Despite a slow year in 2017, virtual reality looks better than ever. For anyone interested in investing in VR, here are impressions, games and future updates for each major platform in 2018.
Sony's PlayStation VR is currently the best-selling VR headset on the market, having sold 2 million units through 2017 thanks to its relatively affordable cost and strong developer support.
While an expensive PC isn't required to use PlayStation VR, anyone interested in the headset will need to invest in either a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro. The $299 base system performs adequately enough, but the $399 PS4 Pro allows for a faster, more stable performance. Both systems require the use of a VR breakout box that connects to the system through both an HDMI and USB cable and provides the system with necessary computing power and tracking data. Additionally, users will need access to a PlayStation camera — usually included with the headset.
The PS VR headset is well-constructed and adjustable, and the included headphones are basic, but they provide good sound and connect to the underside of the headset using a 3.5 mm jack. Any audio snobs can easily connect their headphones for improved sound without interfering with the headband.
While the internal screen boasts a high resolution, most games tend to look a little fuzzy. But games are still playable and developers have done a good job working around any hardware shortcomings. The camera also does a great job of tracking head movements and rarely loses track of which way you're moving.
Exploration-based games such as "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" and "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" can be played in their entirety with VR and are currently exclusive to PlayStation. "Thumper" and "Rez: Infinite" provide stylish, music-based gameplay, and other exclusive games include "RIGS: Mechanized Combat League," "Final Fantasy XV: Monster of the Deep" and the recently released horror experience "The Inpatient."
While Sony hasn't announced any concrete information regarding PS VR, the official PlayStation Blog confirmed that over 50 new titles and experiences will be released for the headset in 2018. These games include "Moss," a storybook action game starring a swashbuckling mouse, and sci-fi adventure game "Obduction."
Additionally, Sony recently filed patents for an updated motion controller, indicating a replacement for the simple and clumsy Move controller could be on the way.
While Oculus Rift costs the same as a PlayStation VR, it represents an increase in quality and requires a powerful PC to use. The headset features a higher resolution screen and is also compatible with the excellent Oculus Touch controllers, that can track hand movements and provide actual analog control, and it feels much better than PlayStation Move's simple button-based movement.
Oculus Rift includes built-in stereo headphones that provide adequate 3-D audio. The headphones really help games with great sound design pop and provide a neat way to be immersed in games. Like the PS VR, the headphones can also be swapped out for better audio.
Oculus Rift features impressive, exclusive gaming experiences: "Robo Recall" is a physics-based action game that challenges you to shoot and smash your way through an army of robot soldiers, "SUPERHOT" challenges players to survive slow-motion shootouts, "Lone Echo" is a story-driven, single-player game set around a space station and "Edge of Nowhere" is a third-person psychological thriller set in Antarctica.
The company recently announced the Oculus Go that will cost $199 and feature an improved screen and external speakers. The Oculus Go won't require a PC connection, but it is much less powerful than the flagship Rift headset. Additionally, Oculus is working on a prototype for next-generation VR and is expected to be as powerful as the current Oculus Rift, without a wired PC connection. The Go is expected to release in early 2018, while the prototype headset doesn't currently have a release date.
The HTC Vive is the most expensive VR headset on the market — and for good reason. While PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift allow some movement in games, the Vive uses several cameras to establish room-scale VR, allowing for deeper immersion in virtual space. Like Oculus Rift, the Vive relies on a beefy PC connection to operate and has an expansive library of games and experiences.
The Vive's 3-D space tracking allows for more natural movement in games and results in less nausea than other major VR headsets. However, the Vive doesn't feature built-in headphones like the Rift.
The Vive's controllers are much larger than any other VR controller but are also more accurate. Each features a trackpad that acts like a thumbstick, allowing for accurate, nuanced movement in games. The controllers can't track individual finger movements but feature a few buttons that allow for rudimentary hand movement.
Thanks to a partnership with Valve, Vive features "Portal Stories VR," based on the popular first-person puzzle game, "Portal." "LA Noire: Case Files" tasks players with investigating crime scenes in 1940s Los Angeles, while "Fallout 4 VR" offers a post-apocalyptic world and compelling story to explore. Finally, "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes" is a party game where a Vive-wearing player describes a VR bomb to the other players, and they must look through a collection of technical documents to figure out how to disarm the explosive.
HTC recently announced the Vive Pro at CES 2018 that will feature an improved screen resolution, built-in headphones and a more streamlined build. The Pro headset also includes two stereoscopic cameras on the headset that can be used to track hand movements for controller-free gameplay. Additionally, HTC will release new "knuckles" controllers, allowing for improved player control as well as an official wireless adapter.