One of the biggest issues that virtual reality hardware and software developers are facing as we move deeper into 2017 is the increasing divide and fragmentation of software and hardware. The current lack of virtual reality standards contributes to this fragmentation. When choosing a virtual reality headset to purchase, consumers are not just buying a headset…
Consumers are buying and supporting a set of developing VR standards, and a VR software/hardware platform that may come to define virtual reality as a paradigm itself. Although most virtual reality headsets currently work with PCs, a console, and cell phones, VR hardware and software developers currently limit headsets and software in ways that are problematic and confusing for consumers.
Closed like a Console
This closed atmosphere is akin to the closed console platforms that limit software compatibility. With all this in mind, this is important to consider because your potentially-expensive brand new virtual reality headset will be limited to accessing a subset of all the VR software currently available. Not only is this a problem for consumers, but developers as well. Developers must choose a VR hardware and software platforms often limits software to specific headsets. As a result, the consumers must navigate a fragmented field of virtual reality hardware and software.
Navigating the Mess of Hardware Divisions
To help you navigate through this mess, I briefly describe the main hardware and software platforms that currently dominate the virtual reality market. Today, I will begin by focusing on the hardware mess, describing the first three of nine virtual reality hardware platforms.
Given that the consumer market for virtual reality is so new (virtual boy doesn’t count), it is not exactly unexpected that we are seeing everyone and their grandpa throw their hat in the virtual reality ring. Still, this is creating a messy situation for consumers because there is not one headset that can do it all. Starting first with the big kahunas, we have the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
The Big Kahunas
These two headsets are the most expensive and most premium headsets currently available. Both of these headsets offer controllers with very different button configurations. They also offer different tracking solutions and different virtual reality content stores. The HTC Vive works with Valve’s Steam store whereas the Oculus Rift has its own Oculus store.
Playing games from alternate competing stores is possible but is often very buggy. In some cases, hacks are required. For example, Google Earth VR requires some software trickery to get working on the Oculus Rift. When the software and hardware work on these devices, it can be a miracle to behold.
The most affordable virtual reality hardware is Google Cardboard. Working in tandem with almost every smartphone and a set of software APIs developed by Google, developers can make their own cheap low-cost headsets that are compatible with Google Cardboard software which is found on IOS and Android. Google Cardboard headsets require users to use their phones as a display which is inserted into low-cost plastic headsets.
Headsets working with Google Cardboard can vary in quality and cost. For the most part, the software that is compatible with Google Cardboard is low quality. Currently, the available software consists mainly of media playback and demo-quality games with extremely simple graphics.
To be continued tomorrow with: The GearVR, Microsoft, Chinese Players, OpenVR, and PlayStation VR…