VR Headsets – A comparison

Virtual reality (VR) is a word bandied about much more frequently, and with more VR headsets entering the market it is something that more people will get to experience. Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at the various VR headsets available on the South African market and their costs, and speaks to experts about the best headsets on the market.

Headsets available in South Africa

The below table illustrates ten headsets currently available in South Africa and three headsets that are on the market but not readily available in South Africa, as well as the cost and compatibility of the headsets. There are a number of smaller and lesser known brands that are entering the market that are not mentioned here.

vr-headset-comparison-table

*The prices are accurate as per the retailers listed as of 10 November 2016, and are subject to change.

**Source: My Broadband; Vive.com; Oculus.com (Currently not directly available to the South African market)

What should you look for when purchasing a VR headset?

With so many headsets on the market, it is easy to get overwhelmed and not know which one to choose. Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, advises considering the brand name of the headset you are looking to purchase.

“With the brand name comes an ecosystem, and I know it is an overused term, but with VR at this stage it’s all about the ecosystem and not just about the device itself. That is part of the reason why the Samsung Gear VR is a market leader at the moment and also why the PlayStation VR is likely to be a market leader, because they have this extensive ecosystem,” explains Goldstuck.

Furthermore, Goldstuck reveals that while the HTC Vive appeals to early adopters of the technology and those willing to pay a premium for a quality experience, this model does not really translate into a mass market success. That is because the HTC Vive, as with the Oculus Rift, requires heavy weight equipment (i.e. top spec computers) and the system is not portable.

He adds: “There isn’t really an ecosystem around it whereas the Gear VR has a very extensive ecosystem, and in effect they share the Oculus Rift ecosystem.”

If you use the Samsung Gear VR, you have access to the Oculus Rift environment and library on the Samsung S7 range of phones, which you do not have with most other brands or options, according to Goldstuck.

With regards to portability versus a fixed system, Goldstuck notes that a fixed system offers a better quality experience and level of emersion. However, that does come with the cost of being tethered to a computer. With the mobile headsets, however, there is the issue of battery power. The use of VR is a massive drain on your battery, and if you are not near a charging point, you will require a mobile charger.

Zach Joubert, founder and owner of VRCade, a social virtual reality arcade that offers total immersion games and experiences using the HTC Vive and Oculuc Rift, points out that there are a range of newer and cheaper VR headset models making it onto the market, ranging in price from R300 to R3000 (see table above):

Samsung Gear VR: According to Goldstuck, the Gear VR is taking VR mainstream in South Africa. He notes that VR will be judged by a lot of people according to what the Gear VR can deliver. However, while this offers a decent VR experience, it is not a high definition experience.

Google cardboard: It’s not the most comfortable device but the Google cardboard offers users an idea about what VR is really like without having to purchase the expensive equipment. Goldstuck adds: “What they do is they make VR accessible to almost anybody. So you can get the experience in virtual reality, but you are not going to get the quality that will truly dazzle. And that’s the real drawback of Google cardboard. But for certain experiences it is good enough.”

Google cardboard is being used as a marketing tool by companies. They are creating branded Google cardboard headsets with their company logo and give it away for free.

Vodafone Smart VR: Various cell phone brands appear to be following Samsung’s lead by introducing their own branded VR headsets, bundled with one of their smartphone offerings. Goldstuck reveals that the Vodafone Smart VR is essentially a low cost virtual reality headset, which is bundled with the Vodacom Smart Platinum 7 smartphone.

“From what I can gather it is the lowest quality experience you will get in a VR headset in this country at the moment. I’m talking here about a commercial VR headset, and why I mention commercial is because the Google cardboard options are fairly widely available, but you can’t call those a commercial vehicle,” says Goldstuck.

PlayStation VR: Goldstuck sees this new entry as offering consumers an amazing experience when used with the right content. The headset is designed for use with the PlayStation 4. The quality is not as good as the HTC Vive, according to Goldstuck, and the Gear VR offers better value for money. However, Goldstuck does not see the PlayStation VR as being at a disadvantage due to its being solely designed for use with the PlayStation 4.

Experience VR on a budget

If you want to experience VR, but don’t have the money to purchase a headset, there are options available. VRCade at the V&A Waterfront is offering you the opportunity to play VR games with friends, or on your own, using the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift.

The prices are as follows:

R250 per hour single player/multi player per station

R250 per hour for a shared station (spilt your time with a friend however you choose)

Joubert highlights that they are in the process of opening a VRCade at Vodacom World in Midrand. Click here for more information on VRCade.