2016: The Year of Virtual Reality
Occasionally, an innovation comes along that sets the gaming world ablaze; sometimes it’s a leap in graphical quality, the introduction of a new genre, an unprecedented way of telling a narrative, or an overall breakthrough in the way we play games. We, as gamers, are on an eternal pursuit of groundbreaking experiences. The gaming sphere has seen some incredibly creative concepts, such as the Virtual Boy, the accessibility of online multiplayer, or the motion-control revolution of the Nintendo Wii. Some ideas never picked up steam, while others made owning and operating a game console more approachable than ever before. Virtual reality has never had the success that various other creations have had, though it has been attempted many times, in different incarnations and concepts; perhaps the most triumphant being the Nintendo 3DS. But even the 3DS received polarizing opinions, leading many to believe that the dream of virtual reality was not viable yet, and possibly never would be.
Enter the Year of Our Lord, 2016. Virtual Reality is here, and it seems like it’s here to stay. A slew of companies are developing high-quality, ergonomic, semi-affordable VR headsets to work in cohesion with gaming PCs, Playstation 4s, and smartphones. At first, it seemed as if it was merely a quick cash grab; a trendy thing to do and something likely to pass in due time. The undeniable hype seemed to launch overnight with the introduction of the Oculus Rift to the gaming mindshare. We had never heard of anything quite like it. It would be affordable, intuitive, and we could use it at home? Within a couple of years? Surely not. Oculus became a sensation in the blink of an eye. Not long after Oculus caught fire, Sony announced that they had been working on a VR headset for a few years, ambiguously named after the Greek god of dreams. Project Morpheus was integral to Sony’s plans moving forward into the future. HTC, commonly known as an Android smartphone producer working in collaboration with Valve, has established yet another high-end VR headset, known as Vive. Call it blind faith, having not experienced these VR headsets for myself, but with several large electronics corporations backing this virtual reality train, I believw wholeheartedly that this household technology will change home entertainment forever. I am inclined to agree with the countless gamers who have encountered these virtual reality headsets personally. They preach that we are entering a revolution in gaming and that we are on the cutting edge of something colossal in scope. If VR catches on this time, if it is as comfortable, attainable and foolproof as it seems to be, home entertainment will never be the same.
We’ll begin with what is frequently regarded as the harbinger of household VR, Oculus Rift.
- Release date: March 28, 2016
- Works solely on high-end gaming PCs
- Price is somewhat middle-of-the-road with $599, but can be upwards of $1500 when needing to build a PC specifically to use Oculus. (There are several bundles that give you both an Oculus Rift and a high-end gaming PC.)
- It comes packaged with a headset, a wireless Xbox One controller, a sensor used to monitor virtual depth (place this on your desk) and a wand-like remote which is essentially a placeholder until their more efficient and improved wand is released in Q3 or Q4
- Two games are packaged in with the Oculus Rift order: Lucky’s Tale and EVE Valkyrie
The HTC Vive has been hailed as the most overall impressive piece of tech launching this year, in the realm of VR.
- Release date: April 5, 2016
- Works solely for high-end gaming PCs, like Oculus Rift
- Vive has the highest price tag attached to any of the big three VR headsets with $799.
- It comes packaged with the headset (that looks vaguely like it would be crafted by the Hive race from Destiny,) two wireless remotes and two base stations which allow for full 360° “room-scale motion-tracking”
- Via pre-order, it comes with Job Simulator, Tilt Brush and Fantastic Contraption (while supplies last, according to the Vive’s website)
Playstation VR (previously known as the Artist Formerly Known as Project Morpheus) is intending to be the most accessible of the bunch, in regards to price and ease of use.
- Release date: October 2016
- Works in conjunction with the Playstation 4 console
- PS VR caught the collective industry’s eye with a significantly lower price tag than its competitors with a base product price of $399. There is also a $499 bundle that includes the necessary accessories in order to properly use the PS VR (more on that on the next bullet point)
- The base package contains the PS VR headset, the necessary wires and whatnot and nothing else, going along with the concept of being “plug and play” and very simple to use. The bundle package contains the PS VR headset, the same wires, a Playstation Camera, two Playstation Move motion-control wands and a demo disc. While you may feel compelled to buy only the base package, keep in mind that if you do not own a Playstation Camera, you cannot properly use the PS VR headset. The camera is around $60 retail, or $40 if you can find a used one.
- As of right now, it does not appear that PS VR ships with any pre-packaged games.
Oculus Rift pre-orders have been live for months now, and HTC Vive pre-orders started recently. Playstation VR bundles are currently available for pre-order, albeit with inconsistent supplies, as they sell out and are restocked. The base package pre-orders went live on March 29, 2016.
If none of these headsets pique your interest, your imagination must be dead. If your imagination is still alive, but somehow still not roused by Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PS VR, or your wallet cannot quite take the hit for them, consider the entry level headsets: Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR. Google Cardboard is incredibly, almost laughably affordable (the name Cardboard is not senseless either, the headset is quite literally made of cardboard.) Cardboard runs around $15 and can utilize most smartphone models. Samsung Gear VR on the other end, is powered by Oculus and is significantly higher quality than Google Cardboard. With that higher quality comes a higher price tag, at around $99. The one apparent downside to Samsung Gear VR is that it can only use most current and future Samsung phones; iPhone users are ostracized.
I am standing by the belief that 2016 is the year of virtual reality. I think that VR will be a large part of the entertainment mindshare after this year, and we will be seeing it for years to come, once people realize how accessible VR can be. I myself plan to purchase a Playstation VR within the next few months, as I am a primarily Sony consumer and do not have the money to purchase or PC to run Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.