How emerging virtual reality technologies from companies including Oculus VR, Valve, Sony and Microsoft seek to deliver an all new level immersion in video games.

By Nadia Oxford | @nadiaoxford | 6-25-2015 | 10:45AM

Virtual reality (VR) took its first shot at wowing us in the late ’80s through the ’90s. The “cyber world” permeated popular culture, but it didn’t stick around because of high costs and general inaccessibility. The best most of us could do with VR, besides watch Johnny Mnemonic, was pay $5 or more for a wireframe arcade experience that was “OUT OF ORDER” half the time.

VR was all over the floor at E3 2015, where veteran game developer Warren Spector told Games Industry he believes virtual reality is a fad that will pass. But the reality is it’s hard to imagine emerging virtual reality technologies fading away without making a lasting mark.

The developers behind the new push for the technology have been doing a lot of hemming and polishing, and they’re not likely to let it all fade into the background without a fight. We’re not just talking about Microsoft and Sony, either. Lots of giants are in on the game, including Samsung, Google, and Valve. NVIDIA is also working closely with VR developers with its GameWorks VR SDK, a powerful suite of next-gen VR tools and features for developers including multi-res shading for superior visual performance in VR games, VR SLI, context priority for reducing latency, direct mode for plug-and-play compatibility, and front buffer rendering.

And what makes VR especially interesting is how each company is bringing their own contribution to the market. For instance:

 

Oculus Rift DK2 Prototype

Oculus Rift DK2 Prototype

OCULUS RIFT

By Oculus VR (Launching Q1 2016) – Official Website

The Oculus Rift has the benefit of name recognition, and the esteem that comes with being “first.” Its highly successful Kickstarter campaign launched in 2012 and woke us up to the idea that virtual reality can augment our gaming experience.

Oculus Rift won’t be on store shelves until the first quarter of 2016, and we don’t know how much it’ll cost, but developers alike have spent a lot of time with the headset’s development kits, so there’s been years for retooling and refinement.

By the time it’s released, the Oculus may well wind up being the most polished headset on the market, even after its competitors launch behind it.

 

HTC Re Vive

HTC Re Vive

HTC RE VIVE

By HTC and Valve (Launching November 2015) – Official Website

Valve’s headset, which is being developed in partnership with HTC, has one obvious, major advantage: Valve has the massive Steam distribution platform at its disposal. Getting game developers on board isn’t going to be a problem. What’s more, early experiences with the Vive have been very positive.

But the Vive has another advantage: It reportedly doesn’t induce motion sickness. As someone who was once made very ill by a 3D Harvest Moon game—not joking—I’m extremely intrigued and plan to hold Valve to its word.

I’m hopeful, since Valve understands VR isn’t going to do anyone any good if its users are projectile vomiting like nightmare sprinklers. We’ll learn more when the headset is released, which might happen as early as 2015.

 

Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus

PROJECT MORPHEUS

By Sony (Launching Q1 2016) – Official Website

Sony’s headset will have PlayStation 4 support, which is a big deal for people who prefer console gaming over PC gaming. Sony also has access to some very juicy PlayStation 4 titles that may or may not receive Morpheus support.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking to believe we’ll get to explore Final Fantasy VII’s City of Midgar with the aid of a headset, but what a nice fantasy. So to speak.

 

Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus

HOLOLENS

By Microsoft (Launching After Windows 10 Summer 2015 Release) – Official Website

The HoloLens is based around augmented reality instead of virtual reality, and we got a pretty good look at what it’s capable of at Microsoft’s E3 2015 press conference.

Said conference showed off ways in which players can physically interact with Minecraft—and that’s pretty stunning in itself, because Minecraft is huge, it obviously works with the HoloLens in impressive ways, and Microsoft owns both.

 

Samsung Galaxy VR

Samsung Galaxy VR

SAMSUNG GEAR VR

By Samsung (Available Now) – Official Website

Samsung’s headset is actually available at retail now, and it can be yours for a comfortable $199 USD. Of course, the price of the headset doesn’t include the price of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 needed to serve as the headset’s display.

Though not a “native” VR headset, it’s still an impressively immersive bit of technology.

 

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

GOOGLE CARDBOARD

By Google (Available Now) – Official Website

Finally, the cheapest option: Google Cardboard. There are various models that work with different sizes of phones, but you’re looking at dishing up about $15 for this foldable miracle of wearable tech.

Though low budget, Google Cardboard still does a great job of surrounding you with an app’s sights and sounds. It’s actually an inexpensive way to test virtual reality to see if your stomach can handle the ride.

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