Virtual Reality seems to the general public as this mystical land where you can trick your mind into believing you are somewhere else. And when high quality VR headsets retail for over $800, it is natural that we seek a cheaper and easier alternative. That is where mobile VR comes in, trying to satisfy someone who is a little lighter in their pockets.
How do they work?
Mobile VR headsets are not genuine VR, because they use a phone as the screen and compute source. These headsets require the input of a smartphone, which is often high end (and expensive) and turns your phone into a pseudo VR computer. This means the headsets themselves are basically nothing but plastic and lenses. True, yet the way the image is produced is rather interesting.
Traditionally VR headsets have two screens that are high pixel density because your face is less than 2in away, but a phone doesn’t have two high resolution screens. It has one. Essentially, your phone will render the same image twice but offset for each eye. But just because the way it works is cool does not mean it produces results that are equally cool. When you split the screen in half you only have half the resolution you would normally have. Not always a great thing when it’s so close.
Surprisingly many companies have hopped on the bandwagon trying to pitch VR as the next big thing in technology. With such powerful names in this game what do they offer? Well both Google and Samsung have released headsets with a similar price range, both for about $80 (you can find some of the newer Samsung models at $100+). There is a small caveat with each of these High-end mobile VR headsets, they both require a specific set of phones. The Samsung Gear VR works with only Samsung branded phones. The Google Daydrem View only works with “Daydream ready” phones, currently only the Pixel and Pixel XL have this compatibility. For the rest of the article I will be referring to mainly these two headsets but, please be aware there are cheaper options such as google carboard.
If you have never tried genuine VR, such as the Oculus or HTC Vive, it may be hard to tell how good Mobile VR is. In my personal experience I can say right off the bat that genuine VR is miles beyond. So instead of focusing on the differences of genuine and mobile I will include the price point.
Mobile VR is special in so many ways and one major thing I have enjoyed is media consumption is very nice on something like Google Daydream. While there is not as much media backing on the Samsung Gear VR, it still has the benefit of being untethered as all the computing is done on your phone as noted above. The lack of a cable attaching you to a PC is much easier to deal with and makes it less of a hassle. But, just because there is no tether does not put Mobile VR above the Vive or Oculus. The comfortability of the mobile headsets is decent for about an hour, if that. The mobile headsets heat up much faster and I often found myself readjusting the headsets bands to make a more secure fit. The biggest fault of these headsets would be they are limited to the resolution to your phone screen and both the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View will be stuck at that resolution. Because the highest resolution main stream phones right now are 1440p images still turn out “blurry” to an average user.
Short answer: yes and no. It is a really cool thing to mess with when you’re bored or you want to ignore everyone around on a plane. But, with the low resolution, fidgety straps, overwhelming heat from the phone, and battery draining it becomes less of a bargain.
So if you have a compatible phone and you want to try it out I would say go ahead and pick one up, but don’t expect to be using it a whole bunch. This also means you shouldn’t buy a phone for VR, not just yet anyways. In general Mobile VR and regular VR both have a ways to go, but one thing is for sure, people are intrigued and are waiting to see what happens next!