Are you looking for information about Virtual Reality? Find out which VR glasses are good for you, what hardware you need for VR, what content there is – and how far the technology has matured.
Once before, in the mid-nineties, the term virtual reality haunted the mainstream media, but then quickly came to an end – the VR revolution was stuck somewhere. Around 20 years later, everyone in the world is talking about virtual reality. And this time it looks like the technology will be preserved. c’t answers the most important questions on the topic.
What is Virtual Reality?
VR fulfills a centuries-old dream of mankind: It transports the user to any location – and they do not even have to be realistic. It can also be impossible fantasy worlds. VR is kind of a dream fulfilling machine.
Unlike, for example, 3D cinema, the view through VR glasses fills the entire field of vision: one no longer perceives one’s real environment, but only sees the virtual world. An important feature is the so-called head tracking: Moving one’s head, the movements are transferred into the virtual reality. If the delay between true head movement and movement in the VR image (the so-called latency) is low enough and the software is done well enough, the so-called “presence” sets in – the brain is actually convinced to be somewhere else.
Why is VR better Today than in the Nineties?
This is not only due to the millions of times improved graphics performance of acute graphics chips – even today, there are great VR titles that deliberately use reduced wireframe graphics like those from the nineties. The much improved sensor technology weighs much more heavily. With extremely sensitive gyroscopes, acceleration sensors and magnetometers, head movements can be transmitted to the VR world with millimeter accuracy and low latency.
The tracking of the first VR wave (mostly magnetic tracking) in the 1990’s was much less accurate and it also took many milliseconds for a head movement to arrive from the real world in the virtual world. Try out the old VR helmets, for example, in the Berlin Computer Games Museum. There are every Monday evening from 18 clock two Virtuality 2000SU machines with Visette 2 headsets from 1994 turned on.
The smartphone revolution played a decisive role in the second VR spring: Without mobile phones today, there would probably be no cheap high-resolution mini-displays and no such good sensors.
Which VR Glasses are there?
Roughly one can differentiate three device classes: purely mechanical Smartphone mounts (Google Cardboard and variants like Zeiss VR One), Smartphone mounts with built-in electronics (Samsung Gear VR, LG 360 VR) and headsets with own display (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR, Razr OSVR).
Smartphone Holder without own Electronics
Purely mechanical smartphone holders work in principle all the same: you pick up a smartphone and enlarge the content of the display with two magnifying glasses. If you tried out such a holder for the first time, you should certainly resort to a cheap cardboard version. These are available for a few euros from online retailers (and also in our shop).
The much more expensive plastic holders usually lack the magnetic switch to change the images and their image quality is not necessarily better. It depends very much on the lenses used – and on the size and quality of your smartphone display. But some of the sturdy brackets look really fancy and you do not have to assemble them awkwardly; some just sit more comfortably or they also have a headband.
The VR quality of the purely mechanical smartphone mounts is by far the worst in comparison to the real VR goggles. Which is no wonder, because the sensors in the phone are not designed for head tracking – so it jerks.
With the mechanical smartphone mounts, a reasonably up-to-date mobile phone (not older than two years) with Android or iOS is sufficient. Since the original Cardboard was developed by Google for the Nexus 5 (4.95 inches diagonal), almost all cardboard cases for smartphones are optimized for 5-inch displays. The display should therefore be between 4.7 and 5.3 inches tall.
Smaller devices such as the iPhone 5 work though, but here is the field of view so small that no real Mittendrin feeling comes up. In addition, you can see the edge of the display through the glasses on too small devices. Smartphones larger than 5.5 inches will not fit in many mounts; some plastic mounts are available in a special version for very large devices.
In addition, the smartphone necessarily requires a position sensor (gyroscope) for the head tracking and his display should have at least Full HD resolution (1920 × 1080 px) – otherwise, the representation looks bad pixelated.
Smartphone Holder with Electronics
Samsung’s Gear VR solves the head tracking problem with its own sensors in the case, but it lacks the position tracking: The hardware detects only head rotation and tilt, but not the position in the room. Nevertheless, the Gear VR offers a much better mid-feel and very supple head tracking. For the most popular videos that can be found on Gearvrporn.net the GearVR is more than sufficient to have a great experience since for adult movies the position tracking isn’t that important as head tracking.
Samsung’s VR glasses, however, only work with a few top smartphones from the manufacturer: The current version of the Gear VR only with Galaxy Note5, S6 edge +, S6 and S6 edge and with the S7 (edge). The latest Gear VR costs 100 euros.
LG also combines smartphones and glasses with the 360 VR. But here the smartphone is not plugged into the glasses, but brings with it displays and sensors. The smartphone – more specifically the LG G5 – must be connected via USB cable type C with the glasses. A screen around the lenses should shield the eyes from the environment.
The built-in displays have a resolution of 960 × 720 pixels each; in total, this results in 1920 × 720 pixels. The built-in gyrosensor and proximity sensor provide VR view control. The glasses are operated via two buttons and the smartphone display. The glasses themselves weigh little more than the sensorless smartphone holders. A price is not fixed yet.
VR Headsets with their own Display
The “big” headsets of Oculus, HTC and Sony can do more than the smartphone mounts: on top of that, they are capable of detecting position. So you know where the user is right now and can use this information in the game or the application.
The headsets also offer the best VR quality, because they are powered by high-performance PCs or game consoles instead of relatively weak smartphones. For all three glasses need a connection to the PC via HDMI cable, which can be annoying in the heat of the VR battle.
The hardware requirements are also significantly higher than the holders: Oculus Rift and HTC Vive run only with a powerful gaming machine from the 1000-euro class. For the operation of the Sony Playstation VR one needs “only” a Playstation 4.
Oculus requires for the Rift at least one graphics card with Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290, 8 GB of RAM, an Intel i5-4590 processor and three free USB ports (2 × USB 3.0, 1 × USB 2.0).
The Rift has two OLED displays with 1080 × 1200 pixels per eye; Overall, the glasses so 2160 × 1200 pixels. These are greatly enlarged by the two magnifying lenses, which is why, unlike such a high-resolution smartphone, when you look closely, you can still see the pixel structure. The glasses come at the end of March for 700 euros in the trade.
User tracking is provided by acceleration sensors and position sensors in the headset as well as an infrared sensor. The glasses are connected to the PC via HDMI and two USB cables.
Initially, Oculus only adds one Xbox One gamepad to the Rift and relies on VR implementations for more conventional game concepts that are played while standing or sitting. Titles such as Elite Dangerous, Project Cars, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe VR are already older and already running with the since 2014 available Rift developer version DK2.
By financing some studios, Oculus also secured numerous exclusive rights – the games then run only on the Rift, but not on the Vive of HTC. Oculus does not want to support games that move freely around the room until 2016, when the additional Oculus Touch controllers and another camera sensor come onto the market. The exclusive titles The Climb (Climbing Simulation) and Edge of Nowhere (Action-Adventure) are not yet available for the Rift launch.
HTC and Valve, who are jointly developing the hardware and software for the Vive, have opted for the so-called Room Scale VR from the beginning, allowing players to move freely in a small space. Currently, this room is 4 to 12 square meters in size and you can interact with two hand controllers directly with virtual objects.
For software support, Valve and HTC use the OpenVR standard and do not finance exclusive titles. As a result, you can already find a lot of small experimental VR games in the Steam library. Just before the market launch, Valve releases new updates every day for its VR software, drivers and firmware.
HTC has for the Vive no “minimum requirements”, but only recommendations published. They look just like Oculus, except that HTC recommends “only” 4 GB of RAM and only needs a USB 2.0 port.
The Vive uses like the Rift two OLEDs with 1080 × 1200 pixels (in total 2160 × 1200 pixels), which are controlled with 90 Hz. Here, too, position and acceleration sensors in the goggles ensure tracking, and in addition, laser diodes pick up a field in two small external boxes, which determines the exact position of the wearer in the room. Thanks to the two included hand controllers, you can touch and move virtual objects.
Sony Playstation VR
Significantly cheaper is the VR pleasure with Sony’s Playstation VR: The futuristic-looking glasses should be available from October 2016 for 400 euros. It uses an OLED display per eye as well, but with a resolution of 960 × 1080 pixels each resolves less finely: The total of 1920 × 1080 pixels produce light steps on actually straight lines. The OLEDs from Sony have an RGB pixel pattern which is also common in monitors, while the displays in the glasses from Oculus and HTC use a so-called pentile matrix with a different number of color subpixels. Unlike HTC and Oculus, the PSVR from Sony shows no pixel structure which makes the appearance of PS4 Porn Videos an especially pleasant experience.
The tracking also take on sensors and the (optional) Playstation camera. The RGB camera records movements of the spectacle wearer via the hand controller PS Move; These are optional and cost 35 Euro per piece. Controls are also possible with the standard game controller Dualshock 4 PS4. The tracking area in which the players can move is about 2m × 2m.
As system requirements, Sony’s Playstation VR requires only a Playstation 4 for about 400 euros. Between headset and PS 4 hangs a box with all sorts of electronics. Sony wants to make up for the lower computing power of the PS4 console with programming tricks. This should run VR games with up to 120 Hz just as fluid as on larger desktop PCs.
Thanks to their own development studios, one may expect from Sony elaborately produced VR games. While tracking a single Playstation camera does not allow real room-scale VR, the Move-Hand controllers allow you to work with VR objects.
What can you do with Virtual Reality?
You can easily try out how well VR works with a smartphone holder. This can be 360-degree panormas or small applications that allow you to dive into the VR – only in this you can not move with the simple VR glasses. You can find VR apps for such smartphone glasses in the PlayStore or Appstore with a search for “cardboard vr” or “durovis” – this is the name of the first available smartphone holder. The range of VR apps is huge and there are also many bad apps among them. Curated compilations like Google’s “Cardboard” app for Android contain a best-of list. Homido’s app “Homido-Center” also contains a useful list for Android and iOS apps.
Sure, many think VR first of all games. There are a lot more applications for virtual reality: VR is already being used in marketing and sales, for example in car dealerships or in the travel industry. For example, major car brands like Audi want to present their vehicles in detail with all the equipment variants in the virtual world in order to provide customers with a precise impression of their desired model in advance. Travel providers can take their customers via VR before they travel to the desired hotel, the luxury liner or the dream beach.
In addition, architects use the technology to present their designs true to the original. There are already approaches for psychotherapy, for example to treat vertigo and phobias. Very promising is also software, with which one can spatially draw and model with the hands. Thus, the HTC Vive is the Google-developed 3D painting program Tilt Brush, Oculus developed for the announced in the second quarter of 2016 Touch hand controller, the 3D modeling software Medium.