With countless major technology brands competing both for your dollars and your attention, virtual reality is well and truly out of the the lab and into the wild in 2017. It’s not quite tapped into the mainstream in the same way that smartphone did almost a decade ago – but it feels like the category is well on its way to reaching a similar sort of mass market.
Unfortunately, at least for now, buying into the higher end of virtual reality experiences doesn’t come cheap.
There’s always some wiggle room but generally a dedicated headset – one designed to be used with a high-end PC or games console – can cost you around $1000. While that steep price-tag is definitely going to slow dedicated virtual reality from growing as fast as mobile VR is, the fidelity of experiences on offer here are so much more impressive on a technical level that the allure remains.
Still, with the price-tag so high, you want to make sure you choose the right VR headset for you. Here’s what’s on offer:
Why should you get a Rift?
Many enthusiasts consider the Oculus Rift to be “the headset that started it all.” In 2012, the startup behind the headset raised $2.5 million in crowdfunding to produce its VR headset. The explosive popularity of the Rift’s initial Kickstarter is often cited by many as the breakthrough moment that demonstrated the viability of virtual reality to both investors and consumers. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey even made his way onto the front cover of TIME Magazine.
As a result of its age, the Rift is a strong contender for the most polished of the three major dedicated headsets on the market. It’s also got one of the strongest content libraries, especially if you’re interested in the gaming side of things. Many of the Vive’s biggest VR games are also available on Oculus but not vice-versa.
In addition, it’s also much more user friendly on a number of fronts. It’s easier to set up and comes bundled with a number of demos that do a great job of illustrating the possibilities of the technology – specifically, the Oculus Touch controllers.
Price-wise, the Oculus isn’t exactly cheap. However, it is notably cheaper than the HTC Vive at $550 US (plus another $99 for the Oculus Touch controllers). Oculus are also currently offering free express shipping on Australian orders as well, which makes the currency-conversion a little easier to swallow. All told, if you’re willing to buy into virtual reality this early – it’s a compelling way to go.
Why shouldn’t you get a Rift?
While the Oculus Rift experience has evolved and improved itself in a number of notable ways since the headset first launched, it does feel like the company have begun to run out of steam somewhat over the last year. While Oculus’ parent company Facebook spent a lot of time talking up some of the new software experiences coming to the Rift at their recent F8 conference, they were a little quiet on hardware innovation – which is one area where the Vive continues to gain ground.
The other reason to perhaps hold off on a Rift is a little more complicated. After several high-profile PR setbacks last year (resulting from a backlash to Luckey’s own political views), the company has now found itself tied up in a multi-million dollar legal feud with video game publisher ZeniMax. Now, as a result of the court ruling in the favor of the latter party in the first round of the lawsuit, Oculus is facing an injunction against the sale of the Rift headset.
Given the tenuous verdict of the first trial, it’s difficult to say who will prevail – or even if a second lawsuit will deter Facebook from continuing to invest in the VR space and the company it already spent $2 billion to acquire. Regardless, it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re looking at buying a Rift.
Why should you get a Vive?
No disrespect to the Oculus Rift – but it feels the Vive has a much higher ceiling for innovation. There are plenty of mind-blowing demos and experiences available for the Vive and with HTC’s partnership with video game developer Valve in tow, that burgeoning stream of content doesn’t look like it’ll be stopping anytime soon. The Oculus Rift has a lot of content on its own store but it doesn’t even come close to the breadth of what you can experience on the Vive.
What’s more, the HTC Vive looks to have become the go-to headset for developers. This year’s E3 conference saw major video game publisher ZeniMax announce that some of its biggest titles would be arriving to the HTC Vive before the end of 2017, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 4 and DOOM. Even Apple has thrown their lot in with the Vive, using the headset to illustrate the potential of their new iMac for developing VR content at this year’s WWDC.
Even beyond SteamVR, HTC’s own VivePort offers up a lot of great content via a Netflix style subscription. This means that while you do certainly pay a higher up-front cost for the HTC Vive versus its competitors, you can potentially make some of that cost back on games.
Finally, on a technical level, there’s a strong case to be made that the Vive offers the best return on investment. HTC have demonstrated a strong on-going commitment to the Vive and VR that you don’t necessarily always see from Facebook and Sony. Where the other VR players can ultimately take or leave VR if it doesn’t pan out, HTC have committed to making it work at any cost. As such, they’ve continued to improve the Vive experience – both on a software and hardware level – since launch.
Why shouldn’t you get a Vive?
To start with, the setup process for the Vive is a little more finicky and involved than both the PSVR and the Oculus Rift. Some will appreciate this DIY aspect, however, others will probably find it a bit of a turn-off. In addition, the user interface isn’t always as clean and friendly as the Vive. Both inside and out, the headset doesn’t always land on an aesthetics level. If you’re an enthusiast, you’ll likely enjoy this added degree of involvement. If you just want to dip your toes into VR, you might not be too thrilled.
It isn’t helped by the fact that the Vive is, by a notable margin, the most expensive of the big three VR headsets. It retails at JB Hi-Fi for $1399. While that number does include the controllers, it doesn’t include the cost of a VR-ready PC. It also requires the most amount of space to set-up in order to get the most out of its room-scale capabilities.
All told, the HTC Vive is probably the most future-proof virtual reality headset on the market – even if that title comes with both pros and cons.
Why should you get a PSVR headset?
If you’re looking to play virtual reality games on a home console, the Playstation VR is your only port of call at this stage. What’s more, Sony’s experience in cultivating developer ecosystems has resulted in PSVR quickly amassing an impressively large library of polished content with strong production values. It took a lot longer for both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to have the kinds of confident and fully-fledged titles that Sony’s headset launched with.
Price is probably the biggest selling point here. At $550 locally, it’s by far the cheapest of the big three VR headsets. You do already need to own a Playstation 4 in order to use it, of course – but considering the home console is worlds cheaper than a VR-ready PC, this actually works in the headset’s favor to a degree.
Aesthetically, you’ll either love or hate the Playstation VR headset. It’s either for you, or it isn’t. That said, in our opinion, the adjustable headband aspect of the Playstation VR headset is probably one area where it has a clear advantage over its competitors. It’s much quicker to pop the headset and far less hassle than both the Rift and Oculus Rift. Simply put: less straps, less worries.
Why shouldn’t you get a PSVR headset?
The other flip-side to the hands-on approach to virtual reality that Sony have employed here is that it’s much more of a walled garden than both the Rift and the Vive. The only things you can use the PSVR headset for are those that Sony wants you to. There’s no competing content stores and the price for VR content is a little higher as a result – which balances out the lower price point the headset itself hits. At least, to some degree.
In addition, the Playstation Move controllers that PSVR relies on for interaction are a bit less responsive and precise than the controllers used by the Vive and Oculus Rift. This isn’t a deal-breaker but it does contribute towards the PS VR feeling a little more thrown-together and less cutting-edge than its competition.
Finally, while the content available for the PSVR has been solid so far, the overwhelming majority of it tends to involve shooting stuff. Due to the reliance to go through Sony in order to get stuff into the hands of customers, you simply don’t get the same kind of experimental experience you find on the other headsets.
That said, if you already own a PS4 and aren’t particularly enticed by any of the content that’s currently exclusive to the PC-based options, this is still probably the VR headset you’ll want to get your hands on.