What is happening now in VR-technologies industry can be compared to an awkward marathon race. Imagine a competition in which ambitious amateurs challenge world sport greats! It is a heat where one can put skids the under to their rival or enlist their support! A marathon there is no end in sight to, while no participant might enjoy a victorious final… All this is risky, cloudy, but very interesting!
There are undeniable leaders in this race, like Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus. However, literally every six months new fresh competitors enter the market, Asian start-ups being most of them. They promise new technologies and «perks» to the audience and ask the community for moneyed assistance, which is not surprising as the majority of VR-projects of the 21st century began with crowd-funding.
And the further goes this competition, the harder it is for an ordinary spectator to follow it. Even genuine fans of virtual reality which are following dozens of hi-tech media, have trouble keeping abreast of all the news tagged “VR”. And others just can’t distinguish fake sneak peaks and paid-for materials from real translated messages.
The Gadget-review portal has decided to gather the most up-to-date information on this subject. We would like to bring to your attention a review which can be called an «encyclopaedia of virtual reality helmet sets». Here you will find information on the characteristics, functions, strong and weak points of these devices as well as read mini- reviews of certain models. Note: this article is going to be constantly updating! So just add it to your favourites and follow world VR news.
In what way do VR helmets differ from video glasses and augmented reality glasses?
First of all, let's try to answer the question «Whom are virtual reality helmets intended for? What are they necessary to? What do the marketing managers from Sony, Samsung and Oculus teams think of?
First, it is very important to feel the difference between these helmets and video glasses or augmented reality glasses which are technologically close to them.
It is obvious as far as augmented reality glasses are concerned. These gadgets are another kettle of fish, they operate in the semi-transparent mode and they provide a virtual picture against the background of real objects. Prospects of the market for such developments are very and very questionable. Although, no one doubts that it is cool to wander in an office building and shoot at UFOs which can be seen by others… We are certain to come across augmented reality in such projects as Google Glasses, but augmented reality glasses in their pure form are unlikely to become a product of mass use.
Video glasses are another pair of shoes. This is helmets’ little brother. Using them we deal with a 3D picture and stereoscopic effect. Mostly, this effect owes to the division of an integrated picture output on a OLED or LCD display with the help of a system of lenses and dioptres. The video glasses’ form itself, too, is similar to the one of helmets, as the developers gave up on unhandy devices shaped like Magneto’s or professor Xavier’ helmet.
The difference consists in gadget's functionality. Video glasses are a sort of a cool home cinema. Using them you can watch Full-HD films at home or during a flight feeling the full immersion in the material.
Virtual reality helmets can be applied mostly for gaming and virtual attraction rather than for watching films. Not only do they show a beautiful picture and provide cool sound effects, but also they follow their operator's head rotation, responding to the minor movements of their body. You truly dive into every game (particularly, when we are talking about first-person shooters), target at your rivals and escape from them… solely, you will smell neither fire nor gunpowder (though aromatic dissimulation has already been tested)! This is not in vain that before bulk sales of VR gadgets started, the developers from the world of game industry tackled developing shooters and horrors for the virtual reality world!
An ideal virtual reality helmet assumes several functions at once. It becomes both a game manipulator and a means of outputting the picture, and in some cases even a console itself.
In the long run VR helmets are likely to develop not only as gadgets for gamers. Scientists, doctors and teachers are already showing a certain interest to them. Thus, virtual reality helmets might be helpful to surgeons in carrying out difficult surgeries and are fairly able to lay a grounding in the development a wide range of simulators, from engineering to military. With virtual reality teachers will be able to send their pupils to various far away places on the planet recreated in 3D models. And people leaving in small towns will be able to visit any museum of the world thanks to these devices!
Besides, today we are going to cover these very prospects of the devices. We’re guessing that the Gadget-reviews’ audience will accept this very perspective.
VIRTUAL REALITY HELMETS' CLASSIFICATION: Gaming and cross functional helmets
Most of the existing prototypes of virtual reality helmets are as like as two peas. They all have a similar basic idea, the same technologies are applied… And, as a rule, all the difference lies in minor issues. However, a certain typology can still be defined.
Firstly, we see a huge gap when the functionality is concerned. Here we can distinguish gaming ans cross functional devices.
The first category of gaming helmets embraces the gadgets designed solely for games. This can be, for instance, Sony Morpheus, operating in connection with the PS4 console only.
Cross-functional models include AntVR Kit, Samsung Gear, O.S.V.R. You can both watch a movie with them and crush grues with a sword. The relation to video glasses is obvious. And an Avegant Glyph positions inteslf even as video glasses with the possibility to integrate gaming functionality into it! Well, undoubtedly, it will grow as high as full-fledged virtual reality helmet.
An Oculus Rift, too, stands apart from the other models in the range of cross-functional devices. At the moment its developers has claimed the widest functionality comparing to all other competitors. Apart from accustomed playing games and films, it may turn out useful to the military and helpful to scientists! These guys are certain to believe in glorious future of their project and not only on the mainstream market! They push it forward whenever any possibility emerges.
Technologically, the difference between gaming and cross-functional helmets consists in the pixelation level and response speed of the device in while gaming. Gaming models can have their pixels bigger (this is indistinguishable while moving), while picture smoothing and response time are to be ideal! It is needed to avoid a gamer’s being sopited and missing in precise shooting with game weapons.
Prices for virtual reality helmets
If we are speaking about price tiers, low-cost helmets are far from existing. Nowadays they only are divided into two groups, expensive and very expensive.
The first category embraces Samsung Gear VR and the new Razer O.S.V.R. Both must cost around 200$.
Oculus Rift may be a bit more expensive, you may buy it for 300-plus $.
And only an Avegant Glyph can be called an exorbitantly expensive device. The price for this helmet is about 600$.
What do the developers of the promising transformer demand such a megabuck for? Read the article till the end, and you will learn it!
Not eager to spend hundreds of dollars on VR gadgets? Then put up with that for the time being. We are sure that in some years the market will see their Chinese analogues which will cost a great deal less. They are likely to break down in a couple of months of active usage, cause hard nausea and fall down in abrupt movements… but these devices are certain to capture their audience. This is proved by a years-long examination of the hi-tech market.
Interoperation with gaming platforms
And the third final and conclusive classification by Gadgets-reviews is the one concerning helmets' interoperation with various gaming platforms and operational systems. Even now it is possible to distinguish both models with a closed software policy and open-source models. Our editorial staff sees the difference between these to types of helmets as a crucial one.
Samsung and Sony models, for example, operate only with the software by their respective developers. Talking about Samsung Gear VR, these are products designed only for using with smartphones of the same label. You just won't be able to use such a helmet without connecting it to your smartphone by Samsung.
Dangerous, very dangerous policy. On the one hand, it guarantees a certain level of demand, as both PS4 and smartphones by Samsung enjoy a high popularity. This means that people will buy such kind of accessories as well. But this isn’t about their global market supremacy.
All the more so as the general tendency of VR world development gravitates toward standartization of technologies. Even now adapters allowing the proprietors of various helmets to operate with the competitors' content! And some developers, such as Razer and Oculus, even unite their efforts in working out a software. All this may render «closed» models into the genuine outlaws of the VR world. Who would need helmets with dozens of cool games, if the market provided their analogues giving access to hundreds of applications?! Nice question the answer to which we will get only with time.
What should we pay attention to while choosing a VR helmet?
Apart from technological difference, there are also innumerable details one should consider whilst choosing a virtual reality helmet. In this section of our article we stop indulging in philosophizing and tackle concrete parameters.
- Quality of the sound. Don't be surprised at the fact that the text dedicated to video gadgets touches upon audio characteristics. Let's agree up to the point that it is silly to buy a device which would offer you an ideal picture and awful 2D sound! What is the good of diving into a realistic world whose sounds are the same as in a movie played with weak acoustics?! Because this is the very effect that those having bought a Samsung Gear will get. This model, a bit freak in several aspects, outputs audio via the dynamics of a smartphone connected to a helmet! And it doesn’t interoperate with other acoustic sources. What a screw-up!
Leaders in tackling this issue can be called Avegant Glyph. A helmet designed as a personal home cinema must perform ideal sounding. Moreover, Avegant consists of earphones combined with video glasses! And the first tests of gadget draft models show decent sounding of this device.
Sony Morpheus as well offers a very interesting technology. The developers affirm that it is capable of simulating up to 60 virtual acoustic sources. And this is something new. Let's comment on this: in this model you will find innovative technological solution, rather than power earphones, which aims at attaching a real volume to the sound. On the one side you hear an explosion, birds singing far away, noise of rain bickering at the asphalt somewhere at the bottom. This is what you will hear a virtual world in a device by Sony!
- Viewing angle and picture quality. This is where a lot is unclear. The majority of developers claim a 100-grade viewing angle and FULL-HD quality for their developments. But even now it is possible to suppose that the actual viewing angle of the finished models will differ from the promised one. And there will emerge troubles with resolution, too. Users of AntVR Kit test gadgets have found such a screw-up in this Chinese product that hasn’t impressed them at all.
While the company promised as much as 1080p, ANTVR performs only 720p, with the information transferring not via a wireless connection, but only with the help of a wire. It has a TN display. Such kind of displays guarantees a blurry picture whilst abrupt head rotation, incorrect presentation of the colour palette, absence of the black colour, - one of the enraged comments says.
By the way, guys from Avegant Glyph have upstaged the others in this aspect, too. This time, in a negative way. The viewing angle of their device is only 45o… , which is insufficient to compete with most rivals on the market. It is quite possible to watch movies in such conditions while it is next to impossible to play at a decent level.
What helmet has the best characteristics in this aspect? It might sound trite but we have put forward Oculus Rift having a 960x1080p resolution for every eye with a 110o viewing angle. This is good and, what is more important, confirmed in dozens of test drives.
Let’s point out a development by Steam VR – Vive VR in advance. At the moment the developers use two 1200x1080p screens with the viewing angle similar to the one of Oculus. Good performance which, in fact, have not been realized even within an experimental model yet.
Note that the quality of the picture depends also on screen updates (75-120 Hz), additional services on smoothing picture (Sony is the best option possessing the technology of reprojecting), response time (min 3 ms) and the format of the main display (OLED display is preferable, the bigger, the better). Does it make you dizzy? It's the thin end of the wedge!
- Speed indicators. We won't expand on it a lot! While choosing a virtual reality helmet it is important to pay attention to the presence of speed indicators. You certainly won't go far without a gyro sensor and accelerometer. The more accurately «virtual reality» adjusts to your movements, the cooler the immersion effect is. And Avegant and Ant VR haven't worked on this component sufficiently.
On the top of everything, we can't but praise SteamVr for their «virtual chamber» system. This service allows you to turn a 21m2 in a genuine «Tony Stark's workshop». All this space will be involved into gaming, which means no limitations of three or four steps unlike certain models.
- Weight. Pay attention to a gadget's weight as well. It's one thing to carry half a kilo on your head, while a 300 g device is another story. We are speaking not only about user’s comfort, but also about the undermining effect of every gram on your health.
By the way, it deals with the supremacy of wireless technologies as well. Currently not all helmets are capable of working without a wire connection to their hardware, and how wrong they are! Wires are hindering your movements and can represent danger for their proprietor. That is why Gadgets-review chooses a wire-free VR. All the developers mentioned in the review blow the trumpets of wireless capabilities. That's a pity that almost nobody could do without them in experimental models!
Some problems of virtual reality
Twenty years ago the world saw another surge in interest of developers toward virtual reality. At that time sensational projects of the first helmets and video glasses failed due to a weak technological base.
Time has passed and the mankind seems to be able to trace back to experiments at this field. But today virtual reality faces new enemies and challenges, each of which can question the future of most famous much talked-of developments.
1. Seasickness. Let's start with trite things. No developer has never ever convinced journalists and consumers that their helmets don't cause any faintness or nausea. This is the way the human vision functions that a slight delay of the picture causes «seasickness» to people. Mismatch of physical actions and the world that you see drives your brain crazy! It strains trying to work as dejitterizer, while in the end you get tired and feel bad. This effect if particularly exquisitely felt in first person shooters.
To be fair let's note that not all pioneer explorers of the virtual universe told about their faintness after testing an Oculus. And a lot of those «diseased» threw off the “seasickness” effect whilst using the helmet for the second time. However, it is next to impossible to count on global success of a product with such screw-ups. No visual perfection costs human health. Fortunately, the consumer of the 21st century understands this simple rule. This means that developers are to work on and think how to arrange it in such a way that their devices should not infatuate users.
Guys from SteamVR seem to have reached a certain progress in this respect. They claim that their technologies decrease the negative effect to the minimum. But no evidence of their words can be found even in paid-for reviews on English speaking sites. So their competitors still can take their time to submit facts, not simple promises, to the public scrutiny.
2. More gold! For games! Will gaming industry adjust to new gadgets? Nice question. For the majority of game developers VR helmets are no more than the new type of a manipulator. Do you think the greats of this world will change their activity for a new joystick or mouse? They are unlikely to do this. Although we should admit that virtual reality still is more attractive and promising phenomenon than the ordinary controllers.
But this process of concluding preliminary contracts between the developers of games and virtual reality devices is stalled. Of coarse, enthusiasts and indie-studios have been creating games for the very Oculus and Morpheus for a long time, but, speaking of hit games, they are not eager to move to this new virtual platform.
They can be understood. Firstly, it is freaking hard to create a game with an hours-long gameplay, good graphics and ideal interoperation with a VR gadget! It is hard and expensive. At the same time it is unclear if such games will enjoy popularity. The sole price for helmets already can interfere with popularization of virtual reality and, consequently, the sales level! A pupil fond of Warcraft is unlikely to afford a special helmet for a VR version of the game… These projects are likely to go west during fledging years, with only boring 10-minute rollercoaster simulators and other amusement games seeming to be paid off. The latter, in their turn, certainly, won't capture users for a long time…
Admittedly, HTC Vive and Morpheus are immune from these problems. It is clear that their developers themselves know one thing or two about creating games and they are unlikely to leave their offsprings withour any content. At the same time they certainly won’t adjust all their activities fully to the virtual field. Hardly can risks be avoided! So here we can only rely on the first sheepish attempts on the part of both PlayStation and developers of the legendary Half Life :)
3. Speed of manufacturing. Yes, everyone hinders the realization of their drafts. Oculus, Morpheus and Avegant are delaying the releases from time to time. Samsung and AntVR seem to have reached the market, but their models are far from long-awaited and successful…
Valve Vive and Razer announced their working in the field of VR long time ago. But I have a gunch that they won't be flash-like in realizing their 3D dreams.
At the moment the «expectancy map» looks like as follows. Sony intends to release a Project Morpheus helmet no sooner than H1 2016. Avegant Glyph is going to see the light a bit earlier, in autumn 2015. Valve targets at the edge of 2015 and 2016. “Oculus Rift” is alleged to be already accessible to the developers and particularly nimble buyers, but the version for consumers is to be expected no sooner than in 2016.
Despite all this Oculus can be called a favourite is this race for the sole reason that hundreds of thousands of the Terrans have already pre-ordered it. The project is being already paid off virtually. Alas! Marketing is a powerful thing.
Then again if we are speaking about releases' «snail's pace», we are to understand one simple thing. This negative point has its advantages. The developers are not just stringing along. Interim results of their work show that they really are improving their gadgets: pruning wires, increasing resolution, cultivate liaisons with software developers. In such a case, there is no point in giving programmers and specialists the goose.
What helmet is the best? A short review of virtual reality helmets
In conclusion we would like to glance on main characteristics and functionality of the most famous projects in the VR field. We are not imposing any certain models on you. After all, we don't have a possibility of comparing each of them after a real test-drive. That is why, read us, think of it and choose. Don't forget from time to time to update this page as our material will be upgraded with new interesting facts about the virtual reality devices.
The most widely promoted project in this field.
Technical characteristics: 960x1080p resolution for each eye. Screen updates: 75 Hz. The viewing angle is 110 grades. The response time is 2-3 ms. The frequency of head posture identification is 1000 times per second. The indicators include a gyro sensor, accelerometer, magnetometer, IR sensors, embedded portable earphones. The weight is 400 g. USB is used to transfer data from the tracker, with there being an additional power connector.
Functions: Due to the existing additional IR-leds in the device's backside, it follows better the turns up to 360 grades. It interoperates with Doom 4, Doom 3: BFG Edition, Team Fortress 2 and other games. Software developers have been working with the prototypes by Oculus, which promises an avalanche of content designed for this gadget.
Price: around 300 $.
To sum up: Oculus has a great number of advantaged with the most important of them being the cross-functionality of the device and step-by-step development of this project. Developers and even consumers could get experimental versions of the product beforehand and had the time to present all their remarks to the «helmet». On 25th March, 2014, the Oculus VR company was bought by Facebook for 2 billion USD. Zuckerberg doesn't seem to feel like investing into a hopeless project!
Sony Morpheus, Project Morpheus
Characteristics: The helmet is designed for work with the PlayStation 4 console and operates in connection to PlayStation Camera, DualShock 4 and PS Move. The Sony Project Morpheus prototype of the current generation is equipped with an enlarged 5,7''
OLED display with 1920x1080p resolution and enhanced screen update sup to 120 Hz, 100-grade viewing angle, as well as nine sensors for identifying user position.
Functionality: Sony has presented a technique called «reprojecting» which makes brains percept the frequency of 60 Hz (60 frames per second) as the one of 120 Hz. It is achieved through adding an extra frame between the two set frames in order to reduce the sopite effect. Developers of the EVE: Valkyrie game argue that its PS4 version would interoperate with Project Morpheus, with virtual reality being already called a distinct established movement in the entertainment field. It supports up to 60 virtual sources of sound. The helmet will support both wire and wireless earphones.
To sum up: «Morpheus» is believed to be the major competitor of Oculus. However this is a purely gaming helmet. It is designed specifically for gaming and gamer's comfort. Stylish design of the model is to be pointed out, too. It looks really cool. But the absence of any information about its price cannot but confuse. The screw-ups of Project Morpheus include the picture quality which is worse than the Oculus Rift's one with the latter providing at the moment the higher immersion in virtual reality. Sony intends to release the Project Morpheus helmet no sooner than H1 2016.
Characteristics: The declared ones: HD 1920х1080 mp Full HD, a 100-grade viewing angle, 1920x1080p, 1.03 mp. In reality, the quality and level are lagging behind. There are a wireless digital interface, metering unit, tracking movements, 9 100-grade IMU axles, transforming controller, four gaming modes, a lightsaber mode. There is a small gap downside the glasses which can be opened to see a mouse and keyboard.
Functionality: Interoperation with PC, Playstation, Xbox, Android platforms.
Price: 270 $.
To sum up: A lot could be said about this helmet if not the failure of experimental models. Many people believed a young «Chinese» to murder its competitors… But the project was cross-functional while the transforming joystick going as a set for 270$ drove crazy a great many of customers. However, the early models launched on the market with a moderate circulation turned out to be nearly cardboard… We are to wait for the correction of mistakes. But the economic strength of this company which is not widely known doesn't give us hope.
Characteristics: Having a 45-grade viewing angle, a 120 Hz screen updates, a WXGA (1280 x 720) resolution, Avegant Glyph weights 450 g. In everyday life this device can be used as full-size earphones and, if needed, can be moved to the face in conformity with its direct designation. Earphones have a standard HDMI hub and are able to perform a 2D or 3D content from the phone, console, TV, PC etc.
Functionality: Each of the oculars can be separately adjusted as for focus and distance from the pupil, which is not fairly inconvenient for the people having problems with their vision. Besides, Glyph is equipped with number of sensors allowing you to watch images and videos at 360 grades around you. The advantage of the applied micromirror technology consists in lower eye tension and reducing the sopite feeling which is peculiar for several existing virtual reality helmets. Using an Avegant, you can watch movies, turning the device into your personal cinema with a high-quality sound and play games, too.
Price: Around 600 $.
To sum up: This a promising, cross-functional and expensive model. It will find its audience in the capitals of developed countries but it is certain not to cause exorbitant success on the global market. Again, let's repeat that the horizontal viewing angle is a bit weak for normal gaming. Developers were not too much preoccupied with tracking the user’s head rotation. Today it is more a cinema than a gaming gadget.
Samsung Gear VR
Characteristics: Super AMOLED, 5,7’’, 2560х1440 p, 515 ppi, capacitance (Samsung Galaxy Note 4) weight is 379 g without a smartphone. The viewing angle is 96o, there are accelerometer, gyro meter, magnetometer, presence sensor. The screen delay of reaction to data input by a user doesn't exceed the value of 20 ms.
Functionality: Tacking into account myopia/hyperopia, inter-pupil distance, connecting microUSB 1.1. to Galaxy Note 4, 3D sound in Samsung VR Player for the content of VR Gallery (earphones needed).
Price: 199 $.
To sum up: While testing a considerable heating of smartphone in gaming applications has been marked. From time to time there even emerges a warning about overheat and a demand to cool down the device. If a safety cover is installed in the front side, then the device is heated even faster. It is not so remarkable in easier applications or while watching videos, but it is still hot in the glasses. The advantages include a good, really good optical performance. Critics believe that the price for Gear VR is exaggerated while the device interoperates with the only smartphone which is Note 4.
Valve HTC Vive
Characteristics: Vive uses two screens with a 1200x1080 resolution, the screen updates is 90 frames per second. Thanks to these characteristics the glasses provide a photorealistic image. The VR helmet is equipped with a gyro meter, accelerometer and laser sensor tracking the head rotation.
Functionality: The Vive glasses are to be distributed with a wireless controller, the device itself is designed for use not only with computer games, but also content provided by the partners among which can be stated HBO, Lionsgate and Google. The device can track the head rotation with a high level of accuracy, at the level of 0,1°, which is achieved by using a gyro meter, accelerometer and high positioning accuracy laser sensor. The device will be supplied with a basic Steam VR station which will create a 3D model of a virtual chamber and allow you to move in it without using a controller. A pair of such stations will make it possible to track the user position in the space of 21m2.
To sum up: There haven't been featured any details and technical characteristics, what is known is that both companies have secured the support of such developers as Vertigo Games, Bossa, Barry, Fireproof, Dovetail Games, Wemo Labs, Google, Steel Wool
Games and Owlchemy.
Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) by Razer
Characteristics: 5,5'' screen with a FullHD (441 ppi) resolution can be adjusted according to your preferences (which is comfortable for developers); two oculars, allowing you to percept information from a display which is placed right near the eyes with minor distortions, go as a set. They provide a 100-grade viewing angle. There are accelerometer, gyro meter and compass, as well as USB.3.0 hubs embedded in the helmet. A belt module with additional USB 3.0 hubs and module of 3D sound programming go as a set.
Functionality: The helmet is designed for game and software developers, it will provide a possibility of creating cross-functional games and software for all existing virtual reality helmets. The model represents a «streamlined Oculus Rift».
Price: around 200 $.
To sum up: This is the youngest development. Although Razer argues that they will sell it to developers only… it occurs to me that they might change their mind and go in for mass production of games. All the more so as the price-quality trade-off looks very tempting. In any case, this is already a breakthrough and good ground for VR technologies development.