For the show this year, I left one day free just to roam freely around the show, looking for some insights or random bonus stories. One of the things that piqued my interest upon entering the International Tent was a number of VR headsets. It could be argued that the headsets that require a smartphone are a dime a dozen, so I scouted around for the VR headsets that were designed to come contained as all-in-one units and offer an untethered experience. A couple of the big names are touting untethered VR, so I asked around at a number of booths to look into the cheaper side of VR. For $100, you don’t get a lot.

For an all-in-one Virtual Reality headset, the core components include the screen resolution, screen size, screen quality, the SoC, the memory, the battery, the connectivity (wireless/LTE, USB etc.), the feel and the function of the headset are all key factors to get it right. In the myriad of six/seven headsets I was able to find in a morning at IDF, it was clear that almost all of these areas are gutted into the low-performance rung in order to meet very strict price points.

If we nostalgically look back to when Oculus was just starting, there were some clear defined goals that had to be achieved. For the most part they revolved around being to use the headset, eliminate nausea, and provide an immersive user experience. Millions of dollars and several prototypes later gave us the Rift, along with the Vive and other head-mounted displays (HMDs) that rely on a super powerful system behind it.

On the other side is Samsung Gear VR, leveraging an already owned premium smartphone with a reasonable element of a headset to house it – the smartphone is at a similar power budget to what you would expect to be the limit in front of the face. What these ‘bargain basement’ headsets try to do is try to provide all the hardware inside the headset, similar to the Gear VR, including SoC and battery and everything else, but for the same price as the Gear VR (minus smartphone). Of course, at the other end is Google Cardboard.

The true comparison points to these all-in-one VR systems could be the backpack VR units that house a laptop-like device, but these still require cables. The better comparison is to Intel’s Project Alloy, announced at IDF, or Qualcomm’s new VR820 platform, however both use internal and external cameras as part of a mixed VR/AR concept called mixed reality. We’ve seen other things like the SulonQ, which uses older AMD embedded parts, to provide the horsepower for an untethered VR experience as well. But all three of these are premium devices still in development. The goal of these cheaper headsets is to be super low cost, which also means there’s lots of competition to shave tenths of a cent off of the production costs.

As an additional caveat, the makers of these headsets I found on the show floor are the original design manufacturers, or ODMs. They are looking for bigger companies to order thousands of units and brand them under their own name, and subsequently deal with sales and distribution.



Bargain Basement, 1 + 2 + 3
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  • msweeney - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    This is an important observation, thank you.

    I personally decided to take the plunge on a Vive+GTX 1080 and my cost all in was just less than $1600. Granted my base system is an older i5-2500K but it seems to work well enough with the incredibly potent Pascal added to the mix.

    I found my GTX 970 to be respectable but clearly lacking in terms of VR capabilities, but others might not have the same needs as I do.
  • msweeney - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    Oh I forgot to add this for those who do happen to be on the fence:

    I have never been a religious person, but I will say that Elite Dangerous on a VIVE/1080 is positively *divine*.
  • Mugur - Monday, September 12, 2016 - link

    What's the status for the Vive issues in ED? I've contemplating myself buying a headset for Elite next year...
  • Badelhas - Monday, September 12, 2016 - link

    I have a 1070 and the Vive. Installed that game but haven't tried it yet. Is it that good?!

  • xthetenth - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    Being a geek is a lifestyle thing, not an income bracket.
  • mkozakewich - Monday, September 12, 2016 - link

    Also, not usually about having gaming computers, anecdotally speaking.
    (I personally spent $700 in 2010 to get a 6" netbook that fit in my pocket. That seems like the more usual kind of thing.)
  • theduckofdeath - Monday, September 12, 2016 - link

    A PC that can power a Rift does not cost 2,000. A Radeon RX 480 is fully capable of the high frame rates VR requires, and a PC with that GPU is far less than a thousand <insert €,$ or £ here>.
    That's the price of a flagship phone, for a very capable PC.
  • edzieba - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    The Chinese market already has plenty of clones available. For example, the Deepoon E2, which is a DK2 clone lacking position tracking (along with hacked 'compatibility' with the Oculus SDK 0.8 version). There was a lot of furore a few months back over Oculus adding a device check to their software, with the accusation flying that it was intended to lock out a Vive emulation layer, with little mention of the clones already on sale that declare compatibility with games using the Rift SDK without actually meeting the same quality standards (e.g. lack of position tracking, lack of low persistence, etc).
  • hyno111 - Friday, September 9, 2016 - link

    There are actually a lot more Chinese cheap vr clones, but none of them have hacked the Oculus SDK of yet. Some actually choose to be compatible with SteamVR, and also requires some messy hacking..
  • edzieba - Saturday, September 10, 2016 - link

    Oh certainly, that was just the one that immediately came to mind. Oculus' 'entitlement check' was easily bypassed, but it seems it is sufficient to do its job, making 'access' to content on Oculus Home not worth the sustained cat & mouse effort to work around for the cash-in clones, for the moment at least.

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