The virtual reality hype has flared up a bit again – this is not only due to the recently released Half-Life: Alyx, the first new Half-Life game in 12 years. In the future, games like League of Legends, where you can rank using a LOL Duo Site, may also be played in VR. VR also offers useful applications outside of games. Here, we will answer 9 of the most common questions about VR.
If I choose a VR headset, do I commit to the manufacturer’s app store?
No, not with PC headsets. Every consumer headset is compatible with the OpenVR standard and thus also with Steam, currently the most popular VR app store: Only OpenVR software is allowed here. With an Oculus headset (Rift (S) and Quest) you can also use the Oculus store, which has some exclusive titles on offer. The unofficial tool LibreVR (formerly ReVive) also teaches non-Oculus headsets compatibility with the Oculus Store. In addition, HTC’s Viveport store also supports all relevant consumer headsets.
Does Half-Life: Alyx run better on the Valve Index than on other devices? After all, this is the headset from Alyx developer Valve.
Although the Half-Life developer has its own headset in its program with the Index, the game can be easily played with all consumer headsets (for example, Oculus Rift (S), Oculus Quest, HTC Cosmos, HTC Vive (Pro), or all Windows mixed reality headsets such as Samsung Odyssey or HP Reverb). The only playfully relevant difference between the Valve headset and the competition are the controllers: those of the Valve Index can detect the extension and inclination of each individual finger, the others track maximum thumb and index finger individually and the other three fingers as a group. According to Valve, the index controllers in Alyx allow “a small number” of interactions that don’t work with other controllers, such as crushing a can. However, these interactions are all just decorative accessories and are not relevant to the game. They have ensured that the game also works with other controllers without any problems, according to a statement from Valve.
I’ve heard that there are only short game snacks for VR (except Half-Life: Alyx). Is that true?
That is no longer true. There are several titles on the market that captivate as long as “pancake” games (as VR fans call “flat” 2D games). Some recommendations from the c’t editorial team: Asgard’s Wrath, Lone Echo, No Man’s Sky VR, Stormland, and Beat Saber.
Is VR a pure gaming technique?
Absolutely not. Although it was initially thought that VR would appeal primarily to PC gamers, the industry has boomed in recent years in completely different areas, for example in architecture (3D visualization), medicine, and industry (product development, training, production planning), art and psychology. A very promising application in times of flight shame and pandemics are also virtual meetings.
Do I need a high-end computer in addition to my glasses?
“High-end” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but a reasonably powerful gaming PC is definitely necessary. The graphics card decides: You have to keep in mind that (the not even very high-resolution) Oculus Rift S displays 2560 × 1440 pixels per frame (1280 × 1440 per eye) – and that with 80 frames per second. And: Unlike the standard monitor, even the smallest stutters have a very negative effect on well-being in VR. For comparison, most games only run at 30 fps on game consoles. In a VR PC, you, therefore, have to spend at least as much money on the graphics card alone as on a console. Currently, a card in the performance range of an Nvidia GTX 1660 TI or an AMD RX 590 is about the lower limit – the faster, the better. For a new, VR-compatible PC you have to expect costs of at least 700 euros.
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How much space do I need to play in VR?
Although there is also VR software that is best used while sitting, most programs are designed for the so-called “room scale”, i.e. you should be able to move a little. The absolute minimum is about the same as your own arm span – after all, you don’t want to accidentally sweep the monitor off the table with the controller in the heat of the VR session (everything has already happened). To create something like a feeling of freedom, Valve recommends at least 1.5 by 2 meters, and Oculus 2 by 2 meters. This is a good way to do so – everything above it is often more annoying than it is useful, after all, you are hanging on the PC with a cable that likes to get tangled.
Are there PC VR headsets without cables?
All PC VR headsets require a wired connection as standard. For the HTC Vive, the HTC Vive Pro, and the Vive Cosmos, a wireless conversion kit is available, which includes a transmitter for the headset as well as a WiGig PCIe plug-in card for the PC. The kit costs between 345 and 420 euros, depending on the headset. The wireless kit worked well in the c’t test. For the Oculus Quest, there is software that streams VR software from the PC to the headset via Wi-Fi. In our tests, none of these software solutions has worked satisfactorily so far.
Does VR only run on Windows or also on macOS or Linux?
The Oculus Headset driver is only available for Windows. The HTC Vive (Pro) gives SteamVR drivers for macOS, but extremely few supported titles. The Vive headsets and the Valve Index run on Linux, but again, there are few software titles. Linux users can use the compatibility tool Steam Play (aka Proton), which makes many VR titles run without dedicated Linux support. Among others, Beat Saber, Superhot VR, and Google Earth VR work with Steam Play.
Which VR glasses are recommended for the PC?
The cheapest is currently the so-called Windows Mixed Reality Headsets (WMR), for example from Samsung, Acer, HP, Dell, and Lenovo/Medion. They are sometimes new from 230 euros, used even from 100 euros. However, development is stagnating, as Microsoft seems to be more concerned with its AR products such as Hololens. WMR’s hand tracking is currently among the worst on the market, and the controllers are clunky, heavy, and battery-hungry.
At the upper end of the spectrum is the Valve Index, but it is not only expensive (1080 euros), but also requires two external tracking boxes, which can be annoying in practice. It is the only device on the market with 120 Hz displays and controllers with single-finger tracking. The HTC Cosmos does not require external tracking cameras, but cannot clearly differentiate itself from the WMR headsets in terms of quality.