The search for a stand-out headset
Traditionally, the best quality VR experiences have been limited to PC-driven tethered headsets such as the HTC VIVE or the Oculus Rift. But now, standalone headsets are launching thick and fast. Here Jamie Currie, Lead Developer, compares three of the main players: the Oculus Go, the VIVE Focus and the Pico Neo.
The Oculus Go
Let’s start with the pros and first has to be the price. At around £200 all in, this headset is much more affordable than others. The screen is also good quality, it’s roomy and comfortable to wear and it doesn’t overheat in the same way a phone-powered headset does, which is a definite advantage. Battery life is good too. The hand controller makes it easy to point and click to operate once the headset is set up – and all of these things mean it’s great for consumer use at home. However, for something sold as standalone, it’s disappointing you have to download the Oculus app to your own smartphone to set up the headset. This doesn’t help the user experience – and neither does the fact the headset is so completely tied to the hand controller. It’s easy to develop for, but there a few clumsy aspects, such as the fact any apps which are side-loaded directly onto the device are hidden away in the very un-user-friendly ‘Unknown Sources’ section of the device library. It’s also surprising, given the similar design to the Rift, that the Go doesn’t have 6DOF capabilities. So while this is an affordable and fun piece of kit, performance-wise this headset still has some way (ironically) to go.
The VIVE Focus
The standalone version of the HTC VIVE is striking but it’s divided the team here. Some like it, some think it looks like some kind of alien. It’s also not universally comfortably and I wasn’t the only one who actually found it hard to get the screen to focus! But like all VR headsets, this will come down to personal comfort/preference. Once it’s on, the headset is well-balanced and it’s quick and easy to access great content – the undeniable advantage of its VR brand heritage. The in-built speakers are very good, helping that feeling of immersion and it follows the VIVE user experience with controllers that are simple to use. That said I can’t find a way to use it without the controller, which is irritating. Like all things VIVE, the visual quality is excellent and the tracking accurate. It’s got a load of exciting content that’s immediately available and will please its fanbase. At over £500, it’s much pricier than the Go but I can see it having a strong future as a gaming console. However, personally I think there’s room for improvement – both in terms of physical design and user experience.
The Pico Neo
The Pico Neo was the first all-in-one headset to offer high-end 6DOF capabilities without any wires and it’s a firm favourite at Immersive. For starters it’s well-designed, both to look at and wear. It’s comfortable, quite light and interestingly they’ve opted for some kind of thin rubber covering rather than the usual padding. This makes it easier to clean and neatly bypasses the question of hygiene that can hang over commercial VR. It’s also easy to use: you just put it on and away you go, without having to rely on external apps or even the hand controller – there’s an option to control the headset through gaze activation and a button on the headset. The screen quality is great – crystal clear visuals with good colours, and the tracking is impressively accurate – there’s no real feeling of dissociation between real-world and virtual-world movement. The only drawback is the battery, which doesn’t last as long as you’d like. But other than that, this headset might have the less well-known name, but it more than keeps up with the VIVE. Now we just need more content.
As it stands, all the headsets have similar capabilities and demonstrate the progress the VR industry is making in terms of creating standalone experiences that measure up to PC-powered ones. The Oculus Go is the cheapest and accordingly offers more limited functionality, while both the VIVE and the Neo are more or less on a par in terms of high quality visuals and tracking. The VIVE has more readily-available content, but the Neo scores highest in terms of physical design and comfort. However, the headset you prefer will ultimately come down to personal preference – essentially which headset you’re happiest to wear for any length of time. For the team at Immersive, the consensus is the Pico Neo. Let’s see what the next generation of standalone headsets bring.