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What is the best virtual reality (VR) headset for gaming?

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Gaming virtual reality headsets

We’ve been saying on our blog for some time now that we see the future of gaming lying with virtual reality. Incremental updates to the graphical capabilities and processing power of consoles – as is the case with the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X – has made the traditional idea of console ‘generations’ effectively obsolete. Now, manufacturers must think of not just updated hardware, but entirely new hardware, in order to justify a completely new console. This is where VR comes in.

In the current generation of consoles, Sony have pursued VR much harder with the PS4 than Microsoft have with the Xbox One. The closest Microsoft have come to producing a VR system themselves was the Kinect, the now-discontinued mixed reality camera that combined elements of VR and augmented reality (AR). Sony, on the other hand, have created the PlayStation VR headset, designed specifically for use on the PS4 and PS4 Pro.

This guide will explore the differences between the various VR headsets available currently, what works with what console, and what’s on the horizon for the world of VR gaming.

Which VR headsets work with the PS4?

As the only headset designed specifically for a console, it makes sense for us to begin with PlayStation VR. Having sold over 2 million units in just over two years, it’s safe to say that PS VR has acted as a solid proof of concept for VR’s potential popularity.

Working in conjunction with PlayStation Move controllers for a completely immersive experience, PS VR has seen some good price drops and can now often be found with the PlayStation Camera, VR Worlds and a VR-optimised game for £299.

PS VR box contents

It goes without saying that PlayStation VR is optimised to work best with the PS4, and particularly the PS4 Pro. The headset cannot function as a standalone device, so don’t buy one if you don’t have a PS4 to hook it up to! You can also connect the PS VR to a PC, however it requires a couple of extra programs and some tweaking to help make it run.

There are very few reasons to get any other headset than the PS VR if you’re looking to enable virtual reality on the PS4, due to its relatively low price and its native support. PS VR comes with a 5.7 inch 1080p OLED screen, which is a slightly lower resolution than the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but the tradeoff in convenience, functionality and price is undoubtedly worth it.

Which VR headsets work with the Xbox One?

Unlike the PS4, and despite the Xbox One X being the console best suited to VR thanks to its huge power, there is currently no native support for a VR headset on the Xbox One. Microsoft have said that they’re reluctant to start producing their own headsets until the technology is available to produce affordable wireless headsets. The One X, when first announced, touted its power as being ideal for VR, but since then it appears that Microsoft are distancing themselves from the association.

That being said, it is possible to play the Xbox One with a VR headset if you’re determined to do so. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are both popular choices for the Xbox One, and require relatively little set up to get working given the Xbox doesn’t officially support them directly. PS VR also works. The Vive and Rift both utilise the Xbox’s streaming app, while the PS VR can be attached directly to Xbox via HDMI.

However, there’s a catch with all of these. Unlike classic VR experiences, where you can look around in real life and look in the corresponding direction in virtual reality, these headsets are not natively supported by the Xbox One. That means that they will only function as another screen, with none of the immersive features. The Xbox also won’t support the wireless motion controllers that come with most headsets.

Playing with the headset set up as a screen is still an immersive, interesting experience, but it’s by no means a full VR experience.

Which VR headsets work with the Nintendo Switch?

Nintendo have a well-earned reputation for not playing it safe when it comes to hardware. From the Wii’s motion control focus to the 3DS’s stereoscopic graphics to the daring hybrid design of the Switch, they’ve never been afraid to push the envelope and find new and innovative ways of adding some variety to their games.

Virtual Boy

In fact, they were even well ahead of the current VR craze. Way back in 1995, before the N64, Nintendo launched the Virtual Boy. An ungainly device that rested on stilts, the Virtual Boy rendered games in crude, monochrome 3D. If you don’t recognise it, it’s because it fared so poorly in Japan and North America that it was discontinued before it launched in Europe.

However, there will be no such repeat of the Virtual Boy’s early trailblazing with the Switch. Though there’s no game developer you’d back more to find novel uses for the possibilities of VR than Nintendo themselves, the Switch is already squeezing every last drop from its miraculous hardware. Asking it to run a VR headset at the same time is simply too much.

Not only that, but as the Switch is limited in terms of streaming capabilities, meaning that while you can use an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive to stream in the same fashion as the Xbox One, it’s a lot more complicated to set up. It is also possible to use the PS VR, but due to the Switch’s lack of streaming options, you’ll need to also have a PS4 running in cinematic mode in order to use the headset as a screen.

However, there is something of a workaround that could yet give Switch owners a taste of VR, if not quite the full experience. Thanks to the Switch’s tiny form factor, the console itself could be slipped into a docking headset, similar to Google Cardboard with phones. Better yet, with the motion controls within the Joy-Con controllers, it’s possible that you’d be able to make basic gestures without the need for any additional hardware. Here’s a homemade demo in action:

Could we see something like this in the future? Don’t rule out Nintendo!

Should I buy a VR headset?

Though VR is displaying promising signs, there’s no denying that it’s a work in progress. With the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro spoiling us with jaw-dropping 4K visuals and game developers producing ever-more stunning graphics, going to a lower quality VR screen can be a bit jarring.

The dedicated gaming support is also caught in a bit of a catch 22 scenario. Game developers want large install bases to market to before committing resources to a dedicated VR game. Many players won’t want to buy a VR headset before knowing that there’s some big games for them to sink their teeth into. It will take one side to give in before we truly see the start of mainstream VR in gaming.

Whether you should buy one depends on how interested you are in the technology and how eager you are to begin embracing it. There’s no getting away from the high price of headsets, which will be the major stumbling block for many. For those that do invest, the game selection is still somewhat limited, although it’s getting better all the time. 2017 saw the release of a VR edition of Skyrim and support for the VR in Capcom’s acclaimed Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. 2016’s Superhot has functioned as a superb showcase of just what VR is capable of.

If you simply have to have a VR headset, then there’s plenty of excellent options out there to choose from and a growing library of games to play. If, however, you’re curious but not quite sold, then you may be better off waiting for a couple of years for the next Xbox and PlayStation, which will almost certainly include enhanced VR support.

What does the future hold for console gaming VR?

With PS VR selling as well as it has, it’s hard to see either Microsoft or Sony not making VR a big part of their plans for the PS5 and next Xbox. The big hurdle in the past has been the lack of technology and the hardware not being ready to run such intensive products. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are both more than capable of running VR headsets now, so one obstacle has been overcome, and steady progress is being made on the other. Indeed, whichever company gets there first or does it demonstrably better will hold a significant advantage when it comes to winning the next ‘console war’.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see the price associated with VR coming down much. As we mentioned above, Microsoft have stated their aim is to get fully wireless VR. This technology is not far away from the mainstream at all, but does come with an added cost. Because of this, VR headsets will remain at the equivalent (or even slightly higher) price point of consoles for the foreseeable future.

It’s inevitable that a big investment in VR will be followed by greater software support. Sony have more in-house development studios and exclusive IPs they can call upon to support VR than Microsoft. However, Microsoft could potentially see VR as the arena in which they can truly battle back in terms of number of exclusives.

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