Here’s our absolute beginner’s guide to virtual reality headsets for gaming. We will walk you through the basics of virtual reality, the difference between virtual reality headsets for smartphones, PCs and consoles.
What’s more – we will start you off with some top tips. Then you should be ready to take your first steps into virtual reality gaming – ready?
What is Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has been around for a while, longer than most of us realise. Virtual reality training simulators have been used for pilot and astronaut training for decades. Then, virtual reality was also quickly adopted in healthcare for safely teaching surgeons.
For gaming, there have been a few games which hovered on the cusp of virtual reality – like the classic arcade Battlezone. Early gaming examples are nothing compared to the virtual reality gaming experience we can now have at home.
So, what is it? Virtual reality is a close to real experience, without actually being real. The more technology advances, the closer to “real” we get. It’s a computer-generated simulation, 3D images and environment, that we can interact with.
Unless you visit a city attraction, or event, with a virtual booth or machine, or your workplace employs some seriously advanced equipment – your best virtual experience is going to come via a computer or games console and a VR headset.
What Is a Virtual Reality Headset
Head mounted displays (HMD’s) or virtual reality headsets display video provided by your console or computer. Virtual reality headsets are wired via HDMI. The video feed is delivered separately to each eye via your headset and the lenses reshape and focus each picture on creating a stereoscopic 3D image.
Headsets copy how our eyes work, each seeing the world slightly differently, they angle each 2D image (one to each eye) to create the 3D model. Virtual reality headsets provide what our brain perceives as a life-size 3D environment.
Do headsets made for smartphones work differently?
Yes, they do. Your smartphone fits inside this type of headset and provides the graphics and images. Again, an image is provided to each eye to produce the 3D experience, though it’s not as “real” as that delivered by a headset for computer or console.
Are virtual reality headsets for gaming different to standard virtual reality headsets?
Not as such, the headset you buy for gaming will be excellent for movies, video content, educational apps, virtual tourism and social apps. Virtual reality headsets for smartphones, however, won’t deliver the interactive gaming experience a head-mounted display for a computer or console will.
You can still play some games, with a degree of movement control, via smartphone. You can also have a pretty immersive video, social or educational experience with a smartphone.
What should you consider before buying a virtual reality headset for gaming?
Your most significant consideration here is cost, virtual reality headsets for gaming, for computers or consoles are expensive. Far more so than virtual reality headsets like Google Cardboard or Daydream, for a smartphone.
You also have to look closely at the specification of your PC or console.
A virtual reality headset like Oculus Rift recommends the following PC specifications:
- Processor: Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 (equivalent or better)
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 (equivalent or better)
- RAM: 4GB or more
- Video Output: One HDMI 1.4 or one DisplayPort 1.2
- USB: One USB 2.0
- OS: Windows 7 or newer
Is it true that you can get motion sickness in virtual reality?
Yes, you can. Most headset makers recommend a 10-minute break for every 20 minutes of play. Otherwise, you could suffer from nausea, headaches, and a whole raft of possible, mostly minor, side effects.
The Best Virtual Reality Headsets for Gaming
The HTC Vive is an advanced headset, with plenty of accessories available in including two touch controllers, one for each hand. With a high specification PC, the performance from the HTC Vive outranks the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. Its price does reflect this, at currently $799+, double the amount of PlayStation, and more expensive than Oculus Rift.
Many of the game developers are focusing on games for the Vive, ahead of Oculus Rift, though only just. Controllers for the HTC Vive also rate high compared to competitors.
The HTC Vive has movement tracking, a natural 110-degree field of visual and physical movement. It also has two wall-mounted stations which track your movements as well as a camera in the headset itself.
The HTC Vive is better for whole body movement and walking around while in virtual reality. It maps the room and gives thin blue lines within the game, so you don’t move out of your spectrum of movement in the real world – and fall over anything because you are not paying attention to the real world! You can customise your play area too.
The Oculus Rift does not provide the whole room experience the HTC Vive does, and it needs four USB ports to work correctly. It is cheaper than the HTC Vive and does offer an immersive 3D experience which is far far ahead of smartphone headsets.
There are conventional gamepads and Oculus Touch controllers available. The price of the Oculus Rift has recently fallen too, available on Amazon from $399+, though the controllers will cost more. The Oculus Rift has a single external sensor with another tracking the controllers.
You have less movement than the HTC Vive, your game space is smaller and usually play standing or sitting but not moving around. The cable tethers you to a PC and is not placed quite as well as the Vive. The image resolution and refresh rate are similar between the two headsets and your final results for both will depend on the specification of your PC.
Though there are differences and the HTC Vive is slightly more interactive, the Oculus Rift provides a fantastic, and virtual enough, experience at a far better price.
Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR are the three main competitors in the virtual reality headsets, and specifically for gaming, marketplace.
To use PlayStation VR you need a PlayStation 4 console. In a quick comparison to the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR has slightly lower resolution, somewhat smaller field of view, but does have a faster refresh rate.
How does this translate to your virtual reality gaming experience? Most gamers report the difference is hardly noticeable. PlayStation 4 is also optimised for the PlayStation VR headset, so if you are using Oculus Rift or HTC Vive with an older PC, you will notice a poorer quality experience.
The PlayStation VR is cheaper starting from $349, though you will need a PlayStation camera and PlayStation Move Controllers. It only uses one camera, so offers similar performance to the Oculus Rift. Rather than the HTC Vive which allows you move around the room more.
One of the biggest advantages with the PlayStation VR is the development of games by Sony, who are promising 50 more titles for virtual reality before the end of the year. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are headset makers rather than game developers, so they are relying on the gaming market to produce compatible titles.
Ready to Choose Your Virtual Reality Headset For Gaming?
There are hundreds of excellent reviews of virtual reality headsets on the internet. Buying a headset, and either upgrading your PC, buying one, or buying a console, can be a hefty purchase. Do plenty of research and check the specifications required.
We are aiming to give a short, beginners guide here, but there is plenty more information across our website on how to start learning virtual reality. Don’t forget to check your favourite games are available on the platform you choose as some of them have promising specifications, but less entertainment choice.