The future of technology is anything but certain. But when a trend gets as much attention from major tech companies as virtual reality is getting now, you’d be foolish not to pay attention.
A trio of well-funded VR headsets is set to hit store shelves in 2016. It’s possible they’ll be a blip in history and no one will care about them five years down the line. But it’s also possible that we’ll all be spending significant amounts of time in virtual reality in the future.
Either way, what happens in 2016 will help determine which future comes to pass. Here’s a look at each of the major VR headsets coming next year and what makes them unique.
Release date: Q1 2016
The first VR headset to spark the interest of the general public was the Oculus Rift, which made a big splash when it appeared on Kickstarter in 2013. It raised nearly $2.5 million and has been the frontrunner in the VR space ever since. It received another influx of capital when Facebook bought the company in 2014 for $2 billion. In the acquisition announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home.
“This is really a new communication platform.”
As for the hardware, the headset requires a PC to run. It will come with an Xbox One controller you’ll be able to use to play games and control other VR experiences. The company will also offer a position tracking system and a two-piece controller called Oculus Touch.
Because the Oculus Rift was originally designed with gaming in mind, you can expect to see lots of games launch for the headset in 2016. But now that Facebook is involved with the device as well, many other types of applications will soon follow.
Release date: First half of 2016
If the Oculus Rift has a vast ambitions, Sony’s upcoming VR headset is a little more streamlined. The PlayStation VR (formerly called Project Morpheus) will be a gaming machine through and through. To use it, you’ll have to connect it to a PlayStation 4, which will power the VR games and apps.
From a hardware standpoint, the PlayStation VR isn’t all that different from the Oculus Rift. Sony promises it will have a 5.7 inch OLED display, a fast refresh rate, and low latency for ultra-responsive gameplay. It will work with a standard PlayStation 4 controller as well as a pair of PlayStation Move motion controllers. Various hands-on previews have used other equipment and sensors, but the full set of included hardware has yet to be finalized.
If gaming is your focus and you don’t have a powerful PC (or aren’t willing to spend lavishly to acquire one), PlayStation VR might be your best bet.
Release date: Q1 2016
If there’s one company that dominates in the PC gaming space, it’s Valve, the company behind the ubiquitous gaming platform Steam. So when Valve announced it had teamed up with HTC to create a VR headset of its own, gamers listened.
Like the Oculus Rift, the Vive headset will require a PC to run. Its hardware is similar to the others, with one exception: More than any other headset on this list, the Vive promises a “full room” VR experience, thanks to a pair of “Steam VR base stations” you’ll be able to use with the device. These cameras, which need to be set on the floor, are capable of tracking your movements in spaces up to 15 feet by 15 feet. So if you have enough space in your house, you’ll actually be able to walk through virtual worlds using the Vive. Pretty cool.
Of all the headsets coming in 2016, this one seems to make the best first impression during previews. Its screen is a little sharper than the others, and its “full room” capabilities are impressive. On the downside, it will require a powerful, pricy computer to run.
Our virtual future
With the amount of talent at work on these VR headsets, and the amount of money backing them up, you should ignore the upcoming VR revolution at your own peril.
That’s not to say there are no downsides to jumping on the VR train early. Early adopters of any new technology tend to pay more than late adopters, and are subject to the developers and hardware makers working out the kinks and bugs. Version 2.0 of each of these headsets will probably bring big improvements.
Still, based everything we’ve seen and heard so far, it looks like virtual reality could be the next big thing in technology. Whether it will have staying power has yet to be determined, but for now it’s an exciting new realm that should be on the radar of anyone interested in technology.