By Brandon Kerman, February 6th, 2020
Up until recent years, the idea of fully immersing oneself in a digital virtual reality (VR) experience had been confined only to the fantasy of futuristic science fiction. However, the future is now, as VR technology is already well on its way to becoming a mainstream medium amongst consumers as well as in the industry. The immersion of VR is unparalleled, and with the correct setup, it can truly feel as if you're walking into a different dimension.
With almost 200M current VR users worldwide, the global VR/AR market is expected to grow to $209.2 billion by 2022. So, whether you are interested in getting into VR but do not know where to start, or you are already familiar with VR but would like to know how to maximize your experience - we are here to help.
Here is our list of all the essential VR items you will be needing to get the most immersive experience out of VR this 2020.
A VR Headset Device
First and foremost, if you are going to be experiencing VR, you're going to need a headset. You're going to want to find the right headset for your budget, space, needs, and desires when it comes to choosing a premium VR experience. At the moment, there are four main players in terms of mainstream VR headsets - Oculus, Playstation, and HTC - plus Valve, which just released its first first-party headset called the Valve Index last year.
Each headset varies from the others in terms of price, platform, and content, so it will be up to you to decide which one is best for you. Read on for our picks for the best VR headsets for a range of different options.
Best Overall - Valve Index
Availability: Out now | Price: $999 USD
The Valve Index is gaming company Valve's first own VR headset, providing a high-end, PC-tethered experience. Valve has pioneered VR as we know it today, creating a sophisticated tracking system and prototyping several headsets. It runs the popular SteamVR platform, and it's partnered with HTC on the Vive system.
Simply put, the Valve Index is the best VR headset yet released. It has an ultra-crisp display that runs fairly well even with older GPUs, a wider field of view, a higher refresh rate, and Valve's 'knuckle' controllers - which can track the movement of every finger.
The Valve Index is specialized and expensive even by VR's standards. It costs $999 USD, which is more than twice as much as the $399 Oculus Rift S or $499 HTC Vive. Like those systems, you'll need a gaming PC to use it. If you need convenience and portability, it won't be the right choice.
There are cheaper bundle options offered by Valve ranging from $279-$749 USD depending on which accessories you may already own - such as an HTC Vive or Vive Pro, base stations, controllers, etc.
It's a significant upgrade to the HTC Vive, and runs smoother than the Vive Pro - a powerful VR headset that really struggled to deliver on the promise of high-end, room-scale VR.
Of course, setup can be painful and updates can cause connection issues, but the Valve Index is the way to go for gamers who want a next-level, premium VR experience.
Best Standalone - Oculus Quest
Availability: Out now | Price: $399 USD for 64 GB
The Oculus Quest is Oculus' first all-in-one VR gaming system. One of the Quest's main perks is the fact that it is so portable. It sells itself as a "pick-up-and-play" device, without the need of an extraneous setup. This means no cables, no smartphone, and no expensive PC required - although it does still offer a premium virtual reality experience, comparable to that of PC-tethered VR devices. It is a perfect device for traveling, taking VR on the go, and is a fun device to bring to parties.
It also features Oculus Insight Tracking, meaning that your movements will smoothly translate into VR no matter which way you are facing. Regardless of the size of the room or space you are in, you will have complete freedom when it comes to your actions. From ducking for cover, jumping up, and leaning from side to side - movements will translate fluidly to your play space.
Oculus Quest isn't perfect, however - there is some minor light leakage at the bottom of the headset, and the battery life may not last as long as some might prefer. Oculus says you can expect the Quest to last 2 to 3 hours after a full charge, depending on whether you're watching media or playing games. That means you'll probably have to charge the Quest in between sessions - which can be a hassle if you forget.
If you already own a Quest, check out our article for battery-saving tips.
For those looking for a standalone, the Quest is the best option on our list.
Best for Console Gamers - Playstation VR
Availability: Out now | Price: $285 - $349 USD
Sony's virtual reality system, the Playstation VR, is designed for use with the Playstation 4 or PS4 Pro. Playstation VR is for those who want a premium VR experience without the need of an expensive PC. Playstation VR requires little more than a PS4 console to run.
Even though there is pretty noticeable power difference between the PS4 and PC, the Playstation VR is a surprisingly competent VR headset. It's a powerful accessory that lags a bit behind the PC-powered HTC Vive and Oculus Rift is specs, but is far less expensive - especially when you put the required PS4 setup up against the pricier VR-ready PCs the Vive and Rift require.
With the backing of Sony, it also has a good selection of games to choose from. The biggest cons of this VR system is that many accessories required to play are sold separately - although Sony offers bundles that include devices such as the Playstation Camera and Playstation Move controllers.
Please note, the Playstation Move controllers have been around since the PS3 and were later adopted for PS VR, so they are a bit limiting in dexterous game mechanics as opposed to other VR contollers.
While Playstation VR has it's issues - it is certainly a more affordable option for console gamers who would like an immersive VR experience. The good news is that if you are planning on snagging a PS5 later this year, Playstation VR will be compatible with that too.
Runner Up - Oculus Rift S
Availability: Out now | Price: $399 USD
The Oculus Rift S is Oculus' upgrade to its original Rift headset. It rocks a sportier new look and some new features - but other than that, it is not much of an upgrade from the original Rift.
The world was introduced to the original Oculus Rift by Oculus founder, Palmer Luckey, back in 2012. Since then, Facebook has acquired Oculus, and we have been patiently waiting for a true "Rift 2". While it is not quite the next leap forward for the company's high-end, PC-based VR experiences, it does represent a step in the right direction.
Oculus released the Rift S alongside the Oculus Quest (a more ambitious headset with a standalone design and a greater mass-market appeal) this past May. They both cost the same but the Oculus Rift S is able to play high-end Oculus games via PC. It is also backwards-compatibile with the original Rift titles.
While it fairs better in many aspect to the Rift - such as easier setup, potentially more comfort when wearing, a greater game library, and improved resolution, there are trade-offs such as audio and refresh rate.
The Oculus Rift S is a great choice if you don't already own a PC-tethered VR headset, but if you already own the original Rift or the HTC Vive/Vive Pro, the improved resolution bump is not noticeably great enough to warrant its purchase.
We would recommend the standalone Oculus Quest, or if you're looking for a high-end, PC-tethered experience, we would recommend going with the Valve Index instead.
Having mentioned some noteworthy headsets to get your hands on, now we can mention some of the extra essentials you will be needing to complete your virtual reality experience.
Note: All of the items we will be mentioning are entirely our own suggestions to making VR more enjoyable, and you should adjust your experience to what suits your needs and desires best!
Most controllers for VR, like Oculus' Touch Controllers or Valve's Knuckle Controllers, are non-rechargeable. Instead, they need AA batteries to operate. You're going to want to load up on AA batteries. Trust us, you wouldn't want to be in the climax of a heated battle or in the middle of a high-score only for your controllers to die - it ruins the experience!
By keeping stocked up, you can easily switch between batteries and not have to go through the dull moments of looking for or buying some just to continue in VR. Moments like that remind us of the days when you would have to fish for quarters in a hurry just so you can continue your game on the machine at the arcade. Don't do that to yourself. Do yourself the favor of keeping some AA batteries handy at all times.
We recommend rechargeable AA batteries, as they are much more cost-efficient in the long run - plus you don't need to continue reordering supplies. Check out our article for our picks for the best AA batteries for Oculus Quest controllers. There you will find our choices for the best rechargeable, best budget-friendly, best lithium, best alkaline, and great bargain AA batteries.
Being able to hear your virtual surroundings from all directions is another huge factor in the full immersion experience. It is for this reason that e-sports and competitive gamers use headphones, as it heightens the sense of audio awareness in their in-game surroundings. VR is no exception. Being able to hear from all around you as you turn your head in VR really adds to the illusion of existing in a virtual environment.
While some do it better than others, all VR headsets support some kind of native audio - whether that is positional audio built directly into the headset, or the audio that comes from your PC setup.
Most notably, the Valve Index has been revered for its native sound quality. The Index uses a built-in solution that, for all intents and purposes, works incredibly well. You're able to hear a great number of details without distortion, and even though it's an inch from the ear, it can still get reasonably loud.
Valve Index Speakers
It is for this reason that we wouldn't recommend any external headphones for the Valve Index headset, as there is a strong case to be made against using them. As a matter of fact, read this article from a Valve audio engineer on the research, design, and evolution of the Index's ear speakers.
However, headsets such as the Oculus Quest and the Oculus Rift S have been criticized for their native audio capabilites. While neither of them are terrible, it is clear that the audio hardware of these headsets falls short of what many players consider sufficient. More specifically, players have reported that the audio for the Quest just doesn't have enough bass, and this becomes more apparent when playing rhythm games like Beat Saber - where gameplay is most reliant on music.
Whether you want to increase the quality of your VR audio, or you simply do not want others around you to listen in on you playing, a good pair of headphones is a worthy investment for sound quality for headsets such as the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive/Vive Pro, or Playstation VR.
All of these headsets support a 3.5mm audio jack for your choice of wired headphones. For wireless headphones however, each device may differ in its audio frequency capability (bluetooth, radio frequency), so be sure to check accordingly.
Check out our article for our picks for the best headphones for the Oculus Quest. There are both wired and wireless options to choose from, but again, be sure to check your headset's audio frequency capability for the wireless headphones.
VR Cleaning Equipment
Heavy use of VR equipment over time can easily become a hygiene concern, especially when shared with others. Infectious diseases can be spread by sharing VR headsets without taking proper hygienic precautions, so you'll want to make sure to reduce the risk as much as possible. With the right care, maintenance, and hygiene, your equipment will last and continue to perform for as long as you need it to.
Here are some tips to keep your equipment sanitary, maintained, and functioning properly:
- Wipe the lens and foam of each headset using a microfiber cloth, the same kind you would use to clean glasses or a computer screen (the last thing you want to do is scratch the lenses). Dab the cloth into water or soapy water when necessary.
- Use non-alcoholic bacterial wipes between every 5-10 uses. The residue from alcoholic wipes can be a bit harsh on people's skin, as well as the equipment itself.
- Keep your VR headset somewhere where it won't collect dust. Use a can of compressed air to blow out any excess dust and debris buildup.
- Optional: Use disposable VR mask covers in between each use. They can be difficult and troublesome to deal with at times, but they will save some of the hassle in the long run.
- Optional: A nice little tool used to clean DSLR cameras and lenses is the Lenspen. At one end there's a small soft, cleaning tip. At the other is a retractable brush. Great for excess specs of dust.
You'll want to keep a supply of these items fulfilled, as most of these items are consumables that will need to be replenished periodically.
An external battery is an essential item if you are using a standalone headset such as the Oculus Quest. As previously mentioned, Oculus says you can expect the Quest to last 2 to 3 hours after a full charge, depending on whether you're watching media or playing games. That means you'll probably have to charge the Quest in between sessions - which can be a hassle if you forget.
Since it is possible to use the Quest while it is charging, it is possible to connect an external battery to the Quest via the USB-C port and cable while in use. Just make sure your cable is long enough and you're good to go. Since 2-3 hours may not be enough time in VR, this is a solution for those looking to extend that time period.
Note: This is not recommended by Oculus, or for any mobile battery for that matter. It may end up overheating the system or causing long-term damage to the Quest's battery. Although attaching an external battery is a common practice, please practice caution when doing this.
A Good Play Space
A critical requirement for playing room-scale VR is a sufficient play space. This is one of the main factors for how well you are able to perform in games, as well as having an enjoyable experience overall - not to mention that most (if not all) of the aforementioned VR headsets will not be be able to function without one.
The ability to walk around and move freely in VR, as opposed to simply sitting in one place, is what is known as 'room-scale play'. Room-scale play adds that extra unparalleled layer of immersion and fun, and makes games such as SUPERHOT VR and Space Pirate Trainer really worth your while.
The Oculus Quest makes use of your play space in perhaps the most ambitious way - with the use of its Guardian system. Since the Quest performs all of its room-scale tracking within the standalone headset itself, the Oculus Guardian is designed to remember the boundaries of your play space and help you avoid nearby objects while you're in-game. Oculus recommends a play space of at least 6.5 x 6.5 feet for optimal usage of the system.
Other PC-tethered headsets, such as Oculus Rift S or the Valve Index, perform their tracking by usage of base stations - external pieces of hardware that are to be installed in the corners of your play space. Oculus recommends the same play space dimensions for the Rift S as it does for the Quest (6.5 x 6.5 feet), while Valve recommends that your play space be 6.5 x 5 feet.
The play space requirements are generally the same across systems, but the important thing to remember is to keep your play space as clutter-free and as object-interference-free as possible. The last thing you want to happen when you are enjoying VR is to run into something or someone. Not only can this be annoying, but it is very possible to injure yourself or others if you are not careful.
Please remember to exercise caution when using VR.
Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. It is no wonder why it is so crucial to stay hydrated year-round. VR is reported to burn up to 15 calories a minute depending on which game you are playing - that is the equivalent to swimming! All of that calorie expenditure is going to work up a good sweat and rack up quite the thirst.
Disconnecting from VR to go get yourself a cool drink can interrupt your play session, so make sure you have a trusty water bottle near you that can be easily located and accessible. In doing so, you stay hydrated, you can keep going without needing to temporarily disconnect, and the fun never has to stop.
Along with working up quite the sweat, VR is sure to get hot (temperature-wise) as well. The physicality of VR generates a notable amount of body heat, not to mention the heat that is generated from the headset itself. We suggest your play space be cool and well-circulated in order to offset the rise in temperature.
Use a good fan, air-conditioning, or simply open a window where you are playing. Just be sure to not let any sunlight come into contact with your equipment, especially the lenses - this will cause unwanted harm to them.
The biggest difference between playing VR and any other form of gaming is the fact that your entire body is engaged in play. Movements such as crouching, ducking, leaning, walking, and rolling - VR will have you doing everything. One big problem here is the risk of injuring yourself by making movements like these on hard surfaces.
Many people who try VR out for the first few times end up tripping and falling over things and landing forcefully on the floor. It can sometimes be funny to watch, but this can lead to bruises and embarrassing battle scars. Even worse, you can suffer pretty serious injuries if you are not careful. To counter this, get yourself a mat to absorb any sort of impact you may undergo.
We recommend a mat like this, or these for the sake of customizability. Another great reason to use a mat is because it provides great tactile feedback for your feet to indicate you are in still within your play space. Since you cannot see your physical surroundings when in VR, it always helps when there are other physical queues to help you out.
Be careful, and make sure the space is free from anything that could injure you or obstruct your play space.
Create Your Own Immersive Experience
At the end of the day, these are all but suggestions to help improve your VR gaming experience. You can try them all out, choose only a select few, or maybe even take one and just roll with it. The decision is entirely up to you! Always remember that your VR gaming experience is yours alone, and no one else can tell you how to enjoy your game. So, strap up and create your own immersive gameplay experience!
Got any other VR essentials you want to share? Think we missed any? Comment below or tweet us @basereality.co !