Mobile phones are reaching a plateau of innovation as each manufacturer is struggling to differentiate themselves from each other. With Virtual Reality being such a hot topic it is no surprise that mobile phone companies such as HTC, LG, Samsung are getting into the Virtual Reality headset space. And they are not alone as companies such as Facebook, Google and Sony are also focusing their attention on the Virtual Reality world too.
And with good reason.
Virtual Reality is only getting started and together with faster and cheaper hardware and more developed Artificial Intelligence algorithms, and an improving catalogue of VR content, the future that we are fast heading towards is an exciting virtual one.
But VR can be confusing with so many devices on offer so before you rush out and buy your VR headset, let’s unpack some of the fundamentals of VR.
How does VR headset work ?
The VR headset works by immersing you into a digital environment. There are displays that take up your entire vision including the peripheral vision. The headset recognizes your position in space so when you turn your head left, right, up and down it sends those movements to the software that in turns “moves” your vision to correspond with that location. Think of the headset as the computer mouse and like the mouse any movements translate into an action on the screen.
Adding to the experience is true surround sound where the sound from behind you will appear to be coming from in front as you turn your head to face the source. This further convincing your brain that you are actually inside that virtual world.
Here is an example of a 360 Degree Video which you can watch and move around the video with your mouse or with your finger on a touchscreen. If you have the VR Headset you would be able to simply look around :
3 Good to know Terms:
- Resolution – we are familiar with this term from buying TV and Mobile Phones and so the higher the resolution, the better the image quality is. Remembering the VR screens are close to the eyes and therefore you will be able to pick up any imperfections faster than you would with a TV that is on your wall across the room.
- Refresh Rate – The higher the refresh rate is, the smoother the image will be and therefore the more realistic the movie or gaming experience will be.
- Field of View – This is the amount that you can see and in the VR world, it should be around 100 degrees. A human eye can see 180 degrees. Again, the large the Filed of View, the more realistic the experience is.
Some of the headsets available today (see below) require you to slot your smartphone into them. The Resolution and Refresh Rate will then be those of the phone and the Field of View will be produced by the lenses.
Critical – what are 6 degrees of Freedom (6DOF)
While this is great and most companies offer this tracking around the X, Y, and Z axis, what you really want is a term known as “6 degrees of freedom”. What this means is that not only will the headset track your head movement as you look around, but it will also track your location as you physically move left, right, forward, backward, up and down.
This is where the VR game changes.
Let’s take a basic example of playing a shoot-em-up first person game. The character doesn’t stand still and looks around as he/she shoots the hordes of approaching zombies. The character runs, ducks for cover, jumps and moves around a lot trying to avoid becoming an inevitable zombie brain lunch. Six degrees of freedom will allow the gamer to have that experience whereas the basic headsets will require the gamer to have an external controller to move the character around the screen.
The HTC Vive has the 6DOF however it relies on an external lighthouses and sensor system to position the headset wearer in a room. By the end of the year, it is expected that Oculus Rift will have 6DOF however it is unclear if it will be encompassed into the headset or will also rely on external cameras and sensors.
What VR headset are here now ?
Google Cardboard – This is the cheapest and entry level VR headset from Google which costs only $15. This headset requires the phone to be slotted in and relies on software such as YouTube 360 channel or the Cardboard App.
Google Dreamview – Costs $79 and was recently announced by Google at the launch of the new Google Pixel phone. There is currently a waiting list however in the USA, Verizon is offering a package where the Dreamview headset will be packaged together with the Google Pixel phone. This headset comes with a controller too and required a Daydream ready phone to be slotted into the headset.
Samsung Gear VR – Costs $99.99 and is made by Oculus. It works with your smartphones such as the Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note5, Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S6 edge and required the Oculus app to access the VR content. Samsung has the Gear 360 camera to shoot 360-degree videos so you can watch them back inside the headset.
LG 360 VR – Costs $199.99 and it compatible with the LG G5. This unit has built-in screens (920 x 720 per Eye 80 degree Field of view) with a 3.5mm headphone direct on the headset. It works with the 360 degrees YouTube Channel . LG has released a small portable 360 camera too so you can record your own 360-degree movies and watch them through the headset.
PlayStation VR – Costs $399 (on pre-order) and needs a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation camera for it to work to its full effect. It has a display of 960×RGB×1080 per eye and weighs 610g. It has a refresh rate of 90Hz and 100 degrees Field of view
Oculus Rift – Costs $599 or $798 with the touch controllers. The controllers are the units that take interactivity to a new level as it allows gamers to control weapons inside their game, and artists can control paintbrushes and tools during their creative processes. It also works with the Xbox One controller. The Rift needs a high-power PC to run which is where the sensor plugs into which monitors and tracks the headset. It has a 2160 x 1200 resolution, Refresh rate of 90Hz and 110 degrees Field of view.
HTC Vive – Cost $799, however, this headset has 6DOF allowing you to move around a 15 x 15 ft. environment. It has a resolution of 2160 x 1200, Refresh rate of 90Hz and 110 degrees Field of view. It needs to be connected to a high power computer. It works on the SteamVR platform which is why it is a favorite with early-adopter gamers. It works with its own SteamVR controllers and any PC compatible gamepad.
What VR headsets are coming ?
At the last Intel Developer Forum, I attended, Intel announced Project Alloy which is an all-in-one VR headset which has the full 6DOF without the need for external sensors. It also allows for physical objects to be brought into the VR environment and allows the user to interact with those objects. No phone will be needed for this headset.
Qualcomm is working on their standalone VR headsets (VR82) where no phones or computer will be required and everything will be included inside the headset to produce the 6DOF effect. It has “Integrated eye tracking with two cameras, motion to photon latency less than 18ms, dual front-facing cameras for six degrees of freedom (6DOF) and see-through applications, four microphones, gyro, and accelerometer and magnetometer sensors. And all of this can be showcased in a sleek, comfortable design.”
Of course, the public cannot buy these directly however the companies will make their reference design and developer kits available to their commercial partners who will build a saleable product.