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The State of VR at the end of 2017

2017 has been a huge year for VR, but it's not quite there yet.

  • Text: Sam Bishop

Virtual reality is nothing new. As a concept, it's been around as long as computers have, and in gaming we've seen it attempted multiple times before the current wave we're in (remember Nintendo's Virtual Boy?), although now we're in a totally new era where it's being considered as more of a plausible reality. Start-up businesses are emerging, solely dedicated to the medium and its applications in the real world, and gaming companies are investing heavily in both the hardware and the games themselves to try and make use of this new technology, but just where are we at now with VR?

Well, we'll leave all the business side of things to those who know best and focus solely on the games, the ones we've been playing a lot of on different headsets. Speaking of which, there are the three main ones - HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PSVR - going from most to least expensive respectively and each offering its own benefits and drawbacks. The HTC Vive will set you back around £600, so this is really for those who know that they want this option, while the PSVR comes in at closer to £300, with Oculus about £100 more expensive. There are of course others like Google Daydream, but if we're talking specifically gaming, we're best sticking with these three.

Here's where the problem arises for a lot of people - it's just too expensive. This isn't exactly a new take on the matter, but it's worth repeating that, even at the end of 2017 with manufacturers and retailers cutting prices, the headsets still come at a price mark way above what people would spend on what they consider a 'risk'. Take the PSVR, for instance, which is by far the cheapest, but you still need a PS4 (ideally a PS4 Pro for maximum performance) to make the best use out of your shiny new headset, which drives the cost up even higher if you're not already an owner.

What we're seeing more of is testing sessions for VR, however. A number of retailers worldwide (as well as companies like PlayStation themselves) are now hosting sessions where potential buyers can come in and get a short, snappy taste of VR with big releases, but that's not all, as at conventions like E3 and EGX in the UK the latest VR games are on show as well. Location-based VR is also starting to become a thing (and hopefully more of these will be high-quality). These kinds of experiences are necessary to give the casual user a taste of what they might be spending a lot of money on, either for themselves or for others.

Testing sessions are great for letting users get to grips with the new technology.

Testing VR before buying is also entirely necessary for another reason: motion sickness. This has been a problem that has plagued VR since its infancy and isn't helped by the fact that it depends mostly on two factors, one being whether the player has the stomach to handle it, and the other being whether the game itself is well-optimised. RIGS, for example, saw a lot of users complain about motion sickness, while Skyrim VR had fewer complaints. Admittedly RIGS was a faster game, but perhaps that's part of the problem, that fast games don't work all that well in VR... yet.

To talk about the headsets in particular, if you were to ask those who have used all the big three, a lot would tell you that the HTC Vive is the best, while the PSVR comes in last place. There are a number of reasons why the Vive has this advantage, but one of the main ones is room-scale VR, which means you can walk around your room while using the headset and the game will tell you via sensors when you're approaching the edge of your real-world room. Of course, this requires clear floor-space and a sizeable room, but for that all-important immersion factor being able to actually walk around is fantastic.

On the other end of the spectrum, the PSVR gets quite a bit of criticism for its tracking. If you've ever tried something fiddly in VR with the Move Controllers you'll know what we're talking about, as fine aiming isn't exactly its strong suit. Again this is helped by having a large room so you can be a suitable distance away from the PS Camera, but this isn't always possible for the casual user. It's great that many games allow for controllers alongside the headset, but for the maximum impact you'll often want to have a controller in each hand, be it swinging a sword or shooting some guns.

As we stand here on the cusp of 2018, it's not as if any of these points have changed drastically. The PSVR is still the cheapest option of the big three, with drawbacks because of it, and the HTC Vive still has its big advantages to match the price tag. It should be noted, though, that the PSVR is by no means a bad option, as it's only by extensive use of the other two that you begin to notice some minor niggles with the PSVR experience.

The HTC Vive has a big price tag, but for many it's worth it.