VR takes another leap closer to reality

As quality and affordability grow closer to becoming equals, the potential for VR for the masses grows closer as well.

Nic Sloan, Co-Editor

   Almost fifty years ago, hitting a pixel back and forth on a screen became revolutionary, and it also came packed in a 6-foot-tall cabinet. Now today, we can be inside the game, using a device ten times smaller. Virtual reality (VR) has been an up and growing trend for the past few years, and as each year passes, VR seems to take another leap into mainstream gaming.

   Back in May of this year, Oculus released the Oculus Quest, a standalone, wireless, high grade VR headset. The Quest was released along with the Oculus Rift S, an improved model from their previous tethered PC powered model. But what separates the Quest from all the other VR headsets that have come before it? The Quest meets that line between affordability and quality. One of the largest selling points of the Quest is the fact that it can play most PC level VR experiences, using it’s built in components, and wirelessly, all-in-one. All for a price of $400.

   Chances are you’ve tried VR yourself. Back in 2014 Google released Google Cardboard, a very simple platform that allowed users to try out the world and possibilities of VR using a piece of cardboard with a couple of lenses. It utilizes smartphones to play games, watch videos, etc. However, the Cardboard has its cons. Well for one… it’s cardboard. This means the headset isn’t capable of much, and most of the headsets (besides third party adaptations) require users to hold the device to their heads. Software wise, Google Cardboard isn’t capable of much. Considering it uses the power from a phone, and one is limited to the device’s application store, the cardboard could only be used to play small, low resolution games. Overall, Google Cardboard is more of a novelty item, not meant to entertain or change the video game industry.

   However, on the other side of the spectrum is the high-end VR systems. Companies like Oculus and HTC Vive are two of the largest VR companies today. Their headsets are the top tier of VR gaming and come packed with features. Just to name a few: full six degrees of freedom (6DoF), full motion tracking, boundary or “guardian” systems, motion touch controllers, advanced next-gen optics, and so much more. If you’ve tried one of these headsets, you probably understand a lot more about what VR is truly capable of. 

    “It feels so real,” Orlando Martinez (12) said,  “Every game you play feels like you are actually in it and experiencing it”.

   And if just a headset, sensors, and controllers aren’t enough to revolutionize the experience, there are some companies taking it to the next level. HTC Vive has additional body trackers that allow users to track and transform their whole body into VR. Other companies have been trying their hands at VR treadmills. These treadmills allow players to walk in the VR world with their physical legs, rather than using a controller to control movements.

   So if VR gaming is so revolutionary and outstanding, why doesn’t everyone own one? And why hasn’t VR gaming taken over as the new meta? Even these big brand next generation VR headsets have their downfalls.Like most new and fun products, the price tag isn’t cheap. The HTC Vive, for example, runs a base price of $500 for the most basic kit. The Oculus Rift S runs a base price of $400. And one of the newest sets, the Valve Index runs at $999. This doesn’t account for the additional prices of games and software, or more external accessories. The price problem ties right into another dilemma as well. These headsets run off of “PC power,” but not any old PC. We’re talking high-end $1000+ computers. So all-in-all if you want to run a decent VR system, you’re looking at a minimum of roughly $1500 give or take. 

   Thanks to the price problem, most consumers cannot afford to try out the true capabilities of virtual reality. So where do the lines between affordability and quality meet? Well since the dawn of VR, that answer has been nowhere… until now.

     The Oculus Quest is the first VR headset of its kind to pave the way to “VR for the masses,” as many developers like to call it. And it shows. Since the release of Quest all the way back in May, stores have been sold out within days, sometimes hours after restocking. At its initial release, the Quest sold out from Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and Newegg in both the 64gb and 128gb versions. This Quest craze is no surprise considering the capability and versatility of it.

“Some of the pros are: it has everything build into it screen, sound, controllers, and games. It’s wireless so it makes it portable and very convenient. It has very good graphics better than I expected it to be. The sound it very good it sounds better than my console. You can play with your friends and talk to them with the built in microphone. It has safety sensors to protect you so you don’t run into things. Very easy to use”. Orlando Martinez (12) said.

   Yet as with all things that seem too good to be true, the Oculus Quest has its downfalls. Perhaps it largest downfall, and part of the reason many are still skeptical towards the Quest is it’s still not PC power. Because of such, higher powered games like Skyrim VR for example, require more power than the Quest is necessarily capable of delivering. However, the Quest still provides a vast library, just not quite every game available to PC. Another problem that comes along with being an all-in-one headset is the battery life. Right now as it stands, the Quest can provide about only two to four hours of playtime, which is usually enough for many, but for the more long-session gamers, it’s quite the hinderance.

   However, the big takeaway from the Quest is the opportunities it opens up. Not even a year before the release of the Quest many skeptics didn’t think VR would ever be able to become available for the masses due to the price, but the Quest brought that to reality. Albeit while the Quest isn’t the perfect VR system, it’s still a very quality headset and is up to date and compatible with other VR headsets on multiplayer games. But despite its flaws, the Quest proves to both the public and developers alike that affordable, and widely available VR is very possible, and closer to the present than we ever could’ve expected.