Beyond television, beyond smartphones, the "next big thing" is virtual reality.
Prepare to look silly.Business Insider / Oculus VR / Tech Insider
2016 is the year that the first high-end, immersive VR headsets go up for sale, starting with Facebook's Oculus Rift (above, center) on March 28 and followed by the HTC Vive Pre (above, left) and Sony's PlayStation VR (above, right). But what are these things and how do they work? Let's find out!
1. High-end VR headsets are NOT standalone devices — they require processing power from an outside source, like a computer or a game console.
Facebook-owned Oculus VR is partnering with computer makers like Dell and Asus to offer "Oculus Ready" PCs that cost $1,500 and come with a headset.Oculus VR
This is number one for a reason: that's a huge added cost on top of the headset price. Virtual reality requires serious horsepower to run. Think about it: since the computer is pushing a video to each one of your eyeballs individually, it's doing double the work of a standard game (which you'd see on a single screen).
One solution, offered by Oculus VR, is to drop $1,500 and get a PC with high-end internals capable of running games. Another solution, offered by Sony, is to buy a PlayStation 4. These are the closest you get to simple solutions when it comes to powering high-end virtual reality.
2. There are three companies making high-end VR headsets: Sony, Facebook, and HTC/Valve.
The HTC Vive Pre, the Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR (respectively).HTC / Oculus VR / Sony
If you're buying a high-end virtual reality headset in 2016, you're buying one of the three headsets above. High-end means one thing in this case: high quality and high cost. You're getting the best, but you're also paying for it.
Sony's PlayStation VR only works with a PlayStation 4, while the HTC Vive Pre and Oculus Rift only work with high-end PCs (not your MacBook, unfortunately).
The only headset with a price so far is the Oculus Rift (center): $600. The HTC Vive Pre is likely going to cost more than $600, as it comes with two motion controllers as well. PlayStation VR is likely going to cost less than $600, as it can't cost much more (if any more) than the $350 price tag of the PlayStation 4 itself (which is required to use the headset).
3. All high-end VR headsets have long wires coming off of them.
Don't expect to stand up and walk around in virtual reality beyond a few feet.Business Insider / Oculus VR / Tech Insider
This isn't Star Trek and you're not in a Holodeck, as rad as that would be. Though the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive Pre, and PlayStation VR are all capable of tracking your head movements even if you stand up and walk around, the wires are only so long and, ya know, you've got a big headset on blocking your entire field of vision. You might step on the cat or punch a child by accident or something. Worse, you might knock over your computer or game console! Prepare to have as much open space as possible if you're playing a game or experience that requires it.
(Good news for the HTC Vive Pre: it has a camera on the outside that works with the tracking system to show you where walls and other obstacles are in the real world while you're in virtual reality. Smart!)
4. All high-end VR headsets require a separate camera or sensors mounted high in the room you're using them.
The one that looks like a microphone on the left is the Oculus Rift camera; the one on the top right is the PlayStation 4 Camera; And in the bottom right are the HTC/Valve Lighthouse laser-emitting boxes.Sony / Oculus VR / HTC
If you don't like adding cameras in your living room/office/dedicated VR room, you're out of luck when it comes to high-end VR headsets. Since they need to track your movement in a variety of directions, cameras or laser-emitting boxes are used in conjunction with the headset and PC/PlayStation 4 to capture your moves nearly as fast as you can make them. It's quite a challenge, actually.
5. You use motion controllers to stand in for your hands.
Cameras can only really capture your head's movement — in order to bring your hands into VR, all three high-end VR headset makers employ motion controls. These systems are often optional in a game or VR experience, but can serve to enhance immersion. If you'd prefer to use a gamepad, though, many games allow you to do just that.
6. You might get sick.
If you get sick, or just freaked out, don't panic like this guy. And if you do panic, don't let people catch you on video and put it online.YouTube
Part of what makes VR so hard to pull off is the human mind's ability to protect us. Simply put, much of what's capable in VR — from games to movies to tourism — isn't convincing enough for your brain, and nausea is the result. As VR gets better and better, and people making content for VR start establishing more best practices, this lessens as a problem.
That said, if you're experiencing dizziness or nausea while wearing a VR headset you should take it off immediately and relax.