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Virtual reality tries again
Don’t call it a comeback

04/28/16
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



 Let’s take all of reality virtual, as the consumer electronics industry is attempting to do.

VR headsets were all the rage at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in January. Just about every company, it seemed, had hardware to exhume virtual reality from its 1990s grave and make it cool again(?). With today’s more powerful computers and smartphones, maybe it’ll actually catch on.
Facebook is certainly hoping it does. The social network acquired Oculus, one of the pioneers of today’s VR market, for $2 billion in 2014. It’s only this summer, though, that Oculus is finally shipping its signature product, the Oculus Rift. The $600 headset comes with an infrared sensor to track your movements, a one-hand remote, integrated headphones, and an Xbox controller.
Rift requires a fairly powerful PC, one with 8GB of RAM, HDMI video output, and three USB 3.0 ports. It’s nothing most serious gamers won’t already have, but it’s not designed for use with an entry-level laptop.
One other company taking the expensive-as-all-get-out route is HTC, best known for its pretty good smartphones. The Vive is $800 and doesn’t need quite as beefy a PC. It also includes two one-hand controllers and two motion-trackers. There’s a camera on its front so that actual reality can be mixed with virtual reality.
Too pricey? Two recent Android phones offer VR accessories, but they’re only (officially) compatible with those phone brands.
First we have the LG 360 VR, made for use exclusively with the LG G5 smartphone. It’s $200 through cell phone carriers and connects to a G5 via a USB-C cable. Like the Rift and Vive, it has dual displays inside, one for each eye. Reviewers haven’t been overly impressed, as the headset is designed more like thick goggles, allowing some light to seep in.
Then there’s the Samsung Gear VR, which was offered for free with Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge purchases this spring. It’s $100 sold separately, and uses its accompanying phone not only for computing but for display. You snap the phone into the headset for a 96-degree field of view — somewhat less than other headsets with their own twin displays inside.
For the truly cheap, there are a number of handheld and strap-on headsets that work with Google’s Cardboard VR platform. They range from $15 to $40 and are made from actual cardboard or plastic with lenses inside. A phone slides in to function as the display. For some reason, the models linked at google.com/cardboard don’t have straps, so you need to hold them to your face. Maybe they figure you’ll be using controls on the device the whole time anyway?
The best value, though, is probably the Zeiss VR One for $120. It also works with Cardboard, and though it’s more expensive than many (literal) cardboard headsets, it supports interchangeable trays for many common smartphones. Zeiss offers CAD models of these trays for users to get 3-D printed.
So why would you want VR, anyway? Mostly to play more immersive games. You can also explore 360-degree photos and interact with friends in virtual meeting spaces. There’s no real killer app yet, but keep your eyes open. No, seriously, the goggles do nothing if your eyes are closed.
 
It’s always totally real following @CitizenjaQ on Twitter. 





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