Until recently, virtual reality had long been an abstract idea, mostly reserved for futuristic scenes in the movies. Although innovators in the 90s tried to breathe some life into the technology, it didn’t take long for the experimental phase to end and the dormancy phase to begin.
Today, the age-old idea of immersive entertainment is no longer a mere concept, but a practical way for users to experience both real and virtual worlds, right from home. Major tech companies like Sony, HTC, Samsung, and Google have invested huge amounts of money into giving eager consumers a decent variety of VR gadgets to root through and pick what pleases their hearts and wallets.
As virtual reality evolves into a fully baked industry, however, there’s a huge debate raging on if and when it will achieve mainstream success. A primary hindrance to the widespread adoption of VR is its seemingly absurd price, which effectively makes the technology a fantasy for many would-be customers. For instance, while the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are the best VR headsets on the current market, but the two will set you back $600, and that’s excluding the high-end PC you will need to process virtual reality content. You can enjoy seamless virtual reality gaming with the significantly cheaper PlayStation 4 console, but at $399, the PS VR headset isn’t exactly pocket-friendly either.
For the bargain lovers, therefore, premium VR is more than an arm’s length away. But thanks to mobile, you can still get in on the virtual reality action for a fraction of the price. All you require is a cheap-as-chips headset and the smartphone in your pocket.
Mobile VR Today
The current mobile virtual reality setup uses your smartphone’s hardware as the engine, and the headset to provide the visuals. Mobile VR headsets come with varying designs, but at their core, they’re glorified lens cases that turn your phone’s screen into a 360-degree display.
Because of the relatively simpler technology, the mobile VR market presents a wider variety of headsets than the PC scene. Here are some that have stood out from that ever-expanding bunch.
Samsung Gear VR
If you’ve just bought a recent Samsung phone, it could be worth it to dig a little deeper into your wallet and pick up the newest Gear VR. The Gear VR range of headsets has come quite a long way since the first gadget hit the shelves in 2015. This year’s version, which was released alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8 in the spring, addresses several issues that marred previous models, such as the annoying screen fog and having little room for glasses wearers. The device also includes a hand-held controller, which adds to the immersion.
Most importantly, Samsung and Oculus are continually adding new games, apps, short films and TV shows to the Gear VR, making it never-ending fun for anyone that gets their hands on one.
Google Daydream View
The Daydream View wins the hearts of many mobile VR enthusiasts for its comfortable, lightweight and attractive design. It comes in three different colors, and while its controller is not as functional as the Gear VR’s, it does well to mitigate the need for a third-party device.
In addition to the ever-increasing content, Google has announced that the headset will be supporting more smartphones shortly, which means that those without a Daydream-compatible phone will be able to make use of the headset.
The Google HTC standalone headset is set for release before the turn of the year, but until then, there’s still life for the Daydream View.
Many pioneering devices eventually pave the way for more advanced gadgets, but surprisingly, the Cardboard has done nothing of the sort. Google has recently redesigned the device to feature a better control button, support for 6-inch smartphones and a simple three-step assembly procedure. Interestingly, the company has also opened up the platform to iOS developers.
The official Cardboard may seem a bit costly, considering what you’re getting, but there are plenty of third-party builds out there, some which cost as little as $5. Just look for the headsets with a “Works with Cardboard” badge.
Some Worthy Alternatives
Samsung and Google may be leading the mobile VR campaign, but other players are making significant contributions as well. If neither the Gear VR, the Daydream View or the Cardboard tickle your fancy, you could take your chances with the Merge VR Goggles, View-Master VR, and FreeFly VR Beyond.
Another excellent choice, the Zeiss VR One Plus is great if you want a gadget that’s as comfortable as the Daydream and works perfectly with both iOS and Android.
Mobile VR in the Future
Both tech analysts and developers are in agreement that mobile virtual reality is the VR technology that will break into the mainstream. Mobile has the upper hand over PC VR because it has the power to scale. While the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift require high-end VR-ready computers, there are billions of smartphones on the market today, with largely varying price tags, for all to buy.
There’s also the aspect of the distribution ecosystem. Mobile apps are far easier to find, coming from sources like Google Play, the App Store, Steam, Oculus/Gear VR store, and the web. PC VR developers, on the other hand, only distribute their content through their stores on Steam and the Oculus Store. With such an extensive network of distribution, mobile could build a more dominant VR culture.
Room for Improvement
Smartphones and headsets are advancing at a breathtaking pace but the mobile VR experience still has a long way to go before it can pose significant competition to its pricier PC counterpart.
For instance, although many high end smartphones can handle the minimum requirement of 60 frames per second for smooth VR, improvements are still needed to reduce eye strain. The headsets could also use position tracking sensors to detect standing, sitting and walking. And, because smartphones are the primary communication device for many users, there needs to be a practical way to handle phone calls and notifications during VR use.
Regarding content, mobile VR needs more quantity, quality, and variety. Creators are constantly experimenting, however, and VR content for mobile platforms is bound to evolve explosively in the coming years.
Virtual reality is still in its infancy, and some experts are raising questions on whether it’s progressing fast enough. Nevertheless, Mobile VR is showing immense promise for the future. With the mobile gaming market recently surpassing the PC and console share of the industry, it’s likely only a matter of time before the same happens with VR HMDs, and mobile cements its place at the top of virtual reality innovation.
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