Virtual reality is taking the world by storm. The technology for it has only existed for a few years now but we are already seeing dozens of devices, gadgets, apps, games and more being released onto the market. If you want to explore the possibilities of virtual reality, start by learning what sort of gear is involved and how to decide which products are worth their asking price.
In this introductory guide, we’ll look at the various kinds of virtual reality gadgets that are out there and tell you what is absolutely essential and what’s not essential but is still a nice perk.
This is the most essential part of a virtual reality system. This is what really immerses you in the virtual world and allows you to move and look around in that virtual world as if you were really there.
There are already quite a few different products on the market that come at a range of different prices so there’s something to suit just about every budget. At this stage in the game, you need to go with a wired virtual reality helmet (aka headset) to get the most powerful and high end virtual experienced. Wireless tech today simply isn’t advanced enough to handle the high demands of virtual reality technology.
With that said, there are some wireless options. These are usually some kind of VR helmet that you mount your smartphone inside and then strap onto your head. So these are definitely not as high end or impressive as the more advanced 3D VR glasses that are on the market but they are decent enough for those who aren’t ready to make the plunge into the more expensive top of the line gear.
For virtual reality glasses that actually have the technology built in, there are a few key aspects to pay attention to when you are researching which model to buy:
The resolution of the display screen is very important if you hope to have a vivid, detailed and super realistic scene in front of your eyes. So look for headsets with high resolution screens.
And to make it even more crystal clear and immersive, get a headset that has separate screens for each eye. The dual screens are not an absolute necessity but they do make the experience better.
Since the image on the display will have to regenerate itself with every slight movement of your head and react quickly to know exactly which direction and how far to reorient, you need to make sure it has a very powerful refresh rate.
If it’s too slow, it will create lag or pixilation and not only does it take away from the overall experience, it can cause virtual reality sickness (which is a kind of motion sickness). For the best (and least nauseating) experience, opt for something with a refresh rate of 90 Hz or higher.
This is an absolute essential. There are different methods of tracking motion but most use a combination of infrared lights and sensors. In most cases, you’ll have a sensor placed in front of you (or mounted in various spots in the room) that will track the infrared lights that are placed at various points on the outside of your headset.
By tracking these lights, the sensors can pinpoint your location and track the direction and speed of your movements. This is what makes it possible to reorient the image on your display to match your actual movements. When you turn your head to the left, the image will pan exactly that much to the left.
Not all headsets have built in audio so you may need to shop for headphones separately. However, what you ideally want to look for is a headset with 3D audio capability. This makes the whole experience that much more immersive because the noises you hear will be projected in a way that makes it sound like they are coming from different directions.
If someone is walking up behind you, it will really sound like the footsteps are coming up from behind you. If a character to your left is talking to you, it will really sound like they are standing to the left of you. This isn’t strictly necessary but it really does make a difference.
Every headset will need to be operated with separate controls. In some cases, you can simply use your PC’s keyboard as a VR keyboard. In other cases, the headset will come in a bundle with a gamepad controller. In the best case scenario, you get motion controllers or VR gloves. We’ll talk more about this last option a little later.
Once you’ve got a solid, high quality set of virtual gaming glasses, you’re pretty much ready to get started. If you want to have more mobility (like the ability to stand up and walk around the room), you can consider buying additional sensors to mount in various places around your room so that your virtual reality system can find you no matter where you are.
There are also some headsets that come with multiple sensors for exactly that purpose but it’s not necessary when you’re just starting out. Now let’s take a look at some of the other gadgets and accessories you can incorporate to create the most immersive virtual reality system possible.
A virtual reality keyboard is basically a fantastic gaming keyboard that works well with your virtual reality system. The best keyboard you can choose is one that’s been optimized for PC gamers. That is, it goes beyond the traditional demands of a regular computer keyboard and also acts like a gamepad or controller.
Getting a specialized keyboard is not necessary. And it’s actually a more immersive experience if you get motion controllers that track your hand movements (more on those in the next section). However, even though a game might be compatible for a VR headset, it’s not always compatible with motion controllers. In this case, you either need a gamepad or a keyboard.
So if you’re using a keyboard to navigate your virtual world, here are a few points to keep in mind when shopping for your next keyboard:
Gaming keyboards are typically built to be more durable. Since PC gamers spend a lot more time on their keyboard than a non-gamer, it has to withstand much more wear and tear so if it’s not built for it, a keyboard will wear down and break much sooner than it would with normal use.
Again, since gamers spend more time on their keyboards, a standard design might start to feel uncomfortable. Gaming keyboards tend to be ergonomically designed to be better suited to long term use. They may also come with padding or cushions.
This refers to the extra keys that a gaming keyboard often includes which you can program to perform custom functions that will make your gaming life easier. It also refers to the fact that the w, a, s, and d keys usually have an extra coating to prevent them from wearing out too soon (since these are often required as navigation keys).
A great gaming keyboard will make the keys more sensitive and shape them in a way that prevents your fingers from slipping or accidentally hitting the wrong key. This is convenient especially when using virtual reality since you don’t actually see the keyboard while you’re playing.
In the end, you can definitely use a standard keyboard if you need to or don’t feel like investing in a specialized gaming keyboard. The most important thing is comfort and ease of use. If you are used to your current keyboard and you feel comfortable using it, there’s no urgent reason to get a new one for your virtual reality system. But if you want to maximize the experience, a good VR keyboard will do the trick.
A headset tracks the movement of your head and can locate you in a room assuming you have enough sensors. But if you want to have more refined virtual control that feels more realistic, you want something that can track your hands and fingers.
Tracking your hands allows you to use them to interact with features and objects in the virtual world. If you want to pick up an object, simply reach out and grab it just as you would if it were right in front of you. If you want to punch an enemy, just make a fist and punch.
This is really so much more immersive compared to using a keyboard or gamepad where you just push a button to complete an action. And, because it’s more realistic, it will minimize virtual reality sickness since those symptoms are usually caused by the fact that what your mind sees and hears doesn’t match up with what your body is doing.
The most common way to track hand movements right now is with small handheld devices that using pretty much the same technology as your headset. But developers have been working on creating virtual reality gloves which you can wear like a normal pair of gloves.
There are a couple headsets that already come with handheld motion controllers. They are small devices that you hold in your hand (or that wrap around your palm). They include motion tracking technology and also usually feature a couple of button controls.
Using them allows you to move your hands around in a more natural and realistic way which helps to make your virtual reality system that much more immersive.
The advantage here is pretty obvious. Just as the handheld controllers are more realistic than a keyboard, a glove is more realistic than a handheld controller. That’s because once you put the glove on, you don’t have to hold or operate anything at all. You move and use your hands exactly as you would in real life.
It can also incorporate haptics (touch sensation) so that your hands can actually feel the impact when you punch your enemy in the face! There aren’t very many options yet since the technology is still in the works but it’s going to make for the ultimate immersive experience once it’s done.
While the controllers or gloves aren’t strictly essential, we highly recommend them. If you only get one additional gadget to complement your virtual reality headset, we would recommend you get a good pair of controllers (or gloves when they are available).
The essential items for a virtual reality experience are the virtual reality goggles (aka headset) and the sensors that track it. In addition, you’re also going to need a PC or gaming device that is compatible with your virtual reality devices and powerful enough to provide the graphics and processing power they will need.
One of the things that makes this tech so exciting is that it is still so new. Pretty much anything that you get right now is cutting edge because it’s a brand new market. You will be one of the first to experience this amazing new technology and you’ll get to watch it grow and develop it in even more amazing and awe-inspiring directions.
So whether you start with the most basic set up or you go for all the bells and whistles, you are going to be among the pioneers and early adopters of this life-changing technology!