A Closer Look at VR Headsets for Gaming

A CES 2016 attendee tries out the ANTVR. (Photo/Michelle Johnson)

PREVIEW: Thinking about buying a VR headset for gaming? There were quite a few on display at CES, some already on the market, some about to hit. Here’s a look at how a few of them stack up.

A CES 2016 attendee tries out the ANTVR. (Photo/Michelle Johnson)

A CES 2016 attendee tries out the ANTVR. (Photo/Michelle Johnson)

The Oculus Rift was funded via Kickstarter in August 2012 promising to let the player “Step into the Game.” Three and a half years later it is but one of many VR headsets on display at CES 2016, all of which hoping to compete with and outdo the Oculus Rift and win the hearts of gamers everywhere.

But what does each headset bring to the table? Why go for a Samsung Gear VR over a Razer OSVR or an Oculus Rift over an Antvr? Here’s an overview of my hands-on with these units.

Oculus Rift

Arguably the headset that set off the entire VR boom when it took the gaming world by storm in 2012. It converts skeptics (this author included) and has promised to revolutionize gaming. It runs at 2K, with a refresh rate of 90 Hz.

The actual experience of wearing a Rift is spectacular. The clarity and fidelity of the screen is fantastic. It makes the gaming experience immediate and immersive in a way that is hard to believe without experiencing it in person.

Launching a small, single-person space fighter from a space station into orbit around a dark planet backlit by a sun in the distance from inside the cockpit was one of the most exciting demo moments this author has ever had. Gaming is an absorbing activity when played on a regular screen; the Rift makes it all-enveloping.

One downside: the Rift wasn’t particularly comfortable to wear with my glasses. The other headsets that I tried all had built-in adjusters for my near-sightedness. The Rift did not.

The Rift is a high-end piece of hardware with integrated headphones and a number of other peripherals bundled together with the headset. It will launch in June 2016 with a $599 price tag and require a powerful computer with modern hardware and an advanced graphics processor.

Razer OSVR

The Razer Open Source VR (OSVR) is an attempt by the Californian gaming peripherals company to make VR affordable and consumer friendly in a way they said the Oculus is not.

“Our vision at the end of the day is to make VR happen,” Razer spokesman Jeeven Aurol said.

Aurol said the idea is to provide hardware that works on mid-range platforms (the OSVR can run on the almost four-year-old GTX 600 GPU) at a reasonable price. A so-called Hacker Devkit is currently available for purchase from Razer for $299. Aurol said it functions just as well as gaming headset for every-day usage as well as a development kit.

Part of the OSVR project is Razer’s attempt to create an ecosystem where VR works without forcing consumers to stick to specific hardware manufacturers. Aurol said it aims to accomplish this by forming a community with its business partners, putting people together and acting both as a business facilitator and digital handshake between software and hardware.

The Razer headset is completely open source, all the way down to the firmware level. Aurol said that even the firmware can be flushed. He said the hardware itself is replaceable, allowing developers to switch out everything including the screen.

The Razer OSVR headset runs at 1080p, 60 frames per second. The screen has a refresh rate of 120 Hz. It showed off a short trailer featuring futuristic soldiers facing off against a massive robot on a street, smoothly and crisply. It even made the author attempt to duck under incoming shrapnel, it suffered from excessive motion blur as I looked around.

Samsung Gear VR

The Samsung Gear VR is the result of a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus. It is currently available for purchase for $99. It requires a compatible Samsung Galaxy device. The phone is plugged into the Gear VR headset and acts as the headset’s display and processor.

This means the Gear VR has a resolution of at least 1440p and benefits from the crisp and clear SAMOLED screens of the Samsung smartphones. The gaming content available for the Gear VR was limited to the smartphone platform in fidelity and control. The high resolution made the lack of graphical tools like significant anti-aliasing clear and made the otherwise immersive experience of a VR headset less so.

ANTVR

ANTVR presented two headsets at CES 2016, one for PCs and one for Lenovo smartphones.

The main selling feature of the PC headset is its ability to track the users movement in space while they are simply walking around the room. It accomplishes this through a forward-facing infrared camera that reads small square pads laid out on the floor before use. This allows the headset to track the user as she moves around the space defined by said pads.

During a demonstration the headset’s ability to track movement seemed imprecise and suffered from latency.

This headset will be available to consumers during Summer 2016 and cost between $300 and $400. ANTVR’s founder Qin Zheng would not give specific requirements to run the headsets but said it would require a computer costing at least $1,000.

The ANTVR Lenovo headset works using a smartphone as the processor and screen, mounted into a minimalistic headset. ANTVR did not demo the headset but said it is available for purchase in the Asia Pacific region. It comes bundled with a Lenovo smartphone for $15. Without the smartphone it is $25.

The products presented above does not represent an exhaustive list of the VR gaming headsets presented at CES. It does present a majority of the most readily available ones aimed specifically for the gaming market. The headsets represent very different attitudes and conceptions of what VR is and what it means for gaming moving forward. Which one will win, only time will tell.

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