Home >technology >gadgets >Soak in virtual worlds with stand-alone VR headsets

In Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, Ready Player One, the protagonist Wade Watts lives in a futuristic world where everyone is hooked onto a virtual reality (VR) game called Oasis. To play it, Watts has to wear a stand-alone VR headset with built-in motion sensors to detect obstacles, and a special pair of gloves to interact with people and objects.

Such is not the case in the real world. Barring HTC Vive, most VR headsets today don’t even have motion sensors and can only be used while standing or sitting. The Vive series allows users to move around in the virtual world but within a confined space, covered by two sensors. However, the headset needs to be connected through a wire to a laptop or desktop to work. HTC Vive is currently priced at 69,990. Other options include Sony PlayStation VR ( 30,990) that only works with PlayStation 4 consoles, and Occulus Rift ($399 or 27,400) which, like HTC Vive, works with high-end PCs. Smartphone-powered VR headsets such as Google Daydream VR ( 6,499) and Samsung Gear VR 4 ( 9,900) are cheaper. However, the Gear VR 4 is compatible only with a few flagship smartphones from Samsung such as Galaxy S8 and S8+ , and Note 8, while the Daydream VR works with select Android phones such as the Google Pixel, Pixel 2, Asus ZenFone AR, Samsung Note 8 and Moto Z2 Force.

According to a June 2018 report by research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), worldwide shipments of AR (augmented reality) and VR headsets fell 30.5% in the last one year, suggesting the growing disinterest in first-generation VR headsets. A case in point is Suraj Giri, a 29-year-old Mumbai-based broadcast IT technician, who uses a Samsung Gear VR to watch Netflix but rues that “VR games are modest and don’t offer much in terms of gameplay".

Will stand-alone VR headsets change his mind? Stand-alone VR headsets don’t require a smartphone, console or PC—they have built-in speakers, adequate storage, batteries that can last 5-6 hours and motion sensors. Lenovo’s Mirage Solo ($399 or 27,400) and Facebook’s Oculus Go ($199 or 13,700) are the first stand-alone VR headsets to hit the market. Manufactured by Xiaomi and driven by Qualcomm’s powerful Snapdragon 821 processor, Oculus Go has a fast switch LCD display with a resolution of 2,560x1,440 pixels. Users can download VR apps and games from the Oculus Store. Despite having all components built into it, the Oculus Go (468g) still weighs as much as the Oculus Rift (470g). The Mirage Solo runs Google’s Daydream VR platform. It runs on a more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor and comes with built-in motion tracking sensors, allowing users to move forward, lean and dodge during games offering a true VR experience. HTC’s stand-alone VR headset, Vive Focus, also runs on Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, offers resolution of 2,880x1,600 pixels, and comes with two front facing sensors to scan the surroundings and let users move freely in the virtual world.

Google is also working on a VR headsets on these lines and is expected to launch it sometime later this year. “Devices such as the Oculus Go seem promising, not because Facebook has solved all the issues surrounding VR—rather they are helping set customer expectations for VR headsets in the future. Looking ahead, consumers can expect easier-to-use devices at lower price points," says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst for IDC Mobile Device Trackers.

IDC expects the market to grow for the remainder of the year as low-cost stand-alone VR headsets make their way into stores.

Stand-alone VR headsets with integrated motion sensors will not only improve the VR experience but will also change the user perception about them.

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