and they’re quite different in terms of how they work and also how much they cost.
Tethered VR headsets
HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR are examples of tethered headsets. These headsets:
- Contain 2 built-in screens, both streaming video at high speeds to deliver a 360° experience
- Connect to a high-powered PC or in some cases a games console
‘Screenless’ VR headsets
Samsung Galaxy VR and Google Daydream are examples of a ‘screenless’ headset. These headsets are much cheaper and:
- Don’t have their own screens or connect to a PC
- You slot a compatible smartphone into the headset
Virtual reality and gaming
If you love gaming, virtual reality can give you a revolutionary and totally immersive experience. Players are sucked into a virtual world of 360° video viewed through the headset. Hand movements are also tracked through motion sensors on special wireless controllers, making you feel as if you're actually in the virtual world around you.
Credit: Associated Press
Our gaming expert got hands on with VR at CES. Deep underwater on a sunken ship, he experienced: ‘shoals of tiny fish swimming inches from my face, flitting away as I waved my hands at them. The 3D effect here was brilliant’.
The VR headsets are compatible with different gaming platforms.
HTC Vive and Steam VR
The HTC Vive hooks up to a high-powered PC and works with the popular online gaming platform Steam.
The Vive is the most advanced headset you can buy – with features like better-than-HD screens and an extra-wide field of view. It’s designed to get the best from PCs with powerful Intel Core processors.
Steam is built into the Vive. Together the two companies have developed SteamVR – a virtual reality version of the platform.
There will be about 38 games for the Vive at launch.
PlayStation VR and PS4
PlayStation VR is cheaper to buy than the Vive and you only need a PS4 rather than a high-powered PC.
For PS4 devotees, PlayStation VR is a bit of a no-brainer. It lacks some of the advanced features of the Vive but still delivers amazing VR gaming.
PlayStation is releasing 50 games before the end of 2016. Enjoy VR versions of classic PlayStation games like Rez Infinite, Battlezone and Driveclub. PlayStation plans to release 50 games in 2016.
Researchers tackle ‘virtual reality sickness’
As amazing and immersive as it is, virtual reality has been found to leave some people feeling a tad queasy.
VR sickness has ‘symptoms similar to motion sickness’, says Professor Steven K Feiner at Columbia University. It occurs when the mismatch between physical and virtual motion increases. When, for example, you’re running in a VR game while sat on your sofa.
Now prof Feiner and his team have come up with a way of reducing VR sickness symptoms by narrowing the wearer’s field of view.
‘Virtual reality has the potential to profoundly change how we interact with people, machines, and information,’ says prof Feiner.
‘It is critical that the experience be both comfortable and compelling, and we think we've found a way.’
Smartphone headsets – VR for everyone?
The Samsung Galaxy VR uses a smartphone as its screen and is not connected to a PC or a console.
It works with the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 Edge or S6 smartphone. For around £80 it transforms your phone into a mobile virtual reality headset.
Another option is the new Google Daydream. At £69, Daydream offers an affordable route into VR. Rather than hooking up to a computer, it works with Google Pixel smartphones – more phones will soon be announced.
Both of these have stacks of cool app games you can download and play – many of them optimised for VR.
VR beyond gaming – movies, music and holidays
It’s not just about gaming – VR is set to change how we enjoy music, watch movies and even book a holiday.
Take the new YouTube VR app that has launched alongside Google’s Daydream. The YouTube VR app is built-in to Daydream, putting lots of 360° video within easy reach. You can swim with great white sharks, see dinosaurs come back to life and hike off into the mountains.
You can enjoy Netflix in a virtual cinema on both the Gear VR and Daydream. While the Gear VR has Oculus Tours giving you 360° video of national parks and suchlike.
Explore the world of Daydream at the Google shop in our Tottenham Court Road store, London
VR beyond gaming – movies, music and holidays
It’s not just about gaming – VR is set to change how we enjoy music, watch movies and even book a holiday. Samsung has announced plans to open a virtual reality film studio in New York.
While VR guru Sol Rogers says the technology could help people research trips abroad and enjoy music.
When can you buy a VR headset?
The HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear are all available to buy now, and Google Daydream is coming soon. Don't worry though - you can still order your Daydream headset from The Carphone Warehouse