Virtual Reality can hardly be called a nascent technology any more. Three years in, it’s been around for long enough that we have a pretty good sense of how the market is doing, and its future.
The good news is that VR is continuing to expand, with increasing revenue, growing games catalogs, and more choice at different price points than ever thanks to new headsets like the portable Oculus Quest and high-end Valve Index.
Here we’re going to tell you all you need to know to help decide whether a VR headset is worth buying in 2019.
The VR Market Has Grown in 2019
2017 wasn’t a standout year for VR, but things started picking up in 2018, and 2019 has continued the market’s solid momentum. An IDC report earlier in the year found that AR and VR headset shipments had reached 1.3 million in Q1 2019 – a 27.2% year-on-year increase – with the vast majority of those being VR rather than AR.
VR Games Are Getting Better
When writing our VR report last year, we pointed out that VR was still struggling for top-quality titles, relying on VR ports of popular games like Skyrim, Doom and Fallout 4 to get attention.
Fast forward to 2019, and that’s all changed, with the last year being indisputably the best for VR games development.
Dedicated VR games like Beat Saber, Tetris Effect and Moss all did interesting things with the medium, successfully adapting existing genres like the 3D platformer, rhythm-action game and, well, Tetris, into a convincing VR framework.
The cheapest “premium” option, PSVR, continues to dominate on this front however. It not only tends to get the best titles you see on other platforms, but is also now graced with excellent exclusives like Astro Bot, Farpoint, Derecine, and gritty gangland shooter Blood & Truth. In terms of developer support, Sony still seems well ahead of the curve, even if the PSVR hardware is pretty dated compared to other options.
More Choice than Ever
Alongside continuing price drops and newer versions of PC-dependent headsets, Oculus and HTC have been making cheaper “standalone” versions of their VR headsets in the forms of the Oculus Go and HTC Vive Focus.
There are now pricey but powerful high-end options in the PC space as well, along with a host of super-affordable smartphone VR headsets. In short, you’re spoilt for choice!
The following are the main VR headsets you need to know about.
PC: Oculus Rift ($300) | Oculus Rift S ($400) | HTC Vive ($500)
The standard VR headset options for PC users have now reached some pretty reasonable price points. At this point, the Oculus Rift S looks like the most tantalizing option, given that it’s $100 cheaper than the HTC Vive, and on balance is a similarly powerful piece of kit.
The key differences between the Rift S and the Vive are that the Rift S has a higher resolution at 2560 x 1440 to the Vive’s 2160 x 1200 but a lower refresh rate of 80Hz to the Vive’s 90.
Standalone/Wireless: Oculus Go ($199) | Oculus Quest ($400-$500) | HTC Vive Focus ($600 – Enterprise) | HTC Vive Focus Plus ($800 – Enterprise)
Negating the need for a decent gaming PC, Oculus and HTC now have their own standalone headsets. Strangely, HTC’s headsets are currently aimed exclusively at the enterprise market rather than consumers and gamers, leaving Oculus the option of having the whole market to themselves.
So the main options for consumers here are the Oculus Go and Quest. Is the Quest worth double the price of the Go or more? The Quest clocks a higher resolution at 2880 x 1600 to the Go’s 2560 x 1440, and higher refresh rates of 72Hz to the Go’s 60Hz. The Snapdragon 835 processor in the Quest also packs more ‘oomph’ than the Go.
So the Quest is certainly a more powerful, better-designed piece of kit, but you’ll be paying quite a bit more for it. It’s worth considering that the Oculus Rift S is the same price but utilizes your PC hardware and full PC gaming library.
High-end: HTC Vive Pro ($1100) | Valve Index ($1000)
The new kid on the high-end VR block is the Valve Index. Packing an impressive combined-screen resolution of 2880 x 1600 pixels, with refresh rates of up to 144 Hz. The displays are also LCD, which offer more clarity than the OLED displays of the Vive Pro, Vive and regular Oculus Rift.
The HTC Vive Pro offers spectacular experience with its 2880 x 1600 (615 dpi) resolution at up to 90Hz, and improved ergonomics. You’ll need a very powerful PC to hit those high frame-rates though, and at this point the price makes it hard to recommend over the cheaper and more powerful Valve Index.
Mobile: Gear VR ($100) | Google Daydream ($100) | Pansonite 3D VR Headset ($31) | Many more
The cheapest way to enjoy VR is to get one designed for mobile platforms, where you slot your phone into the headset and use your phone screen as the VR display.
These options may sound makeshift, but with many phones coming with 2560 x 1440 displays featuring AMOLED, IPS and LCD displays, they’re really nothing to be scoffed at.
The Samsung Gear VR remains the best option spec-wise, but there are some surprisingly good “off-brand” headsets on the market, too, at less than half the price. Our pick is the Pansonite 3D Headset if you’re on a tight budget.
VR is evolving. Developers are increasingly savvy about designing games that really complement the VR medium, and the variety of options – from increasingly affordable PC-connected headsets to completely standalone ones – means you’re more likely to find something for you.
Crucially, the market is expanding, with headset sales and investment increasing. This means if you jump in now, you’re not likely to find yourself in the lurch through the VR market crashing.
VR remains something of a fringe technology, but it’s a more interesting fringe than ever in 2019, and at this point there’s really something for everyone out there.