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Getting started with VR

Published: July 8, 2020
Source: Flickr, CC BY 2.0

If you’re looking for an entertainment fix or some digital escapism, the virtual reality products of today can be surprisingly affordable, fun and easy to use. The VR experience provides a unique take on sight and sound, enabling you to watch your favourite films, attend a concert, travel (virtually), play games or simply hang out with friends.

While most people assume VR to be expensive, did you know you can experience VR for as little as a few dollars? Of course, you can also spend thousands on a high-end product, or go for something in between. All these options can get confusing, so let’s take a look at what you’ll get for your money.

Cardboard ($5-$20)

This type of VR headset is very budget friendly because it’s made from, you guessed it… cardboard! These headsets are so cheap because they use your existing smartphone as the screen and processor. Cardboard viewers are ideal if you’re simply looking to dip your toes into the waters of VR, as prices start from as low as a few dollars on sites such as eBay. They come flat packed and all you need to do is fold it together, stick on the included lenses, insert your Android phone or iPhone into the viewer, and launch a compatible app. A handheld controller is not generally included, but you’ll still be able to watch documentaries, play basic games, explore worlds of fantasy and view 360 degree photography reasonably smoothly using the built-in sensors in your phone. Just keep in mind, while Cardboard is handy for a quick VR session, the headsets generally have no padding and are not particularly ergonomic. If you’re on a budget and looking to wear your headset for longer periods it’s worth spending a little extra to go for a slightly better phone-based VR setup.

Phone-based VR ($40-$120)

Source: Flickr, CC BY 2.0

This type of VR setup is the next step up from a Cardboard viewer, and continues to use your existing smartphone for processing power and displaying graphics. You’ll get a comfortable and sturdy headset that your phone inserts into, and in some cases the headset is accompanied by a basic handheld controller. You can enjoy a similar range of apps and immersive videos to the cardboard option, however expect to pay a higher price than the entry level Cardboard offerings, as you are paying for the more durable plastic shell that holds your phone. It is worth noting that phone-based VR products have been dropping in popularity more recently, so many of them have been discontinued, such as the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream.

Untethered headsets ($650-$1100)

An untethered VR headset is a mid-priced option which has the screen and processor built in to the physical headset, meaning you won’t need to insert your smartphone into the headset. In most cases the headset can be quickly set up using an app on your phone or computer, depending on the model. The HP Reverb G2, Acer OJO 500 and Oculus Quest fall into this category, offering built-in speakers and touch sensitive controllers that can better translate your hand gestures and movements into the virtual world. This option provides a comfortable, good quality experience suitable to extended VR sessions – and you won’t break the bank.

Tethered headsets ($400-$3000+)

A tethered headset allows you to enjoy a powerful VR experience for situations such as 3D gaming, while connected to a high performance PC using a cable. While untethered headsets are designed to be power efficient and reasonably lightweight you’ll be missing out on the superior graphics processing available when physically connected to a big, powerful (and heavy!) PC. The higher priced tethered options provide the most realistic, immersive experience available, offering an ultra high quality screen built into the headset, wireless controllers to interact with the virtual world and superior head and movement tracking that a phone-based option simply can’t match. Some examples of popular tethered VR headsets are the HTC Vive Cosmos, Valve Index, Playstation VR (for use only with the Sony Playstation console) and the Oculus Rift (note: the Oculus Quest mentioned in ‘Untethered headsets’ is unique in that it also allows tethering to a PC). They all have built-in headphones, a microphone and the option to use handheld touch controllers. You’ll just need to make sure you have a powerful PC to provide adequate processing power for your VR headset.

When you’re using virtual reality gear at home you’ll need tech that’s up to the task! We offer remote support if you’re experiencing any technical problems with your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop, as well as an in-home WiFi assessment service to help you get the most from your internet connection. If you want more time to play and less time to worry about the technical stuff, get in touch with us!