Virtual Reality is beginning to transform education, healthcare, business and entertainment in ways never before thought possible. If you’ve ever tried VR, you know what it’s like to be a digital adventurer, completely immersed in simulated environments. While this reality-shifting technology does offer many useful applications, up until now, it has come at a hefty cost.
A new type of VR commonly referred to as “standalone” or “world-scale” VR, is surfacing in tech conventions, movie theaters, VR arcades and even Microsoft stores. Previously, VR involved a tedious setup of external sensors (which might even have to be drilled into your wall) and the risk of tripping over long cables connected to a bulky $2,000 PC. A defining feature of standalone VR is that there are no external sensors because all the sensors and accelerometers are actually built-in to the headset itself. This is known as “inside-out” tracking.
HTC Vive Focus
While currently only releasing in the Chinese market, the Vive Focus is HTC’s second HMD (head mounted display), coming after the HTC Vive. The original Vive was complicated to set up, but it did offer the best quality experiences with flawless tracking of your physical movements.
This time around with the Focus, HTC seeks to dominate a more casual consumer-oriented market, and has made the device more affordable and PC-less. A noticeable problem with the first Vive was its weight, which has definitely been resolved with the much lighter Focus.
The Focus is controlled with a single remote that has a clickable trackpad and two buttons. The control scheme is very intuitive for first time VR users to pick up, but offers less interactive possibilities than the double controllers on the original Vive. Likely because of its small form factor, this type of remote is becoming a trend among all the new standalone headsets. The Focus comes in two colors, Electric Blue and Almond White.
Playing Wonderglade on the Daydream View.
Photo: © Rylan J. Daniels
Daydream View by Google
“Dream with your eyes open” is the slogan Google uses to explain its newest HMD, the Daydream View. Similarly to the Google Cardboard, the View requires a high-end Android phone to be inserted into the device.
In this way, the View acts more like a viewer (hence the name) that holds up the phone up close to your face. Right out of the box, it may well have the biggest content library out of all the headsets, since it runs on Android with VR apps from the Play Store.
If you have a Google Chromecast, one of the coolest features is that you can stream the games you’re playing in VR directly to a TV, so that your friends can cheer you on at a party! The View should be the most attractive choice to Android users wanting to use their mobile devices to their maximum potential.
It comes in three colors, Charcoal, Fog, and Coral, which cleverly complements the design of Google’s other hardware products, especially the Google Home.
The acquisition of Oculus by Facebook in 2012 for $2 billion is often credited with triggering the modern VR revolution. Since then, Oculus has released the Oculus Rift and in collaboration with Samsung, the mobile Gear VR.
The company’s upcoming release, the untethered Oculus Go, aims to democratize VR for the masses. Most excitingly, Mark Zuckerberg announced at Oculus Connect, Oculus’s annual developer conference, that his goal is for 1 billion people to have access to VR.
According to Zuckerberg, Oculus Go is the first step in “finding the sweet spot” between quality and affordability. This aligns with Facebook’s mission of making the world more connected through social media.
In addition, Facebook Spaces, a VR version of Facebook, has already been released to the public.
The first generation of VR devices was geared towards a group of early adopters. These people didn’t think twice about the cost and the various setup challenges.
With standalone VR, tech companies are appealing to a broader audience of people who are not necessarily as familiar with the technology, but are intrigued with its application.
The first generation of modern consumer VR HMDs was a critical step towards the developing of interactive VR content. HTC, Google and Facebook are showing that the key to widespread adoption of virtual reality technology started with high-end devices, but will be fulfilled with simpler, cheaper and integrated (all-in-one) headsets.