Virtual Reality headsets have been available for a few years and we are still waiting for the technology to become more widely adopted. Now that the second generation of VR headsets is starting to enter the market, it might be worth to reexamine the situation. What are your options in 2020 and are any of them worth your money or your time?
Slow but steady growth: VR is here to stay
Unlike most Virtual Reality proponents had probably expected, the VR user base has not grown exponentially but it is growing, nonetheless. The number of headsets connected to Steam recently passed the million mark, which was further boosted by the launch of Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx – a game that’s been highlighted as the first truly great selling point for the whole VR experience.
In spite of the seemingly rapid growth, however, the amount of Steam users who own a VR headset is still only 1.91 % as per the April 2020 hardware survey.
So, it’s hard to claim that high-end VR gaming headsets have entered the mainstream, but that is perhaps expected as long as the headset alone will set you back around $1,000. Add to that the cost of a decent gaming PC with a similar price tag (at the very least). This is clearly a bit steep for any casual gamer and mostly leaves the high-end space to enthusiasts and early adopters.
But there are also some more affordable standalone options that, though not on par with the PC-powered options, offer a far better experience than the old cardboard boxes for Android phones. All in all, you do have some alternatives today and here’s a brief overview.
High-end (PC-powered) VR headsets
The most reality-like virtual reality experiences are also the most expensive. If you are taking the PC-powered route, you preferably already own a good gaming PC with a fair amount of graphics muscle. As for the headset, the main contenders are:
HTC Vive Cosmos – The original Vive was the most popular first-generation VR headset for gamers. And it’s still the most popular according to the Steam hardware survey, at a 26% share of all VR headsets used on the platform. Your main choices from HTC today are either the Vive Cosmos ($699) or Vive Pro ($799). The latter uses dual AMOLED displays with a 1440 x 1600 resolution, whereas the more recent Cosmos has a somewhat taller field of view at 1440 x 1700 and uses dual LCD panels with RGB subpixels.
Oculus Rift S – Facebook-owned Oculus was early on the VR scene and have, like HTC, had time to replace its original Rift with the Rift S. The Rift S offers improved ergonomics compared to its predecessor, as well as slightly higher resolution at 1200 x 1440 pixels per eye compared to the original Rift’s 1200 x 1080. However, the refresh rate is lower at 80 Hz instead of 90 Hz. While the specs are not quite on par with the HTC Vive Cosmos, the Rift S ($399) has the advantage of being considerably more affordable.
Valve Index – Valve’s Index headset is the most recent addition to the VR scene, and one that aims to surpass both Oculus and HTC. The resolution is 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye and the 120 Hz refresh rate is higher than both competitors. It also offers an improved field of view at 130° versus the Vive’s and Rift’s 90–110°. Unfortunately, the Valve Index is also the most expensive kit by far at $999 including the headset and base stations.
Standalone VR Headsets: Oculus Quest Vs. Go
If you don’t own a beefy gaming PC and would rather not spend a fortune for the complete PC-powered VR experience, a standalone headset could be an alternative. This will limit your choices in terms of available games, but there are some obvious advantages such as zero cable management and a portable form factor. At this time, only Oculus offers standalone VR headsets that do not compromise too much on the experience but still come with a reasonably large library of games.
Oculus Go – At $200 for the version with 32 GB of storage, or $250 for the 64 GB model, the Oculus Go is likely the best entry-level standalone VR experience. This will also get you a fair amount of free content and lots of additional inexpensive, casual titles are available in the Oculus store. The Oculus Go is equipped with an integrated Snapdragon smartphone chip and a single WQHD fast-switch LCD display that offers an equivalent of 1280 x 1440 pixels per eye.
Oculus Quest – The Quest is a considerably more capable and versatile all-in-one alternative to the Oculus Go. It comes with dual 1440 x 1600 pixel OLED displays, a faster mobile processor and more comprehensive, room-scale motion tracking capabilities. You also have the option of sharing (casting) your screen to an external display. Although it’s more expensive than the Go at $400, it’s worth noting that the Quest game library is more robust, with many titles being trimmed-down versions of their Rift counterparts.
We have only touched upon the most popular headsets as of 2020 here and not even mentioned the PlayStation VR. That one is limited to PS4 console owners, however – and with PS5 on the horizon, the PSVR platform is likely due for an update in the near future.
All in all, we are still waiting for more widespread VR adoption, but it’s clear that the existing platforms are starting to mature. There is now enough content to entice more users than just early adopters and VR enthusiasts, as well as some fresh standalone headsets that offer a more than acceptable experience.