What VR Headset & When?

By Harry Engels November 27, 2018

Virtual Reality headsets come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s often no right answer to the question ‘which headset is best?’. There are hundreds of headsets out there now, they’re all different and some are better at certain jobs than others. Below, we take a look at the various types of headset and run through the pros and cons of each.

Google Cardboard

At the low end of the market is the Google Cardboard headset. As the name would suggest, it’s made from cardboard (but sometimes plastic), contains two basic lenses, works with almost every smartphone and costs between £5-50. Your phone slots into the front of the headset which you then hold up to your face, it’s as simple as that.

You can use Google Cardboard to watch a whole host of VR content available on your smartphone, whether from a VR app, YouTube 360º or Facebook. The social platforms are a fantastic way of sharing VR, and when paired with the low price of the Cardboard, make for an attractive proposition for brands & content creators alike. It’s worth noting too that currently, Google Cardboard is (unbelievably) the only headset that works with Apple iPhones.

The nature and price of the Google Cardboard also means that they can be custom branded and also flat packed, which is ideal for direct mail or inclusion with a newspaper/magazine. The downside is the quality of the image is limited to the resolution of the phone screen, which when magnified through the lenses, is less than perfect. However, for its ability to offer access to VR to a large audience at a low price, the Google Cardboard has an important role to play.

Premium Mobile Headsets

In the next category you’ll find popular headsets such as the Google Daydream (right) and Samsung Gear VR. Like the Cardboard, these both require a smartphone to be slotted into the front, but the quality of both the headset and the lenses is superior. These headsets have a strap so they can be worn (rather than held) and a focus wheel (Gear VR) so the lenses can be adjusted to the viewer’s eyes.

These are the most popular choice for brand activations as they offer a good balance between cost and quality – for around £500 you can get a smartphone, a headset & a pair of headphones. The whole setup is very portable and doesn’t require a computer, external power or tethering.

The biggest downside of these headsets is that they only work with specific smartphones. The Samsung GearVR, for example, only works with Samsung Galaxy series phones and the Google Daydream only works with Google Pixel phones. However popular these phones may be, this still greatly limits the amount of people who could use these headsets. Another limiting factor is that the processors in the current crop of smartphones aren’t quite fast enough to run many high quality VR experiences which can make playback jittery.

Standalone Headsets

This next category, although a small one currently, is probably the most important one for the development & uptake of VR. A standalone headset is just that – neither connected to a smartphone or a computer, it works completely on its own. Currently, the only two headsets in this category are the Oculus Go (pictured) and the HTC Vive Focus (at present only available in China).

The Oculus Go is bound to have a huge impact on the VR headset market. It retails at £200 and requires no other attachments or accessories, not even headphones. It runs from the same system as the GearVR so it has a whole host of apps & programs ready to go. It’s the perfect entry point for someone new to VR and at an accessible price. The Vive Focus (when it finally escapes China!) is also worth keeping an eye on, as it will allow for six degrees of freedom, meaning you’ll be able to walk around the content.

PC VR Headsets

It’s with PC VR headsets that the ultimate quality in VR is reached. These headsets are tethered to powerful computers (usually specially built, gaming-type machines) and therefore can run the most demanding interactive VR experiences in outstanding quality. Positional tracking allows the viewer to move through content with six degrees of freedom and controllers enable you to do all sorts of things within the experience.

Current examples of this type of headset include the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive & Vive Pro (pictured), the Asus Windows ‘mixed reality’ headset, and the Pixmax 8K. We have the HTC Vive Pro in the office for premium VR development (and the occasional bit of gaming!) and it really is a superb piece of kit. Whilst these systems are undoubtedly the best way to experience high quality VR, they are by no means the best solution for everyone. You’re looking at a minimum of £2000 for the headset and a powerful computer, and then this requires external power and ample space to be used properly. This type off system is usually reserved for VR developers and VR geeks!

Testing out the new HTC Vive Pro in the Visualise office

So there we have it, the current range of VR headsets, from the Google Cardboard to the HTC Vive Pro. We use many of the headsets mentioned above on a weekly basis, whether it’s the Oculus Go if we’re doing a demo at a client’s office, or the Vive Pro if we’re quality-checking some work at the office.

To learn more about VR headsets and their various applications, check out Virtual Reality Marketing by Henry Stuart. Our CEO’s new book compiles years of experience and case studies into a concise manual for both VR filmmakers and those looking to include VR into their marketing strategy.

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