Beginner's Guide to Experiencing Virtual Reality

by zhivko on August 29, 2016, 2:40 pm

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer technology that lets you experience a different reality through software-generated realistic images, sounds, and other sensations. Currently, you can experience virtual reality through VR headsets that fit around your head and over your eyes. Some high-end VR systems have motion controllers, which provide a richer VR experience. Through VR, you can watch immersive movies, interact with intricate characters, and hang out with friends. You can virtually visit national parks, jump over buildings, paint, and experience a world of infinite possibilities.

Ready to dive into Virtual Reality?

Your best bet is to purchase a VR System which you have to buy with real money. Once you have selected your virtual reality spaceship (I mean, system) you can experience virtual reality through applications and videos. But first, you need to get in. You can do so cheaply, through buying a low cost entry-level headset like Google Cardboard, or choose a more advanced VR system that will put you at the forefront of the VR revolution.

VR Technology

VR comes in a lot of flavors. The higher-end VR systems require powerful PC’s to run, and may also require physical space. Then, there are VR headsets which work with consoles, or with your Android or iPhone. Whatever the case may be, choosing a VR System is the first step to becoming a virtual astronaut. Here are some of the top VR Systems you can buy right now:

Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is the first really big name to come out of the VR space. It is a virtual reality headset which tracks your head, so you are able to lean in and get close to virtual objects. Oculus requires a powerful gaming PC to generate its graphics and a tether leading up to your head.

It was first launched as a Kickstarter project and then acquired by Facebook. Want to know what’s ahead for Oculus? Check out what Oculus Touch will add to the Oculus experience later this year:

 

HTC Vive

Hailed by CNET as the “ultimate VR experience, for now,” HTC Vive is the love child of HTC and Valve. Valve's Steam PC store and platform is what drives Vive, which also requires a powerful PC machine to run. What separates Vive from the pack is that it already ships with support for room-scale VR and motion input, meaning that you designate a physical space in your house and Vive hardware indicates the location of your walls to create the perfect virtual playground. See for yourself:

 

PlayStation VR

PlayStationVR (PS VR) is a cheaper alternative to Oculus and Vive - especially if you have the PlayStation 4 required to run Playstation VR. The PS VR hits stores on October 2016 and given Sony’s reputation, it will be accompanied by quality content that is also exclusive, since only PlayStation games will work on PlayStation VR. If you already own a PlayStation 4, the PS VR might be your preferred VR system. Although the graphics are not on the level of Oculus or Vive, PS VR doesn’t need a pricey gaming PC and provides a solid VR experience, to say the least.

 

Samsung Gear VR

Considered to be the best smartphone-based VR headset (for now), Samsung’s Gear VR won’t break the bank, but it also requires a recent Samsung phone. If you’d like to go a step above Google Cardboard and are looking for a decent library of applications and games, the Gear VR might be the perfect beginning of your VR journey.

 

Google Cardboard

If you just want to dip your toes in VR, Google Carboard is the way to do it. Using your smartphone and VR apps, this folder cardboard VR tester aims to put the world of VR right in your hands affordably ( $10, to be precise). Cardboard supports most Android or iOS phones with screen sizes from 4 to 6 inches and has an interactive click button that works with all compatible phones. Of course, you can’t expect a VR experience comparable to Oculus or Vive, but Google Cardboard isn’t really competing with them, it’s welcoming you to the world of virtual reality. 

Check out our growing list of VR headsets and accessories here.

So, I need a powerful PC to run Oculus Rift or HTC Vive?

Yes! You should consider the fact that you would probably need to update your PC to run Oculus or Vive. Here are the official Oculus Rift Recommended Specs:

Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater.

NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD R9 290 or greater.

8GB RAM or more.

HDMI 1.3 and 3x USB 3.0 plus 1x USB 2.0.

Windows 7 64 bit or greater.

What about VR content? Can I play the same applications across VR systems?

To a certain extent. Most VR games will be playable on either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. Other systems like PlayStation VR will have exclusive content.

What about accessories?

Although some of the content might be shared across different VR systems, they will have separate accessories and room-tracking sensors, i.e. accessories for one system won’t work for another.

What are the downsides of using a VR system?

One widely discussed issue is that VR can cause motion sickness symptoms. This is why new incarnations of VR Systems force frame rates to stay at constant high level, which prevents motion sickness. There’s always the possibility of experiencing such symptoms, but you will probably be fine with a reputable VR device. It has to be noted that game and app developers are also part of the equation, as the content they produce might not take motion sickness into consideration.

Can I use VR on a Mac?

Many Mac users are wondering if you can use VR on a Mac. Currently, this is not a possibility with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for one simple reason — VR systems require higher specifications than a MacBook can offer. Although some workarounds might be possible, VR enthusiasts wanting to use the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift should buy a capable gaming PC.

So, what can we expect from the world of VR in the upcoming years?

As VR enters the mass market, the purpose of VR headsets will expand far beyond viewing video games and videos. New cameras are being created to capture and upload VR stories, which will reovlutionize the way we experience film. We will be able to build homes using virtual tools, explore the bottom of the ocean, and walk into virtual stores.

It's an exciting time for the world of VR — when will you join?