Hopping into VR: Which headset should I buy?

When I first thought about getting into Virtual Reality, I thought it would be as simple as buying a popular headset and jumping into Unity. Like many others, I got stuck at step 1 😂!

Literally me.

The variety of headsets were overwhelming! They all had different features and specifications. Some headsets costed $10 while others were $1000! After days of research I finally started to understand the differences between each headset and why someone would choose to use a cheap piece of cardboard over a more expensive (and immersive) VR experience.

If you are in the same sticky situation I was, don’t fret. I will go through 3 of the biggest differentiating factors between VR headsets and some examples to help you choose the one that is right for you!

1. Mobile vs PC vs Standalone

Every headset is either made for Mobile, PC, or Standalone VR. This simply tells us where the processor for the VR simulation is coming from. For Mobile VR, you will run an app on your phone and slide it into the headset. For PC VR, you will hook up your headset to your computer, run an app there, and interact with it on a screen built in to your headset. Lastly, Standalone VR means that your headset has a built in processor and you don’t need any external devices.

It primarily comes down to affordability, portability, and overall experience.

PC VR provides substantially higher graphics and frame rates, but as a result is pricier and you are required to be reasonably close to your computer. Additionally, you need to have a high-quality desktop which adds on to the expense (if you don’t have one already).

Mobile VR on the other hand has lower graphics and frame rates. Contrary to PC VR, it is a lot cheaper and the system can be carried around quite easily.

Standalone VR is a balance of both. Graphics and frame rates depend on the model you buy, but will almost always be below PC and above Mobile. Same can be said for price. It is just as portable as Mobile VR!

2. Degrees of Freedom (DoF)

The number of Degrees of Freedom your headset supports dictates how you can move within your environment.

The 6 Degrees of Freedom

Current VR headsets are either 3DoF or 6DoF.

Having a 3DoF headset means you can only perform rotations on each axis. In other words, you will not be able to move forwards, backwards, left, or right. What you can do is see a full 360° view of the environment around you. To account for movement, some games that are made for 3DoF headsets have a teleportation mechanic where you can look somewhere, press a button, and teleport to that location.

6DoF headsets on the other hand have the ability to rotate on each axis AND move along each axis. This is significantly closer to what happens in real life greatly improving the immersion of VR.

Choosing between 3 and 6 Degrees of Freedom comes down to affordability, your processor specs, and preference.

6DoF seems like the more desirable of the two due to its realism. However, it requires that you have a good processor. For this reason, only PC and Standalone VR headsets support 6DoF (although developments are being made for 6DoF in Mobile VR). 6DoF is also more expensive than 3DoF as you would expect with higher quality.

Some people still prefer 3DoF over 6DoF. If you are just starting out in VR, it is a great choice to get a feel for it!

3. Headset Specific Features

All VR headsets are different in their own way. Just because two headsets are both PC VR, 6DoF headsets doesn’t mean they are the same! Companies add their own features to differentiate themselves from the competition and entice customers to buy their products. It is impossible to go through every difference between every headset and deciding one headset over another based on additional features is 100% what you prefer. If you are not sure what to look for, here are some of my favourite headset specific features:

Oculus Rift S — No more room sensors. Most 6DoF headsets come with a couple of sensors to put around your room to detect movement. This can be a pain depending on the layout of your room. However, the new Oculus Rift S (unreleased) promises to remove room sensors by having sensors built into the headset itself!

Valve Index — Knuckle controllers.

Controller demo

These unique controllers are unlike any other we have seen so far in the VR market. They are worn similar to knuckle braces and can detect how your hand open and closes. This is a huge step in the right direction for immersion in Virtual Reality!

HP Reverb — Built in headphones. Although many other headsets are slowly adopting this technology, HP Reverb will be featuring headphones connected to the headset itself. You no longer have to deal with extra wires or buy Bluetooth headphones for crisp audio quality in your VR experience!

Headsets to look out for in 2019

Finally, it is time to reveal my picks for the best headsets of 2019! Since choosing a headset heavily depends on preference and what you are buying it for, I divided my choices into a few different categories.

PC VR/6DoF — $399 USD

The Oculus Rift S is said to release Spring 2019. The $399 price tag is extremely generous when you compare its features/specs to other 6DoF headsets on the market. As mentioned earlier, they are removing the need for external sensors which is HUGE because it improves tracking while also simplifying your VR setup. I would definitely recommend this headset for both gamers and/or those who are interested in VR app development.

Honorable Mention: HTC Vive ($499)

Mobile VR/3DoF — $49 USD

Google is back at it again with affordable products introducing new technologies to consumers. The Daydream is one of the most affordable 3DoF headsets on the market, super high-quality (considering its cost), and has Google’s signature clean style 😎. If you are new to VR and want to get a flavour of what it is about, the Daydream is the way to go. This is also a good headset to start off with if you are new to VR development and want to get practice with 3DoF headsets.

Honorable Mention: Oculus GO ($199)

PC VR/6DoF — Price Unknown

While there is still a lot to be learned about Valve’s Index, there is a lot of hype bubbling around it. As previously mentioned, they will be introducing new Knuckle controllers which promise to improve immersion in VR. Being unreleased, we don’t know how it will turn out, but it is a headset that is definitely worth keeping an eye on 👀.

Honorable Mention: Oculus Quest ($399)

Which headset are you looking to buy?

Hopefully this guide simplified the search for your new VR headset or furthered your understanding of VR headsets. If you are planning on buying a headset or bought a headset recently, leave a response down below, I am curious to see what you guys think 😃!

Key Takeaways

  1. The processor of a VR headset can either be a phone, PC, or the headset itself.
  2. Degrees of Freedom tells you in what ways you can move in an environment.
  3. The headset you choose greatly depends on budget, preference, and purpose.

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Vedant Gupta

I love sharing my learnings/experiences from working with new emerging technologies.