By Darryl Budge
Now VR is ready for mass consumption, here's our quick guide.
Virtual Reality immerses you inside a 360 degree 3D visual and audio experience, which you can interact with using your hands, a button gamepad or other controller.
With VR you can visit far off places (like YouTube 360 VR videos), move objects with your hands, create virtual 3D art pieces, look around as you fly or drive in a game, and walk the size of a room to examine a virtual environment.
Until now, mainstream computing platforms involved distant observation and not true immersion, even in the case of 3D televisions.
There are major social and safety downsides to this immersion. Using VR disconnects you from human relationships, self-awareness (you may feel 'out-of-body' even after taking the VR headset off), and some users experience prolonged motion sickness, especially in 'intense'-rated games.
Games powered by your existing powerful gaming PC are the main purpose of the first generation VR headsets. They are like an advanced PC monitor, priced with the so-called "early-adopter tax".
The top three are (1) HTC Vive at $800, (2) Facebook's Oculus Rift priced at $600 without upcoming Oculus Touch controllers, and (3) Sony PlayStation VR, priced at $500 with (somewhat inaccurate) Move controllers and tracking camera, all powered by your existing PS4 console.
The Vive stands out with the most games, the only room-scale VR with laser tracking, most accurate controllers, and a unique Chaperone object-warning system via a headset-mounted camera. All support button gamepads, and have different game storefronts with a mix of fun, casual, serious and intense games around $50 each.
You can also use a recent Android mobile or iPhone to get an inexpensive and portable VR experience via a Bluetooth gamepad or simple clicker. Expect your phone battery to last about 2-3 hours.
The Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard open platform offer 3D video and a less-immersive gaming experience. Whereas the Gear VR requires a Galaxy S6 or newer, the Cardboard platform works best with any recent mobile above 4.7 inches inside a cheap stereoscopic lens headset. The best mobile VR content is on the Gear VR, and there is far more VR content on Android than iOS.
FUTURE PRODUCTS: Google recently previewed their upcoming Daydream Android VR platform to compete with the Gear VR. Apple has acquired a number of VR companies in the last two years and are widely expected to enter the market soon. Microsoft is developing their 'HoloLens' augmented reality (AR) platform (like a fighter pilot heads-up display), which will not be sold en-mass for a couple of years.