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A 2018 Beginner’s Guide to the World of VR Gaming

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While not the “future of gaming” we all thought it would be, VR gaming is still an interesting and fun part of the hobby. The experiences it provides are unlike anything you can get staring at a flat screen. If you want to be fully immersed in a world, you have to try out VR.

Yet, to many, the world of VR might seem overly complicated, too expensive, or just not user friendly. This guide is meant to give the basics of VR in 2018, help pick out the right VR headset and gear for you, and help make VR a little more accessible.

Different Levels of VR

Not all VR is equal. Cheaper VR headsets are not capable of the same quality of games and experiences as high-end VR. Many cheap VR setups are even capable of playing VR games, only showing 360 degree videos and such.

There are three major levels of VR: low, mid-range, and high-end. Each has their own benefits, costs, exclusive games, and required hardware to function. Within each range are multiple choices, so the first step is determining what type of VR you want.

Low-End VR

Low-end VR headsets and gear typically function by utilizing the user’s smartphone as the screen. Typically, the phone slides or clicks into the headset and simulates the VR experience on its screen.

That means low-end VR requires at least two pieces of hardware: a phone capable and compatible with VR, and a headset that works with the phone. The cheapest of these, Google Cardboard VR, is only a few bucks and works with most phones. The games on it aren’t particularly impressive, but it’s a great introduction to VR.

Most low-end VR is basically a holder for a smartphone, and sometimes a basic controller or remote to interact with it. Most of the VR content available to low-end VR are basic games that can run with a single method of interaction, VR and 360 degree video, and simple simulations.

Don’t dismiss the power of low-end VR, though. Because of its low entry costs, while the content may be simple, there is going to be a ton of it. Many business and PR professionals think it’s the new way to connect with consumers, sell products, and highlight important social issues.

Mid-Range VR

A slowly growing market, mid-range VR is mostly made up of wireless dedicated VR headsets that come with a specialized controller for the headset. A few still utilize high-end smartphones like the Samsung Gear, but others like the Oculus Go have everything you need already in the headset.

Typically, mid-range VR costs around $150 to $400, depending on the graphics capability and what additions it has. While the options for mid-range are limited currently, many manufacturers are focusing on this market and expected to grow in the future.

Mid-range VR focuses on providing graphically beautiful VR experiences, with many options offering 2560X1440 resolution, often matching resolution offered by high-end VR headsets. The downside, though, is that standalone headsets aren’t able to play complex or high-end VR games. They also are better than mobile headsets when it comes to movement tracking, typically only allowing movement in three directions.

High-End VR

When people think of VR gaming, they typically think of high-end VR. High-end VR, unlike mid-range gear, requires a wired connection to a system that handles the graphic heavy lifting.

Currently, there are four major products in the high-end VR industry. There is the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, the Sony Playstation VR, and the Samsung Odyssey. Each system has its own benefits and requirements that need investigation.

One of the biggest barriers to high-end VR is that it requires a high-end system to function. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Odyssey all require a high-end gaming PC to work, and the Playstation VR needs a PS4 to work.  

Each headset requires a variety of peripherals and other requirements for full functionality. The Vive has two controllers — one for each hand — and four cameras for motion tracking. It also needs a large open area for the player to move in. The Oculus has a similar controller scheme, but some games also require an Xbox controller to play, alongside a seperate camera you can use, but isn’t required for most Oculus games. The Playstation VR utilizes dual motion controllers and a Playstation camera, all often sold separately from the VR headset. The Samsung Odyssey utilizes dual controllers also, but does not need external cameras. Instead, the headset has out-facing cameras that track body motion.

A large deciding factor for which VR headset to go with is what games they can run. The Vive gets games through Steam, which has little oversight on the quality of games, but also has the biggest library. Oculus and Playstation VR games are on their own store fronts, and the Odyssey uses games from Microsoft’s VR game library. When picking out which VR headset to get, you’ll want to examine which games you can get and what kind of VR experience you want.

The Differences Between Games, Simulations, Experiences, and Videos

VR isn’t just for playing games, it can do so much more. There is a lot of technical terms for each thing VR can do, so it’s important to know what each term means so you know what you’re getting out of a piece of software you pay for.

Games have the user actively participating in a VR space, and you can win or lose at them. Simulations typically allow the user to interact and be a part of the VR space, but there is no winning or losing. A good example of this is art simulations where people can draw in a 3D space.

Experiences focus on providing a specific experience or tell a story with interaction by the user. This could be standing on the bottom of an ocean or following the life of a boy in rural Africa. The user can make small interactions with the world around them, but unable to alter the world as a whole.

Videos allow the user to be in a 3D space, but otherwise unable to interact with the world around them. They are a passive viewer in the video, just like when watching TV.

Each type of VR uses these different media styles in some way or another, but the higher you go with VR, the better your experience is. The downside is, better VR means higher expenses. If you are interested in getting into VR, a good place to start is low to middle VR headsets. This can give you a good idea if you enjoy the medium without breaking the bank. High-end headsets aren’t just expensive on their own, they also require high-end PCs or a PS4 to run.

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Ben Allen

Ben Allen

Champion of Hyrule, defender of space, bane of demons, savior of light, and occasional pizza eater.