Some of us at Lullabot have been following the Virtual Reality and WebVR scene for a couple of years now. It’s a rich landscape with a lot of interest being thrown into the ring and attracting some high stakes players in the industry. We thought we’d share with you who some of the top hardware companies are in this space and what they’re building to advance the future of VR.
Facebook’s Oculus, and Samsung
Facebook bought Oculus for $2b in March of 2014. Oculus makes a tethered headset called the Rift which uses a Samsung OLED screen, headphones, Xbox and remote controllers, and positional tracking. They also have hand-tracked controllers which will be sold separately.
The Rift has had more than a few versions so far. The Development Kit 1 and 2 (commonly called the DK1 and DK2) were limited in production and sold to developers for building experiences. There were also some prototypes shown off but not released such as the HD prototype, Crystal Cove, and Crescent Bay. The consumer version (shown above) is selling for $599 and will be shipping to consumers in the first and second quarter of this year. That doesn’t include the high-end computer you’ll also need to run this technical marvel.
Samsung partnered with Oculus to produce a mobile headset called the GearVR which uses about five possible Samsung phone models as the screen and processing for apps bought through the Oculus Store which you pay for through Samsung Pay.
The GearVR is the most highly polished VR experience on the market. Samsung’s Oculus store is really locked down the way Apple’s app store is, and you can only use a few different Samsung phones (Note 4, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge plus) but this helps ensure a superior VR experience from the moment you snap your phone into the lightweight headset. Headsets sell for $100USD and the phones can run you from somewhere around $400 to $800. Still the best experience for under $1000.
Valve's SteamVR, and HTC
Valve is the maker of the SteamVR software platform. HTC partnered with Valve to produce the tethered headset called the HCT Vive which uses an HTC screen, hand controllers, positional tracking, and a front facing camera.
The Vive’s big differentiator is what it calls “Room Scale” VR. There are two laser position sensors which can track an area of up to 15x15 ft (4.5 meter) and capture the user, allowing you to move around within a virtual space. You can see what I mean by watching this video of Fantastic Contraption, which is being built for the Vive.
Again, being a tethered headset means that along with buying the headset you also need a high-end computer to run games and applications at that magical 90fps smoothness.
Google’s Cardboard, and Magic Leap
Google makes the software and a very inexpensive open source mobile headset called Cardboard to achieve the dual rendering on any Android or iOS phone. Just fold your cardboard like a puzzle, insert the lenses, download the software, and insert your phone.
While Google Cardboard is making VR as cheap as possible and therefore accessible to the widest range of consumers, the experience (while amazing) is still sub-par to that of many others. But then if you haven’t experienced the other solutions, you’re not really going to know the difference anyway, so you really have nothing to lose in trying out Cardboard.
Magic Leap is an Augmented Reality company whom Google invests in which supposedly uses retinal projection (no one has yet seen this device) to overlay digital images over the real world.
They have released a few videos, and they’ve hired Neal Stephenson, the author of the infamous Snow Crash as their “Chief Futurist”. Google invested $542m USD in 2014. Total funding is somewhere around $1.4b USD and the post-money valuation on Magic Leap is around $4.5b USD. Needless to say the people who have seen this technology are being wowed, but the secrecy around this may also be partly hype. We just don’t know, but we’re very hopeful.
Sony’s PlayStation VR
Sony is building VR for their Playstation 4 platform called PlayStation VR which uses a tethered headset, positional tracking, and hand controllers connected to their video game console.
PlayStation VR has been said to be working on 100s of game titles and is of course, mostly focused on the gaming market. They had an earlier prototype you may have heard of, Project Morpheus. The consumer-grade hardware should launch in the first half of 2016 and with many people already owning a PS4, they have a great market and a leg up on those who still need to buy a high-end computer.
These are some of the major players. Others that are worth noting are:
Friendly reminder: this is by no means a comprehensive list, just some of the top players.
It’s also being speculated that Apple is jumping into VR/AR space as well in that it holds several patents related to VR, has hired a human-computer interaction researcher who specializes in 3D interfaces, and hired a former Microsoft employee who worked on the HoloLens. Read some more here for other evidence.