Virtual Reality coming of age?



Recently, there have been a lot of buzzes in the tech world about a decades old technology, Virtual Reality (VR). Big guys the like of Facebook, Google and Samsung are trying to convince us that VR is finally ready for the masses. But is it? I have a few PhD/MSc students wanting to do their research in VR and healthcare. I have been exploring a few popular options, including Oculus Rift (developer version 1 & 2), Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR. So how good are they?

Let’s start with Oculus. Oculus Dev ver 1 was good for what it was – one of the first low cost consumer VR headsets. The resolution was not great, and one could literally count the pixels on screen. It has high latency – meaning there is a noticeable delay between controller input (e.g. rotating your head), and screen update. This results in dizziness especially for a VR experience with fast motions.

Oculus Dev ver 2 is a significant improvement. The resolution is much better, and they seem to get the latency down to an acceptable level. Even when playing a relatively fast paced game, I didn’t feel dizzy at all. However, the set up is a pain, with lots of cables and an external head tracker. Like ver 1, the headset needs to be attached to a desktop/laptop.

Google Cardboard is probably the easiest one to get into. You only need a smart phone (iOS or Android) and the cheap looking cardboard headset (costing around £4-£15). It works quite well, but it is not as immersive as Oculus or Samsung Gear VR. It is good if you want to experience what the hype VR is about, but not willing to shell out big money.

I just received a Samsung Gear VR (see figure) yesterday, and have been experimenting with it. I am quite impressed by the ergonomics and ease of use. Samsung really got almost everything right for a mobile VR headset. It works pretty much like Cardboard, where you slot in your Samsung phones (only certain high end Samsung phones are supported currently) and it just works right away – no cables! The resolution is as good as Oculus ver 2! The user interface is beautifully designed and I am blown away by some of the 360 stereoscopic videos one can get for free from the VR store. There is however a huge problem with latency. Whilst the resolution is as good as Oculus v 2, the latency issue is as bad as Oculus v 1! I got very sick after 1-2 minute playing an action game where one runs around inside human cells. It is really a shame. Perhaps with newer phones (like S7), this problem will go away? We will see. For now, Gear VR is still good for 360 videos, and other VR experience with slow or no motion.


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