Things to Consider if Buying Virtual Reality for Home Use
"If", Not "When"
First, the title of this article uses the word "if", not "when". When taking all the various decision factors into consideration, it is not a given that virtual reality technology will become as commonplace as digital content streaming is today. Since not everyone is aligned on what "virtual reality" even means, let's start with a quick breakdown of what definitions are in use today.
"Virtual Reality" Defined
What is common across most definitions is that a user puts a headset on their head and face. The definition variations diverge when it comes to the hardware and content.
Many confuse "360 video" as "virtual reality". 360 video is just that: a 360 degree video where you can look all around you by moving or scrolling your two-dimensional device (think smartphone) OR look around you in a headset. The content for 360 video is similar to regular video; it is not a computer generated visual.
"Virtual Reality" (VR) is when you have a headset on and you are consuming content, also 360 degrees around you, but in a "virtual" world that is generated by computer software.
Then, just to make it more confusing, "Augmented Reality" (AR) is also headset-driven. The difference between VR and AR is that AR allows you to see virtually generated content, through a headset, in your actual physical surroundings.
Seated vs. Standing vs. Room-Scale
This is the first thing to think about if you think you may want to buy VR for the house. Not all VR is created equal. You might have seen the Oculus commercials from Facebook. The celebrity or actor is typically seated when consuming their content. That's great for 360 video consumption. There are also a handful of games that can be consumed just fine from a seated position.
Most games require you to at least stand. Think Beat Saber. Think any first person shooter (FPS) game. It's pretty hard to physically look behind you when you're sitting on the couch. It's hard to slash blocks or dodge walls in Beat Saber if you are just sitting on that recliner. The same goes for any sports game.
The most immersive and gold standard VR experience is called "room-scale". That's because it requires at least a 6.5' x 6.5' space and motion tracking base stations that shoot infrared beams to capture your position in a three-dimensional space. This level of VR also requires a high-performance computer with a gaming quality graphics card. This segment of the virtual reality industry is where it gets expensive quickly. Most of us also don't have an empty room in our house to dedicate to VR.
How much does it all cost? Well, that depends on what level of hardware (headset). For simple 360 video, the absolute rock bottom end of the spectrum is a digital device like a smartphone in a Google Cardboard "headset". Google cardboard retails for about $15.
For the next level of technology beyond a smartphone docked into a headset, you are now in the Oculus Go level of the market. Seated experiences only. 360 video consumption. Virtual tours. Basic games. The Oculus Go retails for about $200.
Above the Oculus Go and still within the "stand-alone" (no computer required) segment, you enter the Oculus Quest level. Here, you can enjoy much higher resolutions than the Go and have access to more complex gaming. The Quest retails for about $400.
Beyond the Oculus Quest level, you get into the Oculus Rift S and HTC Vive Cosmos headsets. These require high performance computers and motion tracking. The Rift S retails for about $400. The HTC Vive Cosmos retails for $700.
Above the Rift S and Vive Cosmos is the HTC Vive Pro and Valve Index level. The Vive Pro kit retails for about $1,100 and the Valve Index kit retails for $1,000. These kits are in addition to that high-performance gaming computer required to run these headsets.
Well, that's the short version of things to think about if you want to wade into VR. Look for another article that specifically addresses the type and quality of content across these various platforms. So, if you want to give the experience of virtual reality this holiday season, purchasing a gift card for a virtual reality arcade is still the most cost effective solution.