With a flood of low end devices currently presenting themselves as legitimate VR experiences, the VR market is currently still in its infancy. In the present day market, many of the devices on offer simply do not warrant the extra premium they command over more basic experiences, simply for the fact that the marginal conveniences and utility they offer are largely cosmetic and/or nauseating.
The key differences between fully fledged VR experiences offered by the likes of Samsung with the Galaxy VR, HTC with its upcoming Vive, and Oculus with its soon to be released Rift, are primarily based in the hardware. Units are purpose built with software and hardware working in tandem to provide the best possible experience with available technology.
At the low end of the VR market, a great majority of devices simply rely on user-supplied smartphones to power the experience. While this is a very democratic way of bringing VR to the masses, the great problem with designing VR units for phones lies in the multiple different form factors and hardware configurations available among smartphones. Some phones will lack certain sensors needed for input, others will have cheap displays and others will have generally weak hardware insufficient for a seamless experience.
AllChinaTech summarizes the pros and cons of the the main categories of devices currently available on the market.
Google Cardboard & Cardboard-esque contraptions
Google Cardboard USD 4-10
At the lowest end you have that most basic of VR ‘units’ – the Google Cardboard contraptions. Google essentially wanted to bring out something that could allow spectators to preview much of the appeal of a more fully-formed VR experience. In the Cardboard, we have a standard for devices essentially made of cardboard with slot inserts for special optical lenses that provide the 3D illusion. That is it. There are no hardware optimizations or additional sensors. Cardboard contraptions essentially rely on user-supplied smartphones for their hardware.
The main draw for this version of VR is that it can be attained with minimal hassle, and at a very small expense. Using Google Cardboard is largely limited to your tolerance for nausea and a curated set of experiences that can work around the absence of purpose-built hardware. Cardboard works more as an impressive demonstration of the basic concepts of VR rather than a fully-realized experience.
Apart from Google’s limited release of its own Cardboard product, users are able to DIY their own cardboard viewers, and many vendors now sell Cardboard compatible contraptions due to Google having open sourced the design for its Cardboard specification.
3D Cinema Simulation USD 10-40
These devices were chiefly designed for 3D cinema with typically narrower fields of view, head straps and with some even coming supplied with controllers. Many of the slightly more expensive head-mounted displays on the market that you can currently find, particularly in China and through reseller sites, are of this category.
The devices essentially don’t drift far from the Google concept. They’re still basing the experience around user-supplied smartphones and the limitations inherent in ad-hoc VR experiences.
While it might seem like an improvement, by adding a strap to the device, users are given the impression of a freer sense of movement. This is illusory.
Google specifically discourages adding straps to cardboard-esque devices for the simple reason that fast head movements tend to encourage nauseating feelings among users, particularly with non-purpose-built hardware. In addition, at this present stage many of the controllers provided with HMDs do not work consistently across applications, making them largely redundant.
These units work well for their intended purpose – a more comfortable, largely fixed viewing of 3D cinema with minimal head movement. Nothing that regular cardboard can’t do.
Displays that fall into this category include:
the Baofeng Mojing series
LeTV VR Cool 1
Purpose-built hardware software solutions
The cheapest of these units begins at USD 100.
This is the fully fledged VR experience. Field of view limitations, low latency, display quality and hardware/software optimizations, are all taken care of with these solutions. Thanks to the fact they are designed from the ground up to work with select equipment providing perfect software compatibility, these units work to provide the most complete VR experience available. Most of these units come in the form of console or desktop PC-powered configurations, with the Samsung Galaxy VR being the only unit that utilizes a select set of smartphones to power the experience.
As this category has not fully emerged from prototyping, the only devices currently available and designed for the general public include some of the recently released (though largely untested) Chinese units and the Samsung Gear VR. Scheduled for the first quarter of this year are a raft of major releases in this category.
Examples in this category include:
Samsung Gear VR USD 100
DeePoon E2 USD 330
AntVR USD 230
3Glasses D2 Vanguard edition USD 330
Upcoming (Q1 2016)
AllChinaTech is closely following VR trends with our VR report series. Check out our earlier articles on VR below:
- Q&A with Artlord China: How Chinese VR market is different from its American counterpart
- What has Huawei been doing for VR?
- China’s leading media outlet Caixin explores VR journalism
- 7invensun VP: Eye-tracking will elevate your VR experience
- VR developer Noitom to make “breakthrough” in VR experience
- ANTVR CEO: The VR ecosystem in China will be ready in 2016
- VR model room provider expands business to 16 Chinese cities
- FiresVR CEO: Algorithm key to a leading spot in China’s VR space
- Alibaba launches its VR lab to take on Tencent
- LetinVR COO: Making VR entertainment mainstream is a challenge
- VR cloud platform Leke closes Series A+ financing round at USD 4 million
- DeePoon VR CEO: The next five years will be a golden age for VR
- The next killer VR app may come from China: First-hand experience with HTC Vive
- Ling VR CEO: all-in-one VR devices will dominate Chinese market
- 5 Chinese VR companies to watch in 2016
- Be ready for the virtual reality boom