Virtual reality (VR), which simulates experiences that are either similar to the real world of entirely invented, has become increasingly popular over the recent years. Instead of being something fringe and almost sci-fi, the tech used has become more widely available, allowing developers to use VR platforms in video game development — and beyond.
As is the case with video games, VR platforms are now being leveraged by the likes of everyone from healthcare professionals to real-estate agents because the simulation-creating tech allows them to create a better, more valuable patient, or customer, experience. While screens allow us to peer into worlds, VR tech actually immerses us in three-dimensional worlds.
Yes, it all sounds pretty high-tech, but you can easily scoop up a VR headset at your local Best Buy if you’re so inclined. The only problem? There are a lot of options out there — and a VR headset can be quite the investment. So, if you’re a beginner, is something like the ever-popular Oculus Quest 2 your best bet for taking that first step into VR experiences? Let’s find out.
The Origins of VR Platforms
Humankind’s interest in entering invented worlds and virtual realities has existed for quite some time. In fact, explorations into virtual reality stretch further back then you might think — long before the efforts of modern-day video game companies, and even before we all became obsessed with The Matrix‘s simulation.
In the 1930s, science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum was among the first to predict the advent of VR. In Pygmalion’s Spectacles, a story from 1935, the visionary wrote about goggles that allowed the wearer to experience sensory, holographic worlds. The notion of VR would reoccur in other well-known sci-fi works, including Ray Bradbury’s 1950 short story The Veldt, which tells the story of a family that lives an automated (or “smart”) home. One of the home’s wonders is the “nursery,” a virtual reality room that creates reproductions of any place the family’s children imagine.
Outside of fiction and sci-fi speculation, attempts at creating immersive, 3D worlds stretch back even further. For example, panoramic paintings and murals of the 1800s sought to transport viewers into realistic scenes, albeit without other sensory or mechanically aided efforts. But a real leap forward came in 1838 with Charles Wheatstone’s foray into stereoscopic photos.
“Wheatstone’s research demonstrated that the brain processes the different two-dimensional images from each eye into a single object of three dimensions,” the Virtual Reality Society explains. “Viewing two side by side stereoscopic images or photos through a stereoscope gave the user a sense of depth and immersion.” This, of course, led to the development of the View-Master, which was patented in 1939 and gave rise to a kind of unique virtual tourism experience. The Virtual Reality Society also points out that Edward Link’s “Link Trainer,” a 1929 electromechanical flight simulator, also has ties to early VR development, namely because it was meant to immerse would-be pilots into the experience of flight.
Another huge leap forward came in the 1950s when cinematographer Morton Heilig created Sensorama, which, as the name implies, was meant to stimulate all of the senses, beyond just sight and sound. By 1960, Heilig had also invented the so-called Telesphere Mask, the first head-mounted display (HMD) ever created. Over the next 30 years, companies, inventors and visionaries alike tried to create VR tech and experiences, leading to the development of more HMDs and flight sims. Notably, there were also more unique developments, including MIT’s Movie Map in 1977 — a system that let users explore a virtual Aspen, Colorado, not like Google’s Street View — and the Sayre Gloves in 1982, which, according to the Virtual Reality Society were gloves “wired to a computer system and used optical sensors to detect finger movement.”
Of course, in these early days, VR tech wasn’t all that accessible. Sure, the Sayre Gloves may sound a lot like PlayStation Move’s motion wands or, you know, HAPTX gloves, but even in the ’70s and ’80s VR and adjacent tech were used by the likes of NASA, not gamers. In 1993, that all changed — or, at the very least, video game company Sega hoped that would change. The company behind Sonic the Hedgehog released its own VR headset for the popular Sega Genesis video game console, but, in the wake of several development challenges and a steep price-point, the endeavor flopped. The Sega VR-1 and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, which came out over the next few years, didn’t see much success either.
While the video game industry would pivot slightly to motion control — think Nintendo’s Wii — and other more mild VR experiences, folks in tech were still researching VR as a viable industry. In 2007, Google added the Street View ability to their Maps service, allowing users to (virtually) stand anywhere in the world and view 360-degree images. Google seemed poised to be the leader in VR tech, but the company’s launch of both Google Glass and Google Cardboard came in the wake of a successful 2012 Kickstarter campaign. The campaign in question was an effort to fund Palmer Lucky’s prototype headset, the Rift, and it raised nearly $2.5 million. Despite Sega and Nintendo’s earlier failures, it became clear that VR had true commercial potential again — so much so that Facebook bought Lucky’s Oculus technology in 2014. And that brings us back to the Oculus Quest 2.
How Did Oculus Come to Be?
In 2010, Palmer Lucky created a kit VR headset, “Oculus Rift,” which would go on to irrevocably change the VR landscape. As mentioned above, Lucky would go on to rise over $2 million to fund his development process, and, in a relatively short amount of time, his tech became the gold standard. In 2014, established tech giants entered the fray, realizing the commercial value of accessible, mainstream VR platforms. Facebook, of course, purchased the Oculus tech from Lucky, but Google launched Cardboard, and Sony announced that a VR component would be developed for the PlayStation 4 (PS4).
With the likes of Oculus and the HTC Vive leading the way, the VR boom began. Oculus launched its half-dome HMD in 2018, which allowed users to experience a very wide field of view (140 degrees, to be exact), and, that same year, introduced users to both Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. These HMDs set the benchmark for standalone VR. In particular, Oculus Go offered an affordable option for users. Much like gaming PCs, headsets were pricing more casual (or curious) would-be users out.
Most recently, the Oculus Quest 2 was released in October of 2020. The most advanced all-in-one VR system out there, Oculus Quest 2 provides an immersive experience for users and shows the capabilities of next-gen gaming, including full-body and hand tracking abilities. But is the Oculus Quest 2 the right choice for you?
Which VR Platform Is Best for New Users?
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw the global VR market valued at over $15 billion. Moreover, it’s expected to grow at a rate of 18% until 2028. Right now, five major players dominate the market — Oculus, Sony, Samsung, Google and Lenovo Group. Each of these companies has created platforms and tech that are both immersive and entertaining.
So, which is best? That’s kind of difficult to say outright. But when it comes to folks who are just getting into VR, a few options do stand out:
- The Oculus Quest 2 has been said to be one of the best VR platforms on the market. With improved optics, smoother software, and more precise controls, the Quest 2 is a real step above its predecessor. And, unlike other VR platforms, more welcoming and mainstream. While GamesRadar+ points that the actual headset feels a bit cheap, the site’s review also notes that “If you’ve been waiting to get into VR, but have been put off by the requirements of a super-powerful gaming PC, then let us tell you why the Oculus Quest 2 is the VR headset you need in your life right now.”
- The HP Reverb G2 has been known to offer the highest resolution quality for PC gamers. That power puts it a notch above the Oculus Quest 2, but it’s also clear that the HMDs are intended for different audiences. Our advice? If you’re already a PC gamer, you might prefer the HP Reverb G2 (and its specs).
- The Sony PlayStation VR is also great choice for newer VR users. It’s an excellent option for video games and can also be used for a broad range of other VR activities. While a video game console-based headset isn’t going to give you the horsepower of a PC-based one, it’s still a great option for folks who already have a PlayStation 4 (or 5) and want to test out VR.
Better, more accessible tech makes room for greater innovation, which means that many companies are broadening — or poised to broaden — their VR prospects. When choosing which VR platform is right for you, a lot of it boils down to how you intend to use the headset — as well as your gaming background — but it’s clear that the Oculus Quest 2 is worth looking into for folks who are new to VR.
Different Ways to Use VR Platforms
As new VR-related tech emerges, its use cases have diversified. All of that to say, VR has more applications than Minecraft VR or Beat Saber. In fact, many industries outside of gaming have reasons to create more immersive experiences for their consumers.
For example, engineers in the auto industry have been using VR to test the design and structure of a vehicle during the concept stage in order to save money on building out physical prototypes. Companies that focus on optometry, such as popular eyeglasses retailer Warby Parker, have harnessed the power of smartphone-based VR to allow customers to try on frames from home. And, perhaps most excitingly, VR has been employed in the field of education, allowing students to take virtual field trips to museums — or even outer space.
But VR isn’t confined to these popular HMDs we’re all scooping up. Desktop-based VR provides a virtual, 3D world without any positional tracking equipment or head-mounted displays, allowing users to take in a virtual world using high-resolution OLED or LCD monitors. Meanwhile, augmented reality (AR) blends users’ digital content experience with their real-life surroundings, and mixed reality (MR) uses a combination of real and virtual worlds, allowing digital and physical objects to exist and interact in real-time. Clearly, the potential for growth in the field of VR is nearly boundless. In fact, the only real limitation might be one’s lack of imagination.