What different VR systems and manufacturers are there? How do I find my way through the VR jungle? What do I have to pay attention to when choosing?
Not all VR glasses are the same. Just as there are many manufacturers of smartphones or computers and different models are offered, there are also different VR systems and manufacturers. Basically similar in design, the VR systems* differ significantly in their range of functions and technical features. The right headset should be chosen very early in the concept phase, depending on the type of use and, above all, always in close coordination with the developers of the application.
*A VR system consists of a headset, tracking system, controllers, other VR accessories and, if applicable, a PC / notebook with Windows operating system (no Mac).
Basically – as with any purchase of technical equipment – it is important to have clarity about the following points in advance:
- Budget frame
- Performance requirements
The main distinguishing features concern:
- Tracking method (3DoF or 6DoF)
- Wired or stand alone
- external or internal sensors
- Technical specifications
- Manufacturer and operating system
What are the requirements of the planned VR project: Are 360° images or 360° videos to be shown? Is the available physical space for the presentation very small? Is the VR interaction to be limited to head movements only? So a VR headset with a less expensive 3DoF tracking system is sufficient. Is a high level of immersion to be achieved? Do you want to interact with the virtual world, can you move freely in the virtual environment? Then the choice must fall on a 6DoF headset. More about this in our blog post “Quickly explained: 3DoF or 6DoF?”
Once the tracking method has been clarified, the question of performance and mobility arises: Does my application require a stand-alone or a wired system? Stand-alone headsets offer high mobility and freedom of movement and can provide technically simple solutions, do not necessarily require a laptop or VR-ready PC. The wired variant / stationary operation of VR goggles combined with computer offers higher performance, which is needed for complex VR projects and elaborate content. The exact advantages and disadvantages and exemplary models are described in our blog post “Quickly explained: When does the leash apply to VR headsets?”
Most current VR systems use internal tracking systems, i.e. cameras integrated in the headset that locate the position of the glasses in space. The advantage of this system is the possibility of hand tracking. The manufacturers Oculus and recently also Pico enable input and interaction via finger and hand tracking. The tracking is now precise enough so that it is sufficient for 95% of (mainly artistic) applications. With external tracking systems, the sensors are placed in the room on tripods or on walls. These systems are less mobile, but are characterized by a very high precision and stability and give the possibility to integrate further tracking sensors and headsets or objects (e.g. stage elements or props that can be tracked spatially). Such systems are used, for example, in the medical field for simulating operations. At this point, the choice has already been reduced, as it should be clear at this point which basic VR system is needed.
In order to compare the different VR systems from the manufacturers, it is worth taking a look at the various technical features, such as
- Display resolution
- Refresh rate
- Interpupillary distance adjustability
- Usable with optical glasses
- Cleaning specifics (cover, materiality)
- Storage space / connections
- Battery life and weight
Each manufacturer uses its own drivers and operating systems and plays on its own platform, for which the projects / applications (apps) have to be developed (e.g. comparable to Google Play and Apple Store). Oculus VR headsets are served via their own Oculus Store, Pico owns the Pico interactive Store, HP uses Windows Mixed Reality as a platform, HTC its own Vive port. It is not possible to access content from the Vive port with an Oculus product, for example.
- Oculus – Oculus Store
- Pico – Pico Interactive
- HTC – Vive Port
- HP – Windows Mixed Reality Portal
- Valve – Steam
- Varjo – Steam
However, the Steam platform offers the possibility to use certain content computer-based via SteamVR. Again, the corresponding app has to be developed for the VR systems.
A few more notes about manufacturers:
When choosing a manufacturer, the privacy policies and legal restrictions on the login process should also be considered in advance. User accounts are required for the use of VR headsets: For the use of Oculus products, a Facebook account linked to the Oculus account is mandatory (which is problematic for many institutions). The products may be used in Germany, but sales are prohibited. Further information: https://mixed.de/facebook-vs-oculus-bundeskartellamt-erweitert-verfahren/
Chinese internet technology concert ByteDance acquired VR glasses manufacturer Pico at the end of August 2021. This secures the further development of the VR group for the time being. However, the question here is what will happen to the future data security that Pico once advertised. ByteDance has become known for the app TikTok. Further information: https://mixed.de/konkurrenz-fuer-oculus-tiktok-studio-steigt-in-vr-ein/
Does it always have to be an investment?
VR headsets and technology in general have a short half-life, every year new headsets with better specifications and equipment come onto the market. The older devices can still be used, but the software developers program for the latest headsets and also need the selected VR system for the development of the project. So, in terms of the sustainability debate, the basic question should be: do I really need to own my own VR system, how will it be used, can I also borrow it?
Some creative artists and theaters have now purchased basic VR equipment. The associations and institutions (such as the “Bund der Szenografen” or the digital.DTHG) have founded their own working groups on digital topics and are happy to provide information – the task here now is to expand networking activities so that in the future it will also be easier for independent cultural professionals to have uncomplicated access to XR technologies.
The DTHG is building a continuing education program on digital topics and will be happy to advise!
Authors: Vincent Kaufmann, Franziska Ritter, Pablo Dornhege