Friday, September 23, 2016

The Coming VR Wars

Virtual Reality (VR).  It has been around a lot longer than you think.  One of the earliest VR headsets was actually invented back in 1960 (that's even before I was born).  But 2016 has seen, shall we say, a resurgence of the dream of an affordable, home use product.

There are, essentially, two type of VR gear - tethered and mobile.  As one might guess, "tethered" is connected via wires or cables to some other stationary equipment - mainly, this is the PC VR market.  For now, "mobile" generally refers to a system that uses a smartphone snapped into a headset.  It uses the phone as the main CPU and display, and relies heavily on the phones' sensors to track movement.  Mobile VR devices can be incredibly cheap and equally cheap looking, but there are games and other apps that are being developed for them.

And while mobile VR is VR, I want to focus more on the "tethered" systems.

Right now, there are (2) main PC* tethered players out there:  Oculus and HTC Vive.  Neither system is as inexpensive as the mobile VR systems (currently about $600 for Oculus and $800 for HTC Vive), but let's face it:  when VCRs first came out, they cost that much too.  So while not cheap, not exactly unaffordable, either (as with all things, that is subject to interpretation).

So far as I can tell, HTC Vive is focusing on just their main, tethered system, while Oculus not only has a tethered system - "Rift" - they also appear to be working in conjunction with Samsung, powering their mobile system - "Samsung Gear VR (Powered by Oculus)".  Both Oculus and HTC Vive seem to have a wide listing of games and other apps that are currently available.

With Christmas being just over 3 months away, I cannot help but believe the salvos for the VR wars are just around the corner.  It'll be the old "BETA vs VHS" and "Blu-Ray or HC DVD" debate all over again - "Oculus or HTC Vive"?  Or will there be a 3rd party dark horse that emerges and vanquishes all?

With so many excellent looking titles, such as "Final Approach", do we wait and see who comes out on top?  Or risk buying one just to see it languish and die?  But then, maybe this will be more like the "PlayStation vs WII vs X-Box" debate and just depend on personal preferences and both (or 'all') formats will remain viable options.

Personally, I am currently leaning towards Oculus.  Not just because it is less expensive, and not just because it's developing two systems, but also because HTC Vive is "powered by Steam".  I have nothing against those who love Steam, but for me, personally, I don't like their highly invasive software nor their 'terms and conditions' for its use.

But who knows?  Maybe - just maybe - this will be the "thing" that causes me to finally breakdown and install Steam.

In any event, the VR 'revolution' is about to begin.  And it's caused me to look at my current PC set-up to see if I can actually use it.  Right now, Oculus is saying a should get a new video card.  So, while maybe I'm not quite ready to fork out $600 on a new VR system, I may just be ready to cough up $250 (plus or minus) for a newer video card.

And a newer video card can't hurt any of my existing games...I hope.

* So I suppose I should also mention that PlayStation is developing the PlayStation VR system for, well, PlayStation.

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