CES 2016 is a show full of new, exciting technologies, but one trend I thought took the show by storm was virtual reality. Multiple companies showcased headsets meant to immerse users in a viewing experience of their choosing, each with their own specific draws and disadvantages. Obviously, these technologies may provide huge opportunities to change the gaming space, but is virtual reality gaming ready for the household?
During my extensive time on the floor I was fortunate enough to try out a variety of different VR solutions, some more popular than others – dominant player Oculus Rift included. To be honest, while I feel there’s potential in the offerings, I’m not convinced VR is ready for prime-time gaming just yet.
Royole-X showed off a headset designed as a personal viewing system, a high-resolution display with a foldable OLED screen and headphones. Royole-X differentiates itself from the competition by offering some of the highest resolution available on an immersion headset, claiming this would be exceptionally beneficial for gaming. I strapped the headset on, was handed a controller, and played a couple rounds of Killer Instinct for Xbox One with the demo technician. Yes, the picture looked crisp and sharp, with an interesting 3D effect, but the display itself felt tiny. Instead of providing an immersive experience, I felt like I was looking through an old Viewmaster, squinting at a tiny picture surrounded by blackness. It certainly wasn’t the type of experience I could see myself using for hours with a game like Fallout 4, even though the visuals themselves were fairly sharp.
Another contender, Vuzix, showcased their iWear Video Headphones, which features a display equivalent to a 125-inch display right in front of your face. I played Sniper Elite III with this demo, a game perhaps not quite suited for a casual tech demo, but which still showed off the HD visuals the headset was capable of. I saw dust flying around through the desert locale, and watching my sniper bullet pierce through the X-Ray view.
One of the better features is that is uses an HDMI connection, meaning its possible to use the headphones as either a general media display or for gaming purposes, and the much larger display definitely made it feel like a more viable solution.
That said, I had issues making out details on the periphery of the screen; for some reason the display was consistently blurry in its corners and I couldn’t make out details like my health or current objective. The headset was supposed to focus itself to my eyes automatically, and the technician I spoke to said that the blurriness was likely due to using a demo headset that had been banged around over the course of a few days. Even though I preferred this option to the Royole-X, the weight of the headset the weight of the headset made it feel inappropriate for long sessions. Also, at a price point of almost $500, many may feel like the headset is a bit too expensive.
Speaking of pricing reveals, the 600-pound elephant in the room is Facebook’s Oculus VR Headset, which they announced a staggering price point of $600. Oculus has been a front runner in the VR competition since it’s Kickstarter onset, and the trends that they set in the virtual reality space are sure to be followed by many competitors. $600 would feel expensive for even a self-contained console, but you’ll also likely need to seriously upgrade your computer to use it as well. Recent reports say that the foremost competitor, the HTC Vive could be priced at around $1500 (though there aren’t any specifics as to what’s included with that cost), which is an even more bitter pill to swallow.
Both headsets provide the full, 3D VR experience, but I think the high price may be by design in order to keep early adopters to a minimum; in addition to simply covering the cost of the tech itself, too many poor reviews by the public could put a damper on adoption of VR technology as a whole. Creating a quality, enjoyable, safe VR experience will be hard enough without introducing some special challenges and styles of motion that come with gaming.
The $99 Samsung Gear VR, and Sony’s currently unpriced PlayStation VR (formerly called Project Morpheus), may be gaming’s only mainstream opportunities for virtual reality in the near future, though I’m less excited about it than last year. My initial experience with VR using the Gear headset got me excited last year; I was overwhelmed by the experience of looking around and seeing a game world surround me. Now that I’m used to the experience though, VR felt tacked on, more like a tech demo than something that convinced me to shell out money on virtual reality. Even Elite: Dangerous, complete with a full flight stick and throttle set up on the HTC Vive, still seemed more like a novelty than a complement to the game. Without truly inspirational experiences, it’s going to be hard to convince anyone to shell out the money for the technology.
None of this is to say that immersive technology is a flash in the pan, or that virtual reality won’t change the way we look at gaming in particular. What I do mean to say though, is that after the hype dies down, virtual reality needs to spend a bit more time in the garage, and I think everyone is involved with it knows that. One day, perhaps many of us will be flying ships, battling enemies, and scoring points in virtual worlds, but based on what I’ve seen, I hope that day isn’t soon.