The Boons and Banes of VR Gaming

Jared Cacace, Staff Writer

Virtual reality, or VR for short, has begun getting people more and more enamored with its concept as it slowly tries to become more and more mainstream. It has long been glorified in various forms of media such as TV shows and books. But have we really reached a point where VR has become fun, feasible, and up to the standards of which we have seen on the big screen? Well… kind of.

VR gaming is now an option on multiple platforms including the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive for your computer, and Playstation VR for the Playstation 4 console. There are also various headsets available for mobile smartphones, but these are not the premium setup when it comes to VR as it is not as in-depth or powerful as dedicated console and PC experiences. For now, let’s focus on the two VR systems for the PC, the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The Oculus Rift will run you $600 at retail price while the HTC Vive will set you back at a price point of $800. These prices also do not factor in the fact that you will need to have a PC that is capable of running these systems and have requirements that will require a pretty powerful piece of hardware and could potentially set you back even more if your “rig” is not already up to snuff. The Oculus Rift can be set up within about 20 minutes and is not too complex in its setup procedures. The HTC Vive, however, has more components right out of the box that requires more time and extra calibration in order to take full advantage of the scope and play style that it has to offer and can take almost an hour to completely set up. What you get from these two different price points and set up procedures could be considered two completely different experiences. The HTC Vive utilizes a “full body” approach to VR and involves walking around an established play space that you dictate when setting up the Vive while using the two motion controllers that come with the console and could easily be considered the more immersive experience. The Oculus Rift requires a multitude of add ons in order to replicate this level of immersion including the Oculus Touch controllers ,which do not come included with the system and instead comes with an Xbox controller, a sensor that comes with the Oculus Touch controllers, and a recommended third sensor from Oculus so that the system can get a true sense of the environment surrounding it. This can get quite expensive as the touch controllers are now $99 and a sensor costs $59 a pop.

As for the PS4’s VR venture, the base set will cost you $400 (more on that later). PS VR, as Sony has dubbed their Playstation 4 extension, is just that: an add-on to the Playstation 4 console that allows you to play VR games. The allure of this VR setup is that instead of requiring a high end PC, the source of the power is a gaming console that is much cheaper than a powerful computer; not to mention that the headset itself is cheaper than its competitors. What’s also great about Sony’s option is that they are a well established video game publisher with a myriad of game developers and companies that would be willing to support their VR endeavor while Oculus and HTC have to make new contacts and get them up to speed, which gave Sony a head start on building a great library of games at or close to launch day.  

One downside, similar to that of the Oculus Rift, is that not all of the required components come with this base set, except unlike Oculus, the components that are missing are required to actually use the VR set and play any games. The extra parts required are the Playstation camera and the Playstation move motion controllers, which all together will set you back almost $140 if you do not already have these items and would like them new. Another setback for this VR endeavor pertains to certain technical aspects, namely the motion controls. While in most regards PSVR is up to par with its PC counterparts, a staggering feat considering the gap in power and specs, PSVR struggles with tracking the movement of the player once they begin to actively move about the play area due to only having a single camera account for all of the tracking points on the controllers and headset. For this reason, the system will strongly recommend that you either play sitting down or standing up without much movement besides using the controller. While this works, it is by far not the most immersive experience of the bunch, especially when some claim that the hole near the bridge of the headset does not do an adequate job of sealing out external light which can also put a big drag on the whole experience.

Overall, even with the various grievances and setbacks that some have experienced when using these virtual reality systems, these pieces of hardware can still very much provide a quality VR experience. Some of these options are cheaper than others and thus provide a lesser performance in certain areas as a result. It really all depends on where a consumer would be willing to compromise and to what extent they were invested in experiencing the first true forms of quality VR gaming. So, have we successfully made the jump to virtual reality in video games? In my opinion, while yes we now have virtual reality systems available for purchase, I would say that there are still sizable drawbacks to each option that have not made it a viable option for the vast majority of the mass market. Hopefully these can be remedied in the coming years to the point where a good percentage of consumers can at least consider getting a hold of what could be the next phase of modern gaming.