Get up to speed with the VR world.
Virtual Reality is nothing new, I was fortunate enough to try it in the late 80's! However in the last few years, due to the advances in mobile screen technology, the VR scene has sprung back into life. In most part due to one man - Palmer Luckey who, aged just 18, built his first HMD prototype and then rolled out a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 with what would be known as the Oculus Rift DK1. Interest was huge and the Kickstarter campaign smashed its target by nearly 1000% raising $2.4million. Oculus Rift was quick to gain more investment and then out of the blue in 2014 was bought out by Facebook for $2billion. With this massive investment and network Oculus Rift have been leading much of the VR race and have been first to roll out both a consumer mobile version in parnership with Samsung , and the Consumer version of Oculus Rift on 28th March 2016.
Oculus have taken much of the spotlight but they are not the only VR headsets. Valves Vive has also just been released with very similar specs to the Rift and also comes with hand controllers to use in VR environments. Playstation also have their VR headset that will be due to release at the end of the Year.
These 4 headsets - Rift, Vive, Playstation VR, GearVR , are what I consider to be good virtual reality headsets. They are all optimised for the best VR experience given the limitations and have hardware and software solutions to combat the issues that plague VR.
There are many, many other headsets, most of which use a mobile phone as a screen and a headset to clip it into. These are all based on Google Cardboard and are a very sub par experience. Don't get me wrong, if this is all you can get your hands on then its still a great place to start. I regularly describe Google Cardboard as the 'gateway drug' of VR, as anyone with a smart phone can try simple VR for hardly any cost. VR apps can be downloaded from google play or via apple itunes.
What is VR like?..... Well its very hard to describe and the best way is just to try it and see for yourself. I can however say its not like having a 3D TV stuck to your face. Best way to describe it though is to say its like just being there where the environment surrounds you. Being immersed in a VR environment changes everything, The first time I played Dreadhalls I screamed like a girl and pulled the headset off my face, if you jump at a scary movie then you are going to really jump in VR. This also goes for other VR experiences, stand on a building edge and you are going to have the fear of falling, VR devs are very good at using this fear to create some outstanding VR experiences.
Sim sicknesss - This is one of the main issues with VR, and its mainly linked to locomotion, when the eyes are seeing you move but the body doesnt feel it. Its similar to getting car sick, however I did notice that I rarely suffer anymore and think over time you do build up a tolerance. Devs are also very careful in the way they design their games and with latency(lag between you head moving and screen updating)now being very low and frame rates very high (90FPS) this has all gone into help reduce this issue.
PC requirements - There really is no getting away from it, to run VR you are going to need a beast of a PC. Reccommended (read Minimum) spec for Oculus Rift is a GTX970...... this is not monitor gaming where you can just drop the graphics or settle for a few frame drops here and there. In VR if you drop below the native refresh rate (90FPS on Rift) even by 1 frame then it has a nasty jarring judder , that will very quickly make you feel very sick. Oculus and Valve has both introduced software trickery to help with this issue but be under no illusion that you will beable to run it on an older machine. Likewise you will not beable to run these headsets on a a laptop mainly due to the fact that most laptops use optimus and the performance is no where near enough. You have to keep in mind that you are having to render twice for the stereoscopic image, at HD, and at a min of 90FPS.