Holiday VR Buying Guide

What VR headset should you buy this holiday season for watching VR porn? You just might gasp at the truth behind Mixed Reality headsets, and be surprised by our final recommendation. First, we need to teach you a bit about the basics of the current VR headset technologies.

The early entrants were the HTC Vive and the Occulus Rift . They were expensive, but state of the art. The lower tier were the Sony Playstation VR , the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream, requiring specific smart phones but offering interesting features and good quality. At the bottom is Google Cardboard and the endless plastic boxes you can stick any smartphone into. The lower end still offers a cheap way to try it, but eventually you will want a better experience that includes the ability to move around in your environment, which is the major difference in the more expensive headsets. We wrote about these options in the Sex in 3D – VR Goggles article.

This month and last began the shipping of the much ballyhooed Windows Mixed Reality headsets from a number of manufacturers. Like the high end headsets, it offers the ability to move around in your environment by mapping the room through its internal cameras rather than using external cameras. It is too soon to offer detailed evaluations of any of these, but we can give you enough information to make an informed buying choice.

We offered a preview of the new Mixed Reality headsets in our Sex Tech – VR Sex Technology Update. Originally, the Spring Creators Update was supposed to have built-in features to support Mixed Reality, but it was a no show, and moved to the just released Fall Creators Update. That is why the new headsets are starting to ship now, and we can now talk about the reality versus the hype, and trust me, the hype has been extreme.

According to Microsoft: “EdgeHTML 16 will be released with Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, and the era of Windows Mixed Reality begins as headsets and motion controllers become widely available, enabling low-cost, immersive experiences with WebVR in Microsoft Edge. Microsoft Edge is now the first stable browser to ship comprehensive support for Virtual Reality. From within your headset you can view traditional 2D websites, manage your favorites, create new tabs (including InPrivate tabs), and seamlessly transition into WebVR experiences. And when browsing with Microsoft Edge on the Desktop, you’re still only one click away from launching WebVR content directly into your headset.”

The promise was cheaper headsets with the advantage of them supporting Microsoft’s Mixed Reality. What is that? Essentially, it is a combination of the VR we already know with Microsoft’s take on augmented reality, in which graphics are overlayed on the actual environment that you are in. They have two cameras, which allow you to not just view your actual environment but are also used to map that environment so that the graphics can be more realistically integrated.

Will Mixed Reality create new and unique porn experiences? Many are bullish on the idea, but it is actually difficult to say. While VR has tremendous potential for porn, especially as it becomes more interactive, Mixed Reality seems to offer more potential for gaming than porn.

The obvious use in porn for Mixed Reality would be to bring your fantasy sex partners into the room with you. This gets very complex very quickly, far more complex than VR which is just a more sophisticated way of recording and viewing video. How do you get a recorded video of someone to map properly into whatever environment you happen to be in? Just having a naked man or woman sitting next to you in a believable way is enormously complex. It would be much easier to do it with computer generated models, but will that be good enough? Leaving aside the computer rendering horsepower it takes to generate realistic CG humans, and the complexity of matching the lighting in your environment so they look like they are in the room with you, we are still a ways off from rendering completely believable people in real time. Will viewers be happy with obviously computer rendered fantasy partners? I am not so sure.

In reality, any effective use of Mixed Reality for porn may be years away. So, is purchasing a current Mixed Reality headset a way to get in early and see whatever creative solutions the adult industry comes up with? We will answer that definitively in a minute, but first let’s take a look at the new headsets.

Some of the long promised Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) Headsets began shipping in October. The reality is that the new Mixed Reality headsets are not that cheap, but perhaps less expensive than you might imagine since they include two cameras. Even so, the other already established VR headsets have dropped dramatically in price, and you can now buy an Oculus in a bundle with hand controllers for the same price as many of the new headsets. And there is the Occulus Go, a wireless standalone headset for under $200. It is essentially a Gear VR without the need of a phone, with 2560 x1440 resolution. It will not be available until next year but it is certainly one to watch.

The Asus HC102 does not ship until December. The big advantage that this and the other new WMR headsets have over the earlier generation of VR devices such as Oculus is that they do not need as robust a PC to run on. An Intel Core i5 chipset or better and a USB 3.0 are good enough. There are some qualifications to this, though. As with the other headsets, to get the full 1440 x 1440 resolution in each eye with a 90Hz refresh rate does require a slightly beefier PC and you really need to check the specs to see if your computer can provide the full 90 Hz experience. All of the new headsets except one have very similar specs that follow Microsoft’s recommendations. The Asus has a cool looking polygon design on the front, it looks high tech, and it is light weight. It does have the smallest field of view at just 95 degrees.

The Acer WMR is a little retro looking in its blue plastic and visor like appearance. It can be easily flipped up to bring you quickly back to the real world. Early reports are that it can let in a little too much light, so you might want to try this on your face before buying to make sure it fits you properly. It has a slightly larger 100 degree field of view.

The Dell Visor also raises up to let you see the real world. It gets the best marks for comfort. I like its sleek look better than the Acer. It has a 110 degree field of view, which is really what you want to look for to get the best experience, and it is as wide as this generation of WMR visors gets. Controllers come in the bundle.

The Lenevo Explorer is very light. It also flips up to return you to the real world. It has a wide 110 degree field of view. While the image is reportedly not the best (too much blurring near the edges), the price is very low, currently the cheapest of the new WMR visors. There are also many factors to image quality, and despite edge problems the image looks quite good. They come with motion controllers

The one that stands out from the pack is the Samsung HMD WMR. It is also the most expensive. However, that extra price is worth it if you are looking for the best visual experience. It uses more vibrant OLED technology that provides darker blacks and richer colors, it has a higher resolution of 1400 x 1600 per eye, with a wide 110 degree field of view. There are many factors to image quality, and these have a high enough resolution to let you pretty much not notice any screen door effect. It also has built-in audio with 360 degree spatial sound, and comes with controllers.

There is a catch to watch out for. When comparison shopping, you want to make sure your visor comes bundled with hand held controllers. You need them, and they can add another $100 to the cost if purchased separately.

So, what would I recommend if you wanted to buy now? Well, I would first remind you that these are first generation WMR visors. Wireless headsets are coming, and once those are available, wired headsets will be an anachronism from the long technology past (which is measured in months instead of years). Just keep in mind that anything you buy now will be quickly outdated.

If you are looking ahead to the future and want to be ready for Mixed Reality that combines Augmented Reality with Virtual Reality, take a deep breath, because despite all of the fanfare about the future of Augmented Reality, not a single one of these WMR headsets actually supports Augmented Reality. While they have front facing cameras that theoretically make it possible, there is no guarantee that they will ever effectively support Augmented Reality. When Augmented Reality becomes an actual reality, my bet is that better WMR visors will be available.

What all of these do is 360 degree Virtual Reality. Unlike solutions like Google Cardboard or even the Playstation, these are more like Hive and Oculus in that they let you physically move around in a virtual environment. The difference is that the setup is easier. Hive and Oculus use external devices to map the actual environment and track you in it. The new WMR visors use what they call inside-out-tracking, meaning that the visor cameras do the tracking.

Initial reports are that WMR hand tracking can be little buggy. By using only two cameras, Microsoft’s headsets can lose track of your hands when they are out of your immediate central vision. The interface might also take some getting used to, as you can see the controller in the interface, and a line shoots out from it to the object you want to interact with. It is a bit like having to poke everything with a really long stick.

If money is no object, and you want to be able to play games, HTC Vive is still the best option overall. For around $100 less, I like the Samsung HMD WMR. Yes, there won’t be much in the way of games until December when the Steam games become available, but it is the best quality option to get involved with VR with a less powerful computer. AR games will eventually appear. It would be my personal pick to experience where Microsoft is headed with VR.

As to adult content, it will work fine on any of these. Whether engaging AR content is created by the adult industry remains to be seen, but there is still plenty of great VR porn out there, and the viewing experience on the Samsung HMD should be top notch.

If you are brand new to this, I thing the Oculus Go is a very interesting option, but it is not shipping yet. In that case, I would go with any cheap solution that has a button and uses your phone. While not a perfect solution, it is very inexpensive and gives you a good idea of what all the fuss is about.

As to the future, higher resolution in each eye, OLED like image quality, and removing the need for a cord will be the big game changers. Some creativity may be required for adapting the future AR porn experiences, since you normally have to hold both controllers and with adult content, most people like to have at least one hand free.

I believe that AR porn is a long way’s off. Am I right? Next month I’ll talk with some industry leaders and see what their plans are.