VR Buying Guide 2018

With gift-giving holidays coming up and new VR hardware and software constantly being announced, I thought I’d write up a brief guide with my own suggestions for those currently in the market for a Virtual Reality system (current as of December 2018).

The choice is complicated by different options, price points, and the timing of release dates for new hardware, but there are 3 main options if you’re looking for the highest quality consumer-level VR experience:

  1. Oculus Rift
  2. HTC Vive / Vive Pro
  3. Playstation 4 VR

Let’s get this out of the way: If you already own a Playstation 4, then PS VR is probably the way to go, in terms of bang for your buck ($300-$400 plus the cost of games).

All else being equal, I prefer the Oculus Rift over the HTC Vive, largely because of the hand controllers, which are MUCH more natural and intuitive.  (There are definitely those who prefer the Vive, but I’m not currently one of them, and this is MY buying guide, not theirs! 🙂

The new-ish Vive Pro definitely comes out on top in terms of specs, but the difference between it and the original Vive is incremental, not transformational (Engadget refers to it as a remastering rather than a sequel) , and the improvements just don’t justify the additional cost IMO. You will find multiple articles out there that essentially say the same thing.  If you’re buying a new system, the original Vive will cost you $500, while the Vive Pro will cost you $1100.  And that assumes you already have a PC and a powerful graphics card. But if you have money to burn and want the headset with the best technical spec out there, the Vive Pro should be your choice.

The Vive and the Rift are still really PC-only systems for the most part, and also require you to have a pretty powerful graphics card.  If you have a Mac: I have read different things about compatibility between the Mac and the Vive or Rift, but I haven’t seen anything to make me think that either would be a good idea right now. Neither Oculus nor HTC officially support Mac, and even though I know people who have gotten them to work together, there’s still little to nothing for Mac in terms of VR gaming, which is still people’s biggest reason for buying VR systems.  (Check out this article: https://machow2.com/best-vr-headset-mac/ ) This means that if you’re buying an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you’ll probably need to buy a PC and a decent graphics card to go with it. This will cost you an additional $700-$4000 depending on how much computing power you’re willing to pay for.  So if you’re a Mac user and you’re specifically interested in VR gaming, your best bet might be to buy a PS4 plus the VR headset, camera, and controllers (about $700 total).

A step down from those systems would be the Oculus Go, which is nothing to sneeze at and does have plenty of games available as well as other good software (I’m a huge fan of watching Netflix on the Oculus Go while I lie flat on my back in bed, for example), but it has several weaknesses: you can only use 1 hand controller, you won’t be able to play most of the VR games you’ve heard of, it’s not as powerful as the systems above, and when you’re in VR, you can only turn around, but not move forward or backward in space (hopefully that makes sense). But it doesn’t require a computer, it’s not attached to a cable, and it’s only $200-$250 total (plus the cost of any games you want to buy). Since there’s no required computer and it doesn’t need to be attached to a cable, the mobility of the Go is a really nice feature. You could even use it on a airplane flight or train ride.

In between the Oculus Rift and the Oculus Go is the Oculus Quest, which has been announced and heavily hyped, but remains unreleased.  This is probably what I would  recommend as a top choice if it were already available for purchase.  I plan to buy 2-3 of them for the library when they come out next year, and I’ll certainly be writing a blog post about them here when I do.

So, finally, my recommendations:

  1. If you already own a Playstation 4, strongly consider a Playstation VR (https://www.bestbuy.com/site/sony-playstation-vr-borderlands-2-vr-and-beat-saber-bundle/6316189.p?skuId=6316189
  2. If money were no object, I’d say get an Oculus Rift and a PC with a good enough graphics card. That will currently cost you $350 for the Rift + a minimum of about $700 for the computer/graphics card combo. Get a desktop PC, not a laptop PC in order to maximize ROI. (see https://www.oculus.com/rift/oculus-ready-pcs/ but there are other sites out there that also list Oculus-ready PCs, like https://tinyurl.com/ybq2qym3.  Of course, the more expensive PCs will deliver a better performance.  I don’t have much experience with the lower end machines they have so I can’t specifically comment on what quality of experience they provide.)
  3. If you can wait (and there’s no specific release date yet, we just know they’ve said it will come out in 2019), the Oculus Quest seems extremely promising but comes out next year, probably in the Spring.  (https://www.oculus.com/quest/ for more info)
  4. If you want something right now that’s cheaper than the Rift or PS4 VR, and something less powerful than the Rift/Vive will suffice (see weaknesses listed above), get the Oculus Go,  http://a.co/d/bxf16vM

I hope this was helpful. Feel free to stop by the media lab to ask me any follow up questions or ask for further clarification.  And of course the library owns the Oculus Rift, several Oculus Go’s, the HTC Vive, the HTC Vive Pro if you’d like to try before you buy.

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