Few technologies have sparked such fervor over the past decade as virtual and mixed reality. While the technology’s initial hype cycle originally began in the ’80s, it didn’t really “take off” until the launch of Oculus Rift on Kickstarter in 2012 (funded by $2.5 million). Shortly after that success, Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion; What followed was nearly a decade of massive investment in space, including by many of the industry’s biggest companies. Meta was perhaps the biggest, with Mark Zuckerberg remaining optimistic in his belief that the technology represents the future of computing. Gaming giant Valve Software has partnered with HTC on several VR headsets and released their own as well; Apple, meanwhile, is expected to announce its much-discussed mixed reality headset in the near future – a bold move for the company that has been in the works for many years.
While VR and XR technology in particular is still in its infancy – manufacturers are still making massive strides in the quality, comfort and size of their headsets, while software developers are still grappling with how to leverage the power of this emerging format It seems all but certain that technology will be a major factor in the way we communicate with computers in the future. We’ve rounded up a variety of the most exciting VR and XR headsets on the market today.
Meta Quest 2
As the first truly “all-in-one” headset – that is, one that didn’t need to be plugged into a PC to power it – the original Oculus Quest was groundbreaking when it was released in 2019, and the Quest 2 did ups the ante in almost every way: most importantly, an upgraded processor and sharper display, resulting in a per-eye resolution of 1832 x 1920, compared to the original Quest’s 1440 x 1600, along with a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s lighter and more comfortable than the original, and the untethered nature of the experience makes it easy to take with you or use outside. (While most tethered headsets require external sensors, the Quest 2’s “inside-out” tracking does a great job on its own.) For those who want a high-end VR experience, it’s also flexible: by connecting the Headsets to a Gaming PC With Oculus Link and a compatible USB Type-C cable, you can harness the power of a powerful computer instead of being limited by an onboard processor.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3
While most current headsets focus on virtual reality – immersive experiences and gaming in particular – Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 follows a different beat. The glasses can be connected to a laptop or smartphone and are clearly aimed at the corporate market. The premise is simple: replace a multi-display productivity setup with a single pair of smart glasses that can project multiple virtual displays for portable and more flexible virtual workspaces. This is not only more convenient than setting up several monitors, but also enables private work, even in public spaces. Powered by Qualcomm’s XR-1 SmartViewer technology, the glasses feature 1080p resolution for each eye, an 8MP RGB camera, three noise-cancelling microphones and stereo speakers. It features head/gaze tracking and even a barcode reader for quick product scanning.
In terms of the current VR headset market, the Valve Index might be the crème de la crème. A well-known company for gamers (it’s the company behind the popular Steam storefront), Valve was an early player in the VR space, teaming up with HTC on the original Vive headset. In terms of specs, its index is a real eye-catcher: the 2880 x 1600 screen resolution is among the highest on the market, paired with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate and an equally impressive 130-degree field of view. It’s made from significantly higher quality materials than most VR headsets and offers excellent weight distribution and stability. The controllers that strap onto the user’s hands act as both typical VR motion controllers and hand/finger trackers – the Aperture Hand Labs demo really showcases this, allowing you to do things like scissor Rock-Paper can play with a variety of robots or give them a thumbs-up. Finally, built-in near-field speakers offer a more three-dimensional soundstage than typical headset headphones and less ear fatigue. It’s certainly one of the more expensive VR headsets out there, but in many ways it’s also hard to beat.
As the only major games console maker to go all-in on virtual reality, the original PlayStation VR was Sony’s biggest bet in a generation. And it has proven to be a good thing, as evidenced by the fact that Sony will be releasing its successor in early 2023. It’s a huge leap over the original in almost every way: the headset itself has an OLED screen and offers an impressive 110-degree field of view and 4K HDR, and supports 90Hz and 120Hz frame rates for smoother gameplay. Unlike its predecessor, users don’t have to set up external cameras around their play area; Instead, the headset has four cameras built into the headset for inside-out tracking. The new PSVR2 Sense controllers include adaptive triggers and haptic feedback (similar to the PS5 DualSense controllers) and can even recognize single finger touches. Finally, instead of the many cables that the original requires, you only need to connect it to your PS5 with a single USB-C cable.