So you watched Sword Art Online and you’re thinking, “Man I wanna jump into a virtual world right now!” Well, you’re in luck because virtual reality is very much a thing now and is actually surprisingly easy to pick up. There are various levels to VR at the moment, but unfortunately, there’s no full dive system like in SAO… yet.
The most basic of VR right now is the smartphone-based virtual reality. These are commonly known as Samsung GearVR or Google Cardboard. While they are a decent proof-of-concept, they lack a lot of the finer details the better options possess. These finer details are things such as positional tracking (where in space your head is instead of just where it’s looking) and motion controls. Treat this as a proof of concept and not as an actual example of VR.
The few places this works well are the roller coasters that implemented a VR experience for the ride. Your relative position on the ride doesn’t matter as much because you are restrained heavily and they would usually have it synchronized well enough to feel like you’re moving with it.
Sony’s PlayStation 4 is also in on this VR action and this is one step up from GearVR and Cardboard. PSVR uses the PlayStation Camera accessory to track the few LED strips on the headset and the one large LED ball on the PS Move controllers. This is by far the cheapest option to buy into right now. a normal PS4 goes for $300 or less and the PSVR bundle for $500 includes everything you need. The only reason I say this not equivalent to the next step up is the tracking system is not as efficient than the others and the quality will not match. It only has a few points for tracking your position which results in jitter and less accuracy in tracking. Quality is also a key issue. While for many it’s fine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the quality of the Rift and Vive.
And now we’re on to the big leagues. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Both headsets have a higher count of reference points to track but they both do it differently. The Rift does it similar to the PSVR except it has several invisible infrared LEDs scattered around the headset to track by the 2 to 4 IR cameras placed around the room. The Vive does things differently. It uses an inside-out tracking system. Base stations positioned in opposing corners of the room shoot invisible IR markers around the room which the tiny cameras on the headset pick up and track as reference points. Both these systems are great in their own way and whichever you buy is mostly up to preference. Both are available for PC gamers at $800 for the full package of headset and motion controls. While you will need a good gaming PC to drive these devices, you can essentially build a decent machine for roughly $800 or so and not the $1000-$2000 people think a gaming PC costs to build.
But what about the games? I will admit, I have not kept up with PSVR news but E3 has announced several titles coming to PSVR such as Skyrim VR. On the PC side we have hits such as Superhot VR where time only moves when you move, The Unspoken on Rift for the magical slinging arena battles, or one I recently enjoyed playing, Star Trek Bridge Crew.
In Star Trek Bridge Crew, you take the seat of one of four roles on the bridge of a Starfleet ship to undergo missions. The roles are that of the captain, helmsman, tactics, and engineering. This is a game that basically demands excellent teamwork in order to get the mission done. Bridge Crew is actually available on all VR devices (minus Cardboard/GearVR) and cross-platform play is actually available. This is definitely something to consider picking up if you buy into VR.
Overall VR is an amazing experience everyone should try at least once. It’s still maturing but the feeling of actually being in the game is incomparable. If you do not have the money to put forward to this, it’s okay, VR is still in its infancy and has plenty of room to grow. I expect great things to come from the second generation of VR headsets.