Like most emerging consumer technology products, virtual reality is exciting but expensive.
Even if you opt for one of the cheaper dedicated headsets out there, you’ll still have to invest in a games console or VR-ready PC in order to actually use it. In the face of these hurdles, Mobile VR represents a much more accessible manifestation of everything that’s exciting about the technology.
It’s not hard to see why. The number of potential customers willing to spend $100 or $200 to experience VR using their smartphone is much higher than those willing to spend over $1000 to buy in. The early adoption numbers for Mobile VR reflect exactly that.
In February, analytics firm SuperData rated Samsung’s GearVR the frontrunner of the market in terms of volume – accounting for 4.51 million of the 6.3 million VR devices shipped in 2016. Meanwhile, Google themselves say that over 10 million Google Cardboard headsets have been shipped since 2014.
With only one of the three big dedicated headset players having passed the one million milestone, the takeaway is a simple but vital one for vendors to absorb. Mobile VR is much more wallet-friendly and a much easier sell to customers. However, this accessibility also highlights how important it is for the companies involved to “get it right.”
Customers disappointed by Mobile VR are hardly going to be uphold on higher-end headsets. Still, even if Mobile VR is just going to be a stepping stone towards a dedicated headset for you, you’ll want to be informed before you buy in.
Here’s what you need to know:
What Smartphones Can Run VR?
When it comes to Mobile VR, brand plays a significant role in what you can and can’t do. Samsung’s GearVR is only compatible with the company’s Galaxy S8, S8+ ,S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+ smartphones.
Google’s new Daydream VR platform boasts a little bit more compatibility. It can run on the Google Pixel, Moto Z, ZTE Axon 7 or Huawei Mate 9 Pro.
The company’s original Mobile VR offering – Google Cardboard – has even fewer strings attached to it. Google Cardboard can run on pretty much Android smartphone (running Android 4.1 or greater) with an integrated gyroscope, screen size of between 4.5 and 6-inches and 2GB of RAM.
Of course, the above are just the software requirements. You’ll also need to buy a headset.
How Much Do These Headsets Cost?
To say that Mobile VR headsets are worlds cheaper than their high-end counterparts would be an understatement. A HTC Vive will cost you $1399. The price of a basic Google Cardboard viewer starts at about $5.
There are plenty of smartphone and accessory brands out there offering ubiquitous headsets designed for Mobile VR, from Kaiser Baas and Merge to Huawei to Alcatel. There’s a bit of variety in terms of aesthetics and ergonomics here but the price is fairly consistent across the board. So expect to pay between $50 and $100.
If you’re looking at either Google Daydream or Samsung’s GearVR, you’re probably going to end up paying a little more. The Daydream View sits at an RRP of $119. GearVR headset is a little more costly at $199.
HTC have also got a VR headset on the way, called the HTC Link, for use with their U11 flagship. The company have remained quiet on pricing and availability since announcing the headset but expect it to end up somewhere close to Samsung and Google’s offering.
What’s So Good About Samsung’s GearVR?
Essentially, the sell for Samsung’s GearVR boils down to their partnership with Facebook-backed VR player Oculus. The GearVR comes branded as “Powered by Oculus” and, as an experience, is able to offer up a more polished and intuitive experience. Where getting Cardboard set up for the first time can require a bit of fiddling and settings-management, the GearVR is ready to go as soon as you put the headset on.
What’s more, since adding a motion controller to the GearVR setup, the library of experiences available for the headset have become a bit more lively. A lot of mobile gaming developers have started playing in the platform, bringing titles like Hitman Go, Minecraft and Land’s End to the Oculus Store.
However, the partnership responsible for the GearVR does also come with a little bit of legal baggage. Both Samsung and Oculus are currently being sued by video game publisher ZeniMax over alleged theft of trade secrets. It’s uncertain how the legal saga around the headset will play out but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind before you invest into the GearVR platform.
What’s The Difference Between Google Cardboard And Google Daydream?
While Google were arguably the first to market on Mobile VR, Cardboard was and still is dreadfully simple. It works fine for 360-degree videos or “experiences” but as far as more engaging and interactive content goes, it falls short of what the GearVR is capable of – especially now that the motion controller is in the mix.
Daydream evens the odds a little bit. It leverages a little more grunt and brings a dedicated controller to the control scheme. It’s also got a more streamlined and intuitive store interface behind it. Even if, on a technical level, it is just a redesigned version of Cardboard, the difference is night and day.
Compared to the GearVR software library, Daydream is currently a little sparse. That said, Google have made a number of important steps to grow it. Earlier this year, they acquired Owlchemy Labs and solo developer Logan Olson. They’ve also invested in making Daydream accessible to more hardware, inking partnerships with Lenovo and others to develop new Daydream-ready headsets.
What About The iPhone? Can It Do VR?
Yes. Although, ironically, you can only do it through the iOS version of the Google Cardboard app at this time.
Despite all the rumours and the prominent placement of VR development at the most-recent WWDC, Apple has yet to officially offer up their own VR software platform.
Didn’t LG Have A VR Headset?
Correct. However, after the LG 360VR headset was pretty widely-panned for providing a sub-par experience, LG quietly retired the product. Now, LG look to be getting back into the VR space with a new headset – first revealed to attendees of this year’s Game Developer Conference.
LG’s new headset is said to feature a 3.64-inch AMOLED display with 2560 x 1440 resolution, greater than that of both Samsung’s Gear VR, HTC’s Vive and the Oculus Rift. It’s also said to feature similar motion sensitive controller to the above, a dimension of VR all but ignored by the 360VR.
While nothing has been officially announced, nor is it clear whether LG’s second swing at VR will even be compatible with Mobile VR, the early positive buzz around the headset makes it hard to count the company out of the race just yet.