Virtual reality gaming, or VR for short, has been all the rage for the last few years. Initially thought to be a fad or gimmick, virtual reality is here to stay. Even with a decent market presence by large companies like HTC, PlayStation, and even Facebook, it is not always clear how to go about navigating the terrain of the VR landscape. Hopefully, I can shed some light on virtual reality gaming for you through this survival guide.
Types of Virtual Reality Systems
When it comes to gaming in virtual reality, there are several options on the market. I am sure I will miss a few, but I consider the big four to be PC-based, console-based, phone-based, and budget. There is technically a new grouping that I would consider “all-in-one,” but there is only one player in the market, so we can discuss that towards the end of the guide. For now, let’s get a grip on the big four.
PC-based Virtual Reality
PC-based VR systems work as they sound: the virtual reality headset and components are simply peripherals for a gaming PC. These tend to be the best systems on the market, as the power of gaming computers tend to outpace that of gaming consoles and phones. With that in mind, remember that you need a gaming computer to make these things work, and a pretty good one at that. The leaders in the PC VR market, HTC and Oculus, have resources on their website to verify whether your computer can power their peripherals. If you don’t want to do that, here is the minimum that I recommend:
CPU – Intel i5-6500 or AMD Ryzen 5 2600
GPU – NVIDIA GTX 980 or AMD Radeon R9 390
RAM – 16GB
Hard Drive – SSD
That type of computer is not going to cost a small amount of money. My gaming computer is just a touch better than that, and I built it myself for only around $1000. Take into account that the HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift can run anywhere from $500 to $1000, and you can see that PC-based virtual reality may not be accessible for all.
Console-based Virtual Reality
When it comes to console-based virtual reality gaming, there is one player in the market: PlayStation VR. The hardware specs are not as high as the PC-based counterparts, and you are limited to PlayStation games, but frankly, it is a substantial experience. The upside to a console-based system is that you don’t need to worry about whether or not the system you have can support the peripheral. Another bonus is the cost. A PS4 plus PS VR bundle can be had for right around $750. To compare, that’s about $50 cheaper than just the VIVE Pro Headset.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the downside to these console headsets. The PS VR is tuned to work with a specific set of hardware, so that can mean a requirement to upgrade if the console upgrades. There was a case of this when the PS4 Pro came out. The PS VR headset did not support HDR passthrough, so PlayStation had to build an updated unit and provide current owners with a workaround. Something to consider.
Phone-based Virtual Reality
I know in the intro I said VR isn’t gimmicky, but phone-based VR kind of is. I have a phone-based VR headset; it’s super fun, but the fun isn’t gaming-related. Mainly, with these headsets, you buy a relatively affordable headset that your phone fits into. You then pay for VR experiences in the app store on your phone, load the app, stick the phone in the headset, and enjoy.
The previous paragraph sounds very negative, but I don’t mean it to be. I am spoiled in that I played a ton of VR development kits, then the PS VR, then finally a phone-based package. You can see how that would be a bit of a letdown. What the phone-based systems are excellent at is introducing people to VR at an affordable price. For $50 and the cost of an app, someone can see if VR is something of interest to them.
Budget Virtual Reality
There is not a lot to say about budget VR systems, as it is somewhat of a catch-all term. This category is everything from the dollar store headset that uses your phone to the no-name brand that launches a new offering. These items are not necessarily bad and likely fall somewhat into another category, but the cost is low, and the quality is unknown. I would say that if it is not a well-known virtual reality company like HTC, Sony, Oculus, or Samsung, you should steer clear.
Wired vs Wireless
There are some other considerations to make once you determine which virtual reality experience is best for you. One factor I find myself having as I get ready to buy a new virtual reality system is wired headsets versus wireless. For console, as of today, you are stuck. The PS VR is a wired headset, and there is no way around it. The phone-based VR options are also all wireless, but as I stated, they are more of an experience than a game. When it comes to PC-based systems, there are a few options. Option one, and the choice I am leaning towards, is a headset that connects wirelessly to your gaming computer.
The other option would be something like the new Oculus Quest. The quest is a fully self-contained wireless virtual reality experience. The downside is that you will always have less power when the computer is part of the headset.
Another consideration is space. Most of the non-phone-based virtual reality headsets require external cameras to track your movement. These cameras all have space requirements. Additionally, there are plenty of games that need you to get up and move to take full advantage of the experience. Some of the newer headsets are baking the cameras into the unit, which should alleviate some constraints. With that said, 15 x 15 feet is probably a good chunk of room to set aside if you plan to get into virtual reality gaming.
Advancement in Technology
The final consideration is some crossroads of advancement in technology and price. As discussed, these headsets do not come cheap. There is a lot of fear around investing in something so heavily when advancement in technology may make it obsolete in a year or two. That is something to consider. Going back to the Oculus Quest, the first all-in-one unit, we see that the technology has taken a huge leap forward. For all of the advancements in that headset, we see a limitation in computing power and, therefore, no considerable price increase.
An example on the other side of the coin is the new HTC VIVE Cosmos. This headset sees enormous advancements over the original VIVE, but it still does not quite compete with the VIVE Pro, yet it costs $700. One upside is that as this technology is commoditized, you will be able to pick up less-than-premium headsets that still rock for a reasonable price. However, that is still a few years off. In the end, realize it’s a shifting landscape, and you need to make the investment that fits your needs.
If you have the PC to handle it, get an HTC or Oculus headset. Those two headsets provide the best experiences I have witnessed when it comes to virtual reality gaming. I recently ordered the HTC VIVE Cosmos to jump into the PC VR world after some time with PS VR.
As a console gamer, the PS VR is your only option. It is an excellent system, and I have had tons of fun with it. Unfortunately, that leaves the Xbox players out cold.
If none of the above makes sense, go with the Oculus Quest. You will not have the best experience available, but much like the PS VR, you will have plenty of fun. The only reason to go for a phone-based system or a budget headset is to determine if virtual reality is even for you.
Hopefully, you now understand virtual reality gaming a little better and know how to make informed choices. If you are interested in my future experience with the HTC VIVE Cosmos, stay tuned for that article.