The Alternative Realities of Our Time

virtual reality devices and augmented reality devicesTechnological advancements have allowed the virtual reality realm to progress from a hypothetical fantasy to one of the most competitive marketing realities in a relatively short period. And in hopes of joining the VR race while the iron is still hot, several companies have actually announced that they too will begin producing virtual reality gear.

And while virtual reality was by far the showstopper at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, augmented reality engineers are still hard at work improving a technology which could potentially propel us into the future. Granted, the Google Glass project has now gone into hiding under new supervision, however countless other augmented reality glasses and goggles were presented throughout the show.

Of course, Oculus seemed to be catching the entire spotlight in Las Vegas as its headsets were being displayed everywhere, not just at the company’s massive booth. And based on this years’ experience, virtual reality seems to have easily become the front-runner among VR Headsets, especially since high-quality, immersive augmented reality experiences are becoming harder and harder to achieve.

virtual reality hardware and software

But which are the most promising devices in both virtual and augmented reality?

Latest Virtual Reality Devices

Vvirtual reality at its startery few would have thought that what was pretty much a non-starter back in the 90’s would become such a mind-blowing investment now. Virtual reality is expected to revolutionize gaming and developers are getting better and better at creating life-changing experiences.

With the latest headset models (which actually look particularly futuristic), a tech-savvy is bound to spend 2 hours of sheer bliss, yet even so, a smartphone and cardboard box may also be enough to provide an excellent VR experience.

Here are some must-try virtual reality headsets:

Oculus Rift

oculus rift headset top contender for virtual reality gaming

Kick starting the scene back in 2012, Oculus wasn’t only the first of its kind in virtual reality but it also came from an independent developer: all the key ingredients for a promising product. Recently, Facebook acquired Oculus VR in a massive $2 billion deal, providing a massive growth possibility. The company is developing a consumer version with integrated audio as well as better head and positioning tracking (which will significantly outweigh the capabilities of current models).

And while the first Oculus Rift prototypes only began shipping to developers in 2013, it’s clear that the technology has come a long way. After various prototype virtual reality beginnings oculus rift prototypesrevisions, it seems that developers are getting closer and closer to retail versions.

The head-mounted display is, as Zuckerberg himself described it shortly after Oculus’ acquisition, a gateway towards an entirely immersive virtual environment, “like a game or a movie scene or a place far away.”

But what is it that makes the Oculus Rift so special? The set includes a headset, head-tracking camera and straps as well as an OLED display and separate displays for each eye, so that a stereoscopic view is achieved. Acting as either a second monitor or a duplicate monitor, the headset allows the wearer to enter virtual realms without fearing latency or lag. The high resolution display, highly accurate head tracking and integrated audio make it the most immersive it’s ever been, however, it is still not ready for consumer use.

Sony Project Morpheus

Sony is one of the VR developers to provide excellent news to its fans: the Sony Project Morpheus VR headset finally has a launch date (somewhere at the beginning of 2016). This PlayStation4 powered headset promises not only an immersive experience but also affordability especially for those gamers not particularly interested in making massive investments in VR gear.

sony project morpheus headset and controllers

The company made some interesting announcements at GDC 2015. Instead of the original prototype’s 5 inch LCD display, Sony decided to go with a 5.7 inch OLED display which is expected to not only improve the disturbing issue of motion blur but also enable low persistence. Additionally, Sony also announced that Morpheus will also experience a display refresh rate improvement (of up to 120hz) so that 120 frame per second gaming will exit the land of possibility and enter the land of the real. The headset’s design has also been improved so that wearers feel comfortable when playing.

HTC Vive

htc vive virtual reality gear

Although Oculus Rift reigns supreme in the VR department, its competition is fierce and the HTC Vive is one of those competitors. Hands-on reviews speak highly of the VR experience that the Vive provides, describing it as jaw-dropping and incredible.

Valve and HTC promises to eliminate the troubling jitter that is so pesky with other VR devices. Additionally, Vive offers the opportunity of walking around a virtual environment. Countless sensors, the accelerometer, gyrosensor and laser position sensors coupled with Steam’s position sensors allow the wearer’s position to be tracked in spaces of up to 15 sqft.

Packed with small light sensors all over the helmet, the HTC Vive team works with laser boxes mounted all over the ceiling corners (consumer versions will include IR blasters instead of laser boxes). Vive’s controllers are still in their early design phases, however, they resemble PlayStation Move’s wands equipped with triggers and capacitive click-disks.

Vive demos are life-changing, and the level of immersion is incomparable. While Oculus has moved away from putting an emphasis on inputs and controllers, HTC and Valve have found a solution to the issue. The controllers are accurate and allow users to effectively interact with the virtual space. Writing 3D-paint light-beam names and drawing spirals, snow and fire streaks will be the least impressive of Vive’s capabilities when the product will be finished and ready for consumer use.

Samsung Gear VR

samsung gear vr headset

Although somewhat restrictive, Samsung has graced the virtual reality world with one of the best (and most user-friendly) headsets currently on the market. Samsung’s Gear VR is powered by Oculus Rift and allows users to take their Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or S6 and use it as a display and processor.

The Galaxy is simply slotted in front of the lens and becomes a Super AMOLED screen. With the latest S6 headset release, the headset becomes lighter and sits better on the user’s head. The pixel density has also improved to 557 ppi as compared to the Note 4’s 515 ppi. What’s left is for Samsung to provide a wide array of games, movies and VR apps for users to enjoy.

Carl Zeiss VR One

carl zeiss vr one virtual reality headset

Another smartphone-powered headset similar to Samsung’s Gear VR is Carl Zeiss VR One, a branded headset designed to work with any type of Android or iOS handset (as long as it has a diameter of at least 4.7 and at most 5.2 inches). With a media player for pictures and YouTube videos as well as an augmented reality app for other types of experiences, the Carl Zeiss VR One is particularly promising.

Google Cardboard

google cardboard accessible vr technology

Low-cost options for a virtual reality experience could also find their way in the VR market and Google played with the idea when creating its Cardboard VR headset. Similar to Samsung Gear VR and Carl Zeiss VR One, Google Cardboard works as a container for your smartphone. Since the device already contains most of the necessary sensors, gyrosensors and positioning systems, all you need is a bit of cardboard and the set of plans released by Google for a little DIY project.

After cutting the cardboard into the correct shapes and sizes, two 40 mm lenses are required so that your eyes can correctly focus the screen. A pair of magnets is also necessary to act as a switch while some Velcro and rubber bands are used to hold the smartphone in place.

Companies are already offering DIY kits with all the materials required for a Google Cardboard headset. And while the headset doesn’t particularly thrill users with all of the roller-coaster and outer-space shooter apps, Google Earth in 3D or cinematic views of YouTube videos are entertaining and well worth your assembly efforts.

Liquid VR

virtual reality headset attempts to eliminate latency

AMD also decided to hop the VR bandwagon with its Liquid VR kit. It aims to make virtual reality easier or everyone by allowing VR headsets to work on various devices. Using AMD’s GPU software and hardware systems, Liquid VR aims to reduce gaming latency to less than 10 milliseconds.

Such a massive latency reduction will surely ensure optimal immersion throughout the entire VR experience. Collaborations with other devices on the market are also in store, and a plug-and-play system is also on the horizon for AMD.

Avegant Glyph

avegant virtual reality headset

Avegant’s initial headsets were particularly cumbersome and heavy, however, the Glyph has significantly improved in design. It has become smaller, lighter and sleeker so that users aren’t bothered with the sheer size of the headset. Such a small size stems from the headset’s display technology which doesn’t present the images on conventional smartphone-like screens.

Rather than such technology, Avegant Glyph employs various micro-mirrors so that your retina is bombarded with information and images are directly reflected into a wearer’s eyes.

avegant vr headset function

Users simply place it on the head as if they were putting on a pair of headphones. The screen is then lowered into the visual field so that each eye can enjoy 1,280 x 720 vision. Granted, this headset is limited to a field of view of only 45 degrees, however, the massive upper hand that the Glyph has over other headsets is the fact that the micro mirror array doesn’t produce the eye fatigue and motion sickness that conventional headsets do.

Razer OSVR

razer osvr open platformMaybe one of the contenders least likely to make it to consumers’ living rooms any time soon is the Razer OSVR. Of course, Project Morpheus and Oculus Rift are significantly better off, however, the Razer OSVR does manage to aid developers in producing better VR hardware without them being bothered by technical limitations.

Third parties will be able to use Razer’s open platform in order to better design their software and hardware regardless of operating system. In actuality, the device is provided as a way for users to create VR hardware. End results may even be sold if the creations are deemed worthy. And what Razer provides is something essential to the advancement of virtual reality: the possibility of coming together and sharing design experiences so that everything can move forward.

Archos VR HeadsetArchos VR Headset

A somewhat fancy Google Cardboard-like device, Archos’ headset attempts to provide accessible virtual reality experiences for consumers not willing to go over $40.

Its compatibility with any type of smartphone sized 6 inches or less represents an added bonus for a virtual reality headset , although VR app developers aren’t really producing applications and demos for particular platforms (Microsoft included).

More info: Archos VR Headset

Latest Augmented Reality Devices

While Google is already elbow deep in augmented reality technology, Samsung and Apple are also keen on getting into smart glasses and this has already caused some speculation as to the future of augmented reality and wearable devices. And though some companies are already developing AR technology, there is the fear that the videos and demos released online may be presenting something that is nothing more than a misleading illusion of what the modest reality underneath actually is.

And while Google Glass has abandoned its open nature and gone into secrecy, other technology such as Microsoft’s HoloLens and MagicLeap is also not really accessible to the public. Such secrecy begs the question: will augmented reality truly be able to step out of its infancy and become what everyone hopes it will be?

Microsoft’s HoloLens

Described as a Windows 10 device with a full holographic capability, the HoloLens makes it seem as though AR gaming may truly become a mind-blowing experience with the device. The Star-Trek look-alike visor wraps neatly around its wearer’s head so that the outside world is no longer of concern.

microsoft hololens 3d construction games

The most sophisticated controls come with the Holo Studio 3D building tool, where the wearer is able to design 3D objects via gesture, gaze and voice commands. Building digital landscapes is also particularly engaging with HoloLens’ HoloBuilder.

Voice and gesture commands are also used when using Skype from Microsoft HoloLens. The best part is that your interlocutor doesn’t need to also be wearing such a headset. In the future, HoloLens may actually become an excellent tool for remote trainings and teaching sessions or even technical support.

And while it’s still early to tell whether this augmented reality device will actually become successful , early reviews speak highly of the endless possibilities, especially due to its natural feel and the fact that it immediately becomes particularly useful to the user.

Google Glass

google glass augmented reality

No short review of augmented reality devices could correctly portray the AR world without mentioning the technology which actually popularized the concept of augmented reality. There’s a nerdy appeal to the Google Glass, which has become somewhat iconic for AR. The device is, of course, not even close to being perfected for the general public, however, Google plans to make it a powerful contender in the future.

Mind you, the Google Glass is not really an augmented reality device as it does not necessarily display information related to the objects you are seeing in front of you. Instead, it is more of a heads-up display. Even so, the Glass can provide a more augmented experience and as such, it had to also become part of the list.

CastAR Headset

castar headset augmented reality

According to some, castAR’s headset may actually be the future of gaming despite the fact that it is an augmented reality headset and not a VR device. With its two projectors, any surface can become a canvas for your game’s field of view. The headset responds to where the wearer is standing so that the in-game viewpoint constantly shifts in accordance to the user’s movements.

Total immersion isn’t something that any gamer wants, so augmented reality devices are the perfect blend of immersion and familiar territory. The projected augmented reality glasses started off with a bam after a successful Kickstarter campaign and are able to cast 3D images onto any surface while its camera uses LED’s to track the user’s movements.

From building three dimensional projects to playing interactive video games, the castAR device is fascinating to use and will certainly become even better as developers find new ways of working out its kinks. Its VR attachment makes it possible for the headset to also double as a virtual reality device.

The Cortex

the cortex augmented reality headset

Melding real and virtual worlds into one is Sulon’s goal with its headset. And the idea is particularly interesting. After all, when completely immersed in your virtual reality world, how can you not run into real walls you aren’t aware of?

Virtual reality devices have this major constraint: not being able to handle movement is sometimes difficult for most users. Full body movement often implies using controllers or strapping yourself into a device such as the Virtuix Omni, however, it isn’t really an option for some.

The Cortex overlays the virtual environment you are immersed in over real-life surroundings. Because of its massive sensor package, the world around you is accurately mapped so that everything from room size to obstacles is figured out and wearers are free to roam about without fearing injury. The walls or obstacles in the virtual world are actually a perfect match to your environment’s obstacles.

Cortex’s highlight is the full-body movement possibility and the fact that it enables an unparalleled freedom. Granted, its visual experience still requires improvement, but this is bound to change in the future.

Mirama Prototype Headset

mirama prototype

Despite the fact that this headset is still a prototype, the idea behind it is certainly worth mentioning. The company hopes to remove the need for a camera button on mobile devices. In fact, it hopes to replace the entire device.

The device’s built-in camera lets users frame and take pictures without hand gestures, buttons, vocal commands or winks. Requiring a connection to a PC so as to work correctly, the prototype aims to completely solve input issues. The camera sensor registers particular gestures which confirm or cancel particular commands.

When it comes to interface, Mirama intends to replace smartphones altogether. But for this to happen, the hardware must first undergo several changes so that it becomes lighter and smaller. Battery issues are also important.

Magic Leap Headsetsmagic leap headsets submarine augmented reality

This tiny startup is still one of the most mysterious augmented reality ventures. It is currently working on head-mounted devices which project digital light fields into the wearer’s eyes. Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap’s founder and CEO recently announced that the company’s looking for ways to showcase its new augmented reality device before its public launch.

The company has been tackling “cinematic reality”, as it describes the concept. And while the device sounds a lot like the HoloLens, Abovitz explains that the company has developed a unique way of generating the virtual objects it wishes to project. With safety as a main concern, Magic Leap’s devices won’t leave any “footprints in the brain”, so nausea and headaches won’t be an issue for users.

Epson Moverio BT-200

epson moverio bt200Compared to the company’s first generation wearable, the BT-200 brings much more to the table. Being smaller and lighter, the current augmented reality glasses offer much more juice. Of course, processing power and latency are still areas which require improvement (as with the majority of AR devices).

Of course, all types of augmented or virtual reality devices are still in their infancy and as such, work is still required for them to become truly consumer-ready. Consequently, such technology isn’t able to contend with devices such as smartphones or tablets (as they are already entrenched technology).

But if several issues are dealt with in the future, from input methods, battery life, processing issues, nausea, motion sickness or headaches, it’s fairly safe to say that such technology can only take off.

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