Is a VR Headset Worth Buying in 2017?

When Virtual Reality launched in late 2016, we all knew it wasn’t going to immediately take the industry by storm. Oculus (or Facebook, if you like) and Valve/HTC released their respective headsets tentatively, trickling them out onto the market to gauge adoption, while Sony went full-hog with its PlayStation VR headset.

Nearly a year on, and the headsets have seen their first price drops, potentially opening them up to the majority of people who weren’t prepared to invest the best part of $1000 on the devices. So with the lower point of entry, is VR worth buying at the tail end of 2017?

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One of the biggest questions for those who held off from buying straight into VR was whether, like so many things in the fickle generation, it was just a trend. It could be something that would come and go like Google Glass and Pokemon Go.

Well you can stop worrying about that right now. The VR market is alive and healthy. On PC, Oculus and Vive sales are meeting expectations, although the more expensive Vive (which saw a permanent $200 price cut recently) continues to dominate the Oculus sales-wise. The Vive is, by most accounts, seen as the qualitatively superior headset, bolstered by its ties to the all-dominant Steam platform as opposed to the Oculus Rift where the majority of its best titles are in the Oculus Store. The Rift is still compatible with Steam games, of course, but many more developers prioritize compatibility with the Vive.

If the prospect of picking between a Vive and Oculus Rift terrifies you, lest the one you pick ends up flopping, your safest bet is PlayStation VR. Sony’s headset has sold in excess of one million units, exceeding Sony’s expectations, is cheaper than its rivals, and has a ton of support from Sony and developers. What’s more, you don’t need a powerful PC to run it – just a regular old PS4.

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On mobile, meanwhile, the Gear VR continues to go from strength to strength, bolstered by the fact that Samsung likes to ship its headsets free with its latest flagship phones. Obviously, the experiences you’ll get on Gear VR won’t be as breathtaking as those on consoles or PC, but with older headsets going for under $50 and the latest ones for not much over $100 (with a controller), it’s a great way to dip your virtual toe in the virtual waters.

VR is here to stay. There’s no question about that.

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If you’re looking for the ultimate VR experience in terms of visual fidelity, then really you’re looking at getting yourself a powerful PC. The good news is that it’s cheaper to get a VR Ready PC today than it was a year ago, with technology having moved on and those GPUs that cost over $300 before now being in the region of $200. Case in point is the deceptively powerful AMD Radeon RX 480, which passes the VR test with flying colors, or the more powerful Nvidia GTX 1060, which is a similar price.

In short, if you need to make incremental upgrades to your PC to get it VR Ready, it’s not as hard as it was. If you’re building from scratch, you’re also looking at spending about 30% less than you would’ve last year. To give you an idea, ready-made VR Ready PCs these days can be nabbed for around $600. And the good thing is a VR Ready PC isĀ more than ready for your regular gaming.

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The question of integrating full-on proper games into VR remains as pertinent today as it did a year ago. There are plenty of compelling bite-sized VR experiences out there, but do these fifteen-minute slices of virtual escapism really justify the point of entry? Indie developers seem to love VR, but why aren’t the big publishers with their millions getting involved and leading the way?

That may be about to change, however, as Bethesda is hard at work on VR versions of Skyrim, Fallout 4 and DOOM (coming first to PSVR, then to Vive, with no Oculus news as yet). These releases will give us an idea of just how well VR works with the kinds of games we really want to play using it.

In the meantime there are plenty of solid titles to choose from – Eve Valkyrie, Rez Infinite and Kittypocalypse to name a few – and if you’re feeling moddy then there are plenty of guides on how to get triple-A titles like Alien: Isolation and Skyrim to work with VR, though these are inevitably imperfect.

However, VR is still waiting for its showstopper titles.

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VR is alive, well, and a bit cheaper and more accessible than before. That’s not saying all that much, however, as it’s still a pricey bit of kit for PC owners in particular. At the same time, it still feels like a fledgling technology in many ways. Cabling and weight continue to hinder VR from being the truly liberating experience it promises to be, although plucky developers are working on all kinds of solutions to these problems (such as wireless adapters for VR headsets).

If you were apprehensive before, there’s much less reason to be apprehensive now, but it’s yet to reach that perfect balance between price and great content that makes it a truly must-have gadget. With that said, it’s making progress, and there’s no reason to think it won’t get there eventually.

Keep an eye out towards Christmas, and the price might just drop to a point where it’s virtually irresistible.

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