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Virtual Revolution: What You Need to Know About Virtual Reality Devices

Photo Courtesy of pestoverde

People have been enthralled by the futuristic technology shown off in science fiction movies and books for many years. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have their own hover-board, a pair of self-tying shoes or a self-driving taxi to take you back to your apartment after a long night of studying?
However, while all those satisfy my “Back to the Future” fix, as well as the having the added bonus of plausibly landing on shelves in the near future, one question remains: where the heck is my virtual reality gaming system?
Ever since reading “Ender’s Game” as a kid, I’ve always wanted to throw on some goofy looking goggles and gloves and explore a foreign alien planet or drive around in a car so outrageously expensive that I wouldn’t normally be able to get near it at all, let alone drive it. Sure, you might look like a goober awkwardly stumbling around your living room, but who wouldn’t want an opportunity to experience a whole new world?
Well, while many have tried and failed in the past, technology has finally progressed far enough to see the first few viable VR gaming setups hit the market over the last few months. The only problem? Much like choosing a Playstation 4 over an X-Box One, things aren’t quite as cut and dry as one might think.
There are already TONS of options being announced and released every day, so if you happen to be a casual techie or gamer peeking into the virtual reality hubbub, then you’re no doubt pretty freaking confused about what does what, who has the highest field of vision (FOV), or what the heck you’ll even need to use it.
First to be announced, as well as released, the Oculus Rift is the VR option that most of you have probably heard of. Started up by interested investors via Kickstarter, and later bought by Facebook, the Rift system is probably the easiest to use  as well as the cheapest, rolling out at $600. Coming with the sleek looking headset and an X-Box One controller, fortunate testers have said that you should be ready to go within 30 minutes of opening the box.
The Rift headset is also said to be fairly comfortable and lightweight, making sure that you won’t hurt your neck too much, although you should look forward to looking like a raccoon when removing it after a good bit of playtime.
While all that sounds nice, there are also a fair number of cons that come along with the Oculus. While it might be the cheapest to buy, it conveniently leaves out that you’ll probably have to buy a $900 personal computer (PC) that is capable of running it. While sounding ridiculous, when you have to run two instances of a game for each eye at around 90 frames per second (most games target around 30 or 60) to prevent you from sprinting to the nearest toilet due to motion sickness, then it seems a little more reasonable, but not by much.
The Rift has also come under fire for largely ignoring room scale VR, something which its main rival, the HTC Vive, prominently supports. For those that have no idea what that means: you’ll most likely be sitting around in a chair and limited only to head movements in the Oculus, compared to being able to freely run around in your room in real life like most representations of VR in science fiction.
Now, onto the HTC Vive, the main rival of the Oculus Rift! Also for PC, the Vive was founded by, you guessed it, HTC, as well as gaming company Valve, who have created games like “Half Life” and “Portal,” and is largely meant for the more hardcore gamers. Coming in at a whopping $800, the Vive comes with the VR headset, as well as two motion tracking controllers (think Wii remotes, but better). Despite that outrageous price, it is a little more flexible in regards to computer specifications, so you probably don’t have to break the bank as much in that regard.
Unlike the relative simplicity of the Oculus Rift, the Vive is fairly complex to set up for the casual gaming enthusiast, as well as weighing quite a bit more and being far less comfortable to wear.
With all this in mind, it doesn’t really seem like the Vive is a great option initially. But behind its rough exterior, there is much more going on under the hood compared to the Rift. Not only does it allow you to actually walk around virtual environments, the motion controllers also allow you to almost naturally grab and manipulate in-game objects too.
The software for the Vive allows for the user to be able to use his entire computer as he would normally too, while you have to manually take off the googles for the Rift if you want to switch to a different game.
So, with most of the big aspects on both sides cleared up, one question remains: which should you choose? As it pains me to say, neither, and you should probably stay away for at least another year or so. While the HTC Vive seems to be a clear winner right now, it still is fairly lacking in some regards, as well as being too expensive. Not to mention, most of the “games” for both systems are no more than glorified tech demos at this point, so you’ll probably be bored of it soon anyways.
Investing in VR now is very much like being one of the first people to buy the original iPhone when it first released. Sure, it might look cool initially and will make your friends jealous; it just kind of sucks to not have essential stuff like an actual app store and the GPS that eventually was added further down the line. This is very much the first generation that we are dealing with here, and while that isn’t a bad thing, there isn’t much of a point buying an inferior product that will very quickly get replaced with something better down the line.
If you REALLY want VR, then you might as well get one now, as you were probably going to get one anyways. For everyone else, you might want to let the testers get the kinks out of the way so you can take full advantage of virtual reality gaming the way that it was meant to be.

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