After years of stomach-churning anticipation, it's all over — the VR headsets of the future are here. The Rift gives you an engaging experience with a handful of excellent games. Meanwhile, the Vive gives you unprecedented control of your virtual surroundings. But as extraordinary as both devices are, they're absolute bunk compared to the best VR headset of this generation: the Samsung Gear VR.
Yeah. I said it. The Samsung Gear VR is the best VR headset available.
It's not the most technologically advanced headset out there. That's the HTC Vive. Plug in the plethora of required peripherals, throw on the headset, and suddenly, you're transported to a holodeck space straight out of Star Trek. The only thing missing is Wesley being a schmuck. The Vive's controllers give subtle haptic feedback that meshes seamlessly with your visual experience. You tap a balloon in a game, and you can feel it skip off the end of your controller. If you see a mountain in the distance, you can hike there — only you won't have to worry about breaking your neck on a fallen tree limb or stubbing your toe on a rock. (Though, you should be wary of objects in the space you've ID'd as your VR space.)
But the Vive takes hours to set up initially and the choice of games is pretty pathetic.
The Rift, on the other hand, has better games than the Vive, it's $US200 ($263) cheaper, and it requires significantly fewer cords. Yet these advantages come with the drawback that you're confined to one spot — one chair — for your entire experience. It's an entertaining experience, but hardly as awe inspiring as the Vive.
And both devices still require a huge investment on top of your $US700 ($920)-$US900 ($1,183). That is, you need a computer. A nice computer. It's got to have a dope video card that costs at least. You can jam that into a PC you already own and save some cash, or you're going to have to build out or buy your own affordable PC, and that's a $US500 ($657) investment. Minimum. Which means you've plunked more that a grand down on a system that's still in its infancy.
Here we come to the part in which the Gear VR shines. It lets early adopters scratch that VR itch without have to drain the kid's college fund.
If you already own a Samsung Galaxy S6 or better, then the cost of experiencing the amazing world of virtual reality is precisely $US120 (in Australia, $158.99). That's it.
If you don't own a Samsung phone then the price jumps up to a little less than $US600 ($788) (the Gear VR plus a Samsung Galaxy S6). That's still half the financial commitment of the Vive or Rift. Plus 100-per cent fewer cords to deal with.
There are a compromises, of course. The graphics in the Gear VR aren't as good — what with being powered by a tiny phone instead of a beastly desktop PC. And folks in glasses will experience some issues focusing the lenses in the cheaper headset.
The Gear VR also doesn't have loads of content. But what content exists is so damn simple to navigate. Pop the phone into the headset, follow the instructions, and go. My technologically-challenged roommate regularly calls her computer's hard drive "memory," and she can still operate the Gear VR without asking questions.
So instead of spending all your cash on the stunning and stunted Vive or the innovative and insufficient Rift, go blow a chunk of paycheck on the Samsung Gear VR. It's 85-per cent of the same experience for 50-per cent of the price.