There’s something about the smell of a freshly unraveled piece of kit that gets me excited. No, not that type of excited. Rather, what I’m referring to are the warm fuzzies I get from the aroma of a new console, new gaming peripheral, or new hardcopy game that I associate with a sense of childhood nostalgia. Every time I’ve been delighted with the olfactory sensation of freshly unpacked plastic and silicone, it’s because I’d opened something exciting and new.
So, with that said, it’s quickly looking like many more consumers will begin associating that ‘new tech scent‘ with VR in the year 2019.
Progressing through the year, we’ve seen every major developer announce or tease a new headset; meanwhile, you can expect to see a boatload of new games and software release across all platforms, inciting dreams of No Man’s Sky VR, Dance Central VR, and Boneworks—to name a few. While not quite ready to usher in the long-awaited 2nd generation of VR, it seems like all VR developers are primed to let loose with a fresh set of goodies. And that’s a very good sign of growth (if you’re still concerned about VR dying off overnight).
On the hardware side, there are plenty of iterative improvements finally making their way into the hands of consumers—inside-out tracking, standalone 6DOF, and foveated rendering, oh my! But it’s important to note that while many projects are promising new and exciting features, there is still a metric ton of marketing hype floating around in this space.
That’s why I curated a list of hot new VR items that you should actually spend your time and attention (and money) on in 2019. Feast your eyes:
10. Acer ConceptD OJO
While not quite as slick as the HP Reverb (#9 on our list), the Acer ConceptD OJO looks like it’s positioning itself to be a powerful contender in the Windows VR market. It brings two (2,160 x 2,160) displays together to produce 4,320 x 2,160 (4K) resolution, which is great news for those higher-end PC owners (who play in the Nvidia RTX2080 league or equivalent, and) who have the cash to sling out once a release date and MSRP are set into stone.
The HP Reverb, also a Windows VR headset and also running two displays at 2,160 x 2,160, has been compared to the Oculus Rift CV1 more than once for its overtly similar aesthetic design. Don’t be fooled by the similarities, however; it’s been given the digital IPD treatment and retains the inside-out tracking of the first HP Windows VR headset. Expect an MSRP of $600 for the consumer version, and $650 for the enterprise version when the Reverb releases this month.
8. HTC Vive Pro Eye
The HTC Vive Pro Eye is the first major headset to release with eye-tracked foveated rendering, meaning that it renders images clearer wherever you’re looking. Besides the built-in eye tracking, it supposedly isn’t much different than the original Vive Pro, offering the standard 90hz refresh rate, 110-degree FOV and 2,880 x 1,600 (1,400 x 1,600 per eye) resolution. Note that the Pro Eye is going to be priced towards the enterprise market rather than the consumer market, but it’ll still make for one hell of a great gaming experience if, as a consumer, you manage to get your hands on one.
7. HTC Vive Cosmos
While the Vive Pro Eye is meant more for enterprise customers, the Vive Cosmos is aiming to take over as HTC’s flagship (consumer-targeted) PC VR headset. HTC claims to have given it the ‘sharpest screen yet’ in the HTC VR ecosystem, as well as a few other notables like inside-out tracking and a screen that flips up. Nobody knows what this thing will cost or when it’ll get released, but we’re crossing our fingers that HTC makes a 2019 launch happen.
6. NordicTrack VR Bike
While it’s not likely that many consumers will take one of these ($2000) babies home with them, you may eventually start seeing them spring up in gyms nearby. The NordicTrack VR Bike (we’ve previewed it here) is essentially a specialized stationary bike with a built-in controller peripheral and a control scheme that allows you to play different games while you pedal. The NordicTrack VR Bike will release this summer with a Vive Focus headset and a full year of membership to NordicTrack’s proprietary iFit service.
5. VZfit Sensor Kit
Right off the bat, the VZfit Sensor Kit delivers an accessible VR biking experience to more people by making its two apps VZfit Play and VZfit Explorer available for Oculus Go owners. All you need is the $99.95 sensor, a Go headset, a stationary bike, and you’re good to go. VZfit Play has a more open-ended format, with example games including a WW2-era skirmish where you maneuver tanks against other players. Meanwhile, the VZfit Explorer drops you into any real locale you choose for real-time biking challenges.
Update (4/25/2019): In addition to the base sensor kit, VirZOOM requires you to have a subscription to its service in order to access its applications. The monthly model for its service comes out to $14.95 per month, but there is also a $119.95 yearly sub model that rounds everything down to $9.99 per month.
4. Valve Knuckles Controllers
Giving you the ability to track all four of your long fingers, the standalone Valve Knuckles controllers (which plug into SteamVR) are expected to shift how VR games are played on the PC. Presumably launching alongside Boneworks, an extremely interactive physics-based FPS that will show off what the Knuckles controllers are capable of, you will get to experience what it’s like to grapple with virtual objects using all of your fingers. Expect the controller set to release along with the Valve Index mid-June, but remain standalone for non-Index owners. Hat tip to Road to VR, who reported that May 1 is the day all Knuckles fans should expect to receive more details on both the controller set and the Valve Index (#2 on our list, explained below).
3. Oculus Rift S
Not a sequel to the first Oculus Rift CV1, but rather an iterative half-step into the future, the Oculus Rift S has a lot of good things going for it that aren’t apparent off the bat. For example, while it has a lower max refresh rate (80hz vs the 90hz of the original), it boasts a higher pixel density that makes it look and feel much smoother than the original. The resolution on the Rift S is 1,280 x 1,440 vs. the Oculus Rift CV1‘s 1,080 x 1,200.
Update (4/30/2019): It’s not the higher pixel density of the Oculus Rift S that mitigates the lower refresh rate but rather the lower pixel persistence. h/t David Heaney at UploadVR for pointing this out.
Including the additions of a digital IPD, inside-out tracking, and a halo-ring structure for comfort, the Rift S is surely worth its $399.99 price tag for fresh entrants into the PC VR colosseum. We’re expecting to see both the Oculus Rift S and the Oculus Quest arrive not only this spring but within the next few weeks; Facebook’s annual F8 conference will take place between April 30 and May 1, where the Oculus Go May 1 launch date was formally announced (it was released during the event) in 2018. Check out our preview of the Oculus Rift S here.
Update (4/30/2019): Now that F8 is underway, we know that the Oculus Rift S is officially out for preorder and will ship units as soon as May 21st.
2. Valve Index
The elusive, long-awaited Valve Index is the first true first-party headset from Valve, who is apparently no longer resigned to delivering its technologies behind the scenes through manufacturers like HTC. There isn’t a ton of info available on the headset yet, aside from a June 15 release date. But suffice it to say, this one is going to change the playing field of PC VR as we know it. As a direct response to Oculus opening their platform up for the much broader demographic of lower-end users rather than iterating vertically, Valve has come out with a bold statement: in a VR industry increasingly dominated by Oculus and Sony, at least one major developer is willing to invest into a high-end PC VR platform.
You can gather more details on the upcoming Valve Index from this report over at The Verge.
Update (4/30/2019): Now that the Valve Index has been officially previewed by Valve and pre-orders are going out as of May 1st, we know a bit more about the device in its lead-up to launch. It will rock two 1,440 × 1,600 LCD Panels, offer a refresh rate up to 144hz, and increase the original HTC Vive field of view by 20 degrees (from 110 to 130). h/t once again to David Heaney from UploadVR, who detailed in his report that the Valve Index will come in three different bundles:
To clarify; while earlier reports indicated a June 15th release date, the Steam Store page appears to second-guess that info with an estimated June 28th shipping date. For now, it’s safe to say that Valve Index headsets will arrive at some point in June.
1. Oculus Quest
And that brings us to spot #1: the Oculus Quest. Ever since its announcement at Oculus Connect 5, industry professionals and consumers alike have sat with bated breath for the Quest to get a release date. In fact, it’s a hard understatement to say that this thing is easily the most sought after item in VR right now; even Oculus’ most zealous foes are anxious to see what happens after the Oculus Quest hits the streets and the proverbial cat escapes its PC-bound bag.
If you haven’t clued into what exactly is driving all of this excitement, here’s a quick breakdown:
Bringing total immersion via six degrees of freedom (6DOF) to Oculus’ new standalone content platform, the Quest will instantly become the single hottest deal on the market for anybody looking to jump into VR at a price point of $399.99. Not only will it release with classics like Beat Saber, Rec Room, and Echo VR; it will also get cross-buy launch titles like Dead & Buried 2 and OrbusVR: Reborn. Many of those (and more) will speak to Oculus Rift and Rift S owners over the Oculus platform. The best part is that it’s standalone; meaning that you do not need to own anything other than the original device to jump in and enjoy VR!
As mentioned in the Oculus Rift S overview (contender #3, explored above), Facebook F8 is the big event that we’re all holding tight for. That’s almost certainly when we’ll get more details on the Oculus Quest launch date, and my fingers are crossed that both the Quest and the Rift S will see a May 1st release. On that note, it’s come to my attention that demo builds of the Quest are just about to go out (or have already gone out, depending on when this article is published), so the likelihood that the release date is coming around the corner is excruciatingly high.
For more details, you can visit our Oculus Quest hands-on from Oculus Connect 5, then scroll on down to our preview of Beat Saber on the Oculus Quest at GDC. And here’s Mike from VR Oasis previewing the very same Beat Saber gameplay:
Update (4/30/2019): Now that F8 is underway, we know that the Oculus Quest is officially out for preorder and will ship units as soon as May 21st.
What upcoming VR gadget excites you the most? Let us know in the comments.