While it seems to have exploded in the last decade or so, VR is not a new concept. The first VR HMD (Head Mounted Display), called The Sword of Damocles, was created in 1968. Many years later in 1994, Sega would install the VR-1 virtual reality ride at its Sega World amusement parks. This was 16 years before the Oculus Rift had its first prototype.
While VR clearly isn’t new, it has made leaps and bounds in its advancements recently. Companies like Facebook (now Meta), HTC, and even Valve all have their own line of VR headsets that continue to improve. Seeing the hardware we have now, and comparing it to their predecessors shows a massive leap in innovation, and that innovation doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Let’s take a look at some of the VR products and experiences we have now, and how they could shape the future of gaming itself.
At the moment, you have a wealth of choices for VR equipment across many price points. On the high-end, you have top-of-the-line hardware like the Valve Index and the HTC Vive Pro 2. Both of these will set you back $800-$1,000, but they are arguably the best experience you can get out of VR right now. If you have the hardware, that is.
Both of these headsets are classified as “tethered”, meaning that they rely on a wired connection to a powerful PC to get the maximum performance out of them. A PC capable of pushing the Vive Pro 2 or the Index and all of their sensor equipment with a good experience can cost anywhere from $1,000-$2,000. This is the main issue most people have with VR right now, it’s prohibitively expensive for most people. But, once you’ve experienced VR in this way, you’ll begin to see why it’s so popular.
The comparison between the Valve Index and the HTC Vive Pro 2 is quite interesting since Valve tapped HTC to produce their first headset, the HTC Vive. That device really marked the first wave of VR hardware for home use, along with the original Oculus Rift in 2016.
After the high-end VR headsets, there is a power gap in terms of price and performance to the PlayStation VR and the Oculus Quest 2. The $299 PlayStation VR is another tethered headset, but it relies on the power of the PS4 to push its experience. I have heard this is a middling experience at best.
Now, perhaps the most interesting VR headset, and what is setting the stage for the future of VR, is the Oculus Quest 2. This device is classified as a standalone VR headset, meaning that all of the sensors and processing power are contained within the unit. For only $299 and minimal equipment (just the headset and two controllers), you get what is arguably the best VR experience in price to performance. The Oculus Quest 2 is able to run many of the full versions of bigger games, just with decreased graphical quality. Games like Beat Saber and Superhot are almost indistinguishable from their PC VR versions.
Meta’s Quest 2 ( formerly Oculus Quest ) launch trailer:
Depending on which VR equipment you go with, your experience will be a little different. To jump into a VR game using the Valve Index, for example, will take some setting up initially. First, you’ll need to make sure that you have enough space to play. That means clearing out coffee tables, chairs, anything that might be a hazard. Then, you’ll need to set up your cameras. Most tethered headsets require the use of “base stations” which are external cameras that track your movements using the sensors on the headsets and controllers. They need a clear line of sight in order to perform optimally. After that, you set up your playable space in the SteamVR software and you’re good to go! Btw if you are looking for some good games to start check our 7 best VR shooters for the Oculus Quest list.
The Index might be the pinnacle of tethered VR at the moment. The head unit has incredibly sharp screens, a ton of customizability, and interchangeable face gaskets for comfort and sanitation. The Index controllers are a revelation as well, and they have sensors that can track when each individual finger is on the unit, and translate that into whatever game you’re playing.
On the Oculus Quest 2, the experience is markedly different. After you don the headset and run through the setup, you’re ready to play! However, if you own a gaming PC and want to run some full VR games on your Quest 2, you can wire them together with the Oculus Link cable, enabling a fully tethered experience on your standalone headset. The combination of the Quest 2’s simplicity, price point, and flexibility has been huge for VR adoption, and we are already seeing other companies adopt this standalone VR format with things like the HTC Vive Flow.
Regardless of what platform you use, the experience of playing a game in VR for the first time is nothing short of magic, especially if you have only gamed on a regular console previously. Even with the progenitors of this generation of VR equipment, we couldn’t have imagined the interactivity and immersion that would be afforded to us by games like Half-Life: Alyx and Blade and Sorcery, games that wouldn’t be possible without VR. Even older games have undergone a VR conversion like Skyrim, which places you in that world and allows you to freely explore. The experience right now is amazing, and it will only get better in the future.
There are many VR projects in the pipeline that promise to push forward the VR experience another leap in the near future. Sony recently announced their PlayStation VR 2, which leverages the immense power of the PS5 to drive the experience, while also improving on the overall quality by an order of magnitude. The ancient PS Move controllers are out, and Sony’s new Quest-like VR controllers are in. They look infinitely more ergonomic, and have more trackable surface area for the sensors than the glowy ball on the older controller.
There have also been rumblings of an Oculus Quest 2 “Pro”, or a more advanced version of the hardware we currently have. With the way the Quest 2 sold this past holiday season, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Quest line of hardware became the default VR experience in a short amount of time. Having the portability to take the base experience anywhere, while also being able to hardwire it in for games full VR games is the most futuristic feeling I’ve had with video game hardware in a long time, and I’m ready for more.
In my view VR and VR Gaming are just in the early stages. I have no doubt that in the future the games and experiences will be even better. In my view a Company like Meta has the necessary dedication and firepower to take VR to the next levels.
Over time, as with all technology, the cost of producing the parts will go down, and so will the cost for the end-user. We’re well on our way there with the Quest, but imagine an even cheaper headset with the same capabilities, or one that is priced the same but has the quality of the Index. It’s crazy to think that could happen right now, but realistically we might be only a few short years away from that reality.
These advancements will feed the creativity of the developers making VR experiences, allowing them to create even more immersive games that will be increasingly difficult to distinguish from reality. A Quest update from a few years ago even lets you ditch the controllers in favor of hand tracking! It’s still not perfectly implemented, but imagine putting on a VR headset and being able to interact with the in-game environment with perfect accuracy, in any game.
Video games have always been a form of escape for those who enjoy them, but they were limited by their surroundings and a screen. As that screen gets closer to our face, fully immersing us in the worlds of our favorite games, we will begin to approach gaming’s true potential. A form of entertainment where we can be whoever, or whatever, we want to be, completely free of the confines of a controller and TV screen.
Thanks to Facebook entering the space more money is coming into the sector as well. Just yesterday Qualcomm announced a $100 million Metaverse Fund to invest in AR and VR.