Which VR Hardware Should You Choose?
The Features of Virtual Reality Hardware
You may have noticed a trend in recent months. Instead of using the established digital design software packages to create models, many architects are now harnessing the power of virtual reality (VR) design software.
In truth, the technology is still in its infancy. Though some architects have adopted VR early, many others are still sat on the fence. They aren’t sure about what virtual reality has to offer, or how they can use the features of virtual reality to justify their investments.
Nevertheless, the use of VR is on the rise in the architectural sector. Cost is a major factor in this increasing uptake. In fact, it was not until very recently that the hardware needed to operate virtual reality design software became affordable.
Now that it is, you need to know more about the technology. In particular, you need to know where you should be investing your firm’s hard-earned money. But before that, let’s take a closer look at what virtual reality is, and how virtual reality design software could benefit your firm.
Virtual reality allows you to create simulations of real-life environments using your computer. The difference between VR and 3D modelling is that VR hardware also allows you to explore the models you create. Wearing a special headset, you can examine the model and get a greater idea of how it would occupy an actual physical space. In many cases, the hardware can even emulate your movements. This allows you to enjoy the sensation of “walking” through your simulated environment.
These headsets lie at the core of what VR has to offer. They contain several lenses, which combine to create a stereoscopic image. It is this image that gives the user the impression that they’re looking out into a real-world space. Instead of staring at a 2D monitor, you’re surrounded by the image. The hardware constantly processes and adapts this image, along with your movements. If you turn your head, the image reacts accordingly.
For architects, the key feature of virtual reality is its ability to help people to visualise their work. Instead of having to spend hours talking about your ideas to your clients, you can show them directly using VR hardware.
Of course, it’s not a perfect technology. Selecting the wrong hardware may mean that you can’t make full use of your virtual reality design software. Furthermore, you’ll end up wasting money, which your firm can ill afford.
So, how do you go about choosing the right hardware? This handy guide will tell you what you can expect from some of the major players in the virtual reality market.
Choosing Your Hardware
When it comes to VR hardware, you have a choice of four options. These are as follows:
- HTC Vive
- Google Cardboard
- Oculus Rift
- Samsung Gear VR
Let’s look at each one individually, so that you can get a better idea of whether or not it would be a good fit for your firm and its virtual reality software.
The HTC Vive retails between $999 and $1,299, depending on how lucky you are with HTC’s offers. For that money, you get one of the most advanced VR headsets available to the general public. The Vive makes use of a range of sensors, including an accelerometer and a MEMS gyroscope. The latter technology plays a large part in the Vive’s ability to read the user’s head movements.
The hardware also uses a few external sensors, which communicate with a couple of handheld devices. The user holds the handheld devices, which the sensors track to allow for real-time simulation of hand movements.
HTC Vive Pros
Unlike some of the other pieces of hardware on this list, the Vive actually allows the user to get up and explore. You cannot underestimate the benefits of this feature for VR architectural visualisation. The user can physically move around in the virtual space you create. They have full, 360-degree motion, so everything they do in real life is simulated in the virtual reality software.
The handheld devices are also a massive benefit when it comes to VR architectural visualisation. They allow your clients to reach out and touch the elements that you’ve built into your model. As a result, they can move lamps and other items of furniture around in the virtual space. Again, this all serves to engage the user.
HTC Vive Cons
The HTC Vive is one of the more expensive hardware options, so you have to feel certain that you can use it to its full potential before investing in it. It’s also not the most portable piece of equipment. There are lots of different sensors you need to set up. This process can take up to an hour, which could frustrate clients who have leave quickly after your presentation.
It also needs space. While the Vive’s ability to let users walk around is great, the user also needs plenty of room to move. You’ll have to get rid of any barriers too, otherwise, your client may trip on a wire they can’t see because they are wearing the headset.
Google Cardboard offers a great option for the thrifty among you. You’ll get a choice of cardboard headsets, which combine with your phone to create a virtual environment for the user. Expect to pay anywhere between $10 and $70 for the headsets.
As mentioned, Google Cardboard makes use of your smartphone. All you have to do, is plug the smartphone into the slot, and then pop the headset on. Of course, this also means Google Cardboard relies on you using a good smartphone. Even with a great smartphone, you will find that the experience is choppier than the one you’d get with the other options in this article.
Google Cardboard Pros
With Google Cardboard, it all comes down to the cost. No other VR solutions offer the same level of affordability. However, you’ll also find it to be one of the most portable solutions. Cardboard weighs practically nothing in comparison to the other headsets on this list, so you won’t struggle to transport it from place to place. You can even print your own firm’s branding onto the cardboard, which offers a nice degree of personalisation.
Think of the Google Cardboard as an entry-level piece of kit. You may not be able to use your virtual reality software quite as effectively as you would with the other options in this list. However, you can still use it to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Google Cardboard Cons
As you may expect, Google Cardboard comes with all sorts of limitations. Do not expect the same features of virtual reality as you’d get with other headsets. This is as basic as they come. You can’t use Google Cardboard to create simulations of massive environment, plus, the headsets need a good phone to be of any use.
The lag is also a problem. It makes prolonged use difficult and can even lead to motion sickness in people who are particularly sensitive to the condition. Furthermore, your firm will look unimpressive if you use Google Cardboard when a competing firm uses a more advanced virtual reality solution in its presentation.
Perhaps one of the most famous pieces of virtual reality hardware around, the Oculus Rift is a true trailblazer in the field. The headset comes with “Constellation” technology. This combines light-emitting diodes (LEDs) with several tracking sensors that are built into the headset.
This allows the Oculus Rift to simulate full-size environments. Furthermore, it allows the device to track scale, which means the user can walk around within the virtual environments you’ve created. It even has headphones, which means you can build sound into the experience. All of this comes at a fairly low price of approximately $845 per headset. However, you may have to account for some import charges at that price.
Oculus Rift Pros
The Rift offers very similar features of virtual reality to the HTC Vive, with the added benefit of greater portability. There aren’t nearly as many sensors to set up, which means you don’t have to waste as much time getting it up and running.
The headphones and microphone are also a nice touch, especially as they allow you to simulate more life-like environments. Even something as simple as the hum of an air conditioning unit can help your client to feel more immersed in your models.
Oculus Rift Cons
The biggest drawback to the Oculus Rift right now is its frame rate. It’s actually too fast at times, with newer models capable of reaching 90 frames per second.
So why is that a big deal? The issue comes when converting your models using your virtual reality software. For example, let’s assume that you’ve built a really complex Revit model. The speed of the Rift’s display will actually make that model lag. As a result, you need to spend more time on optimization if you’re going to create a quality virtual experience. The upside to this is that a properly optimized model looks spectacular when using the Oculus Rift.
Samsung Gear VR
Think of the Samsung Gear VR as a slightly more upscale version of Google Cardboard. Much like Google’s offering, you’ll need a smartphone if you’re going to use this headset. It also has to be a Samsung phone, which means you have limited options. However, it does have its own tracking sensors, which is a feature that’s missing from the Google Cardboard. This creates a smoother viewing experience which is generally free from the choppiness that can afflict the Google Cardboard.
The Samsung Gear VR was developed among some of the people who have worked on the Oculus products, which explains its polished appearance. It also doesn’t need complex computer hardware to run.
Samsung VR Pros
While not as powerful as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the Samsung VR is much more powerful than the Google Cardboard. The use of on-board sensors means that the hardware isn’t reliant on your phone’s internal sensors to create an image.
It’s also extremely portable. You won’t need all the hardware that comes with the more expensive solutions. At $99, it’s also one of the more affordable options available.
Samsung VR Cons
Though it has some internal sensors, that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same experience as you do with high-end equipment. Motion sickness can still be a problem, especially when you’re trying to use the Samsung VR to simulate complex structures. As a result, you’ll need to limit usage to a few minutes at a time. The fact that you can only use Samsung phones with the headset is also a bugbear.
You’ll also find it difficult to simulate real-world environments using the Samsung VR. It does well with static images, and models that have been optimized with the device in mind. However, the sort of real-time models that you’ll usually create in your virtual reality software will cause issues. Textures will look poor, and you’ll have to deal with a lot of lag. Finally, it also has a pretty poor battery life, plus it may overheat if you try to use it for a prolonged period of time.
So, those are the four most popular pieces of VR hardware available today. Which will work best for your firm really depends on your circumstances.
If you’re new to virtual reality software, it may be best to go for the Google Cardboard or Samsung VR. Both offer affordable entry into the VR space. Furthermore, they’re portable. However, you won’t be able to use them for in-depth presentations.
There’s very little to choose between the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The latter is more portable, and has a lower price tag. However, the Vive offers a more realistic virtual experience.
Regardless of your choice, ArchiStar Academy can help you. The company offers in-depth tutorials on the latest virtual reality software, which ensures you can use your hardware to the best of its abilities. Contact ArchiStar Academy today to find out how they can help with your transition into virtual reality.
ArchiStar Academy offers several courses across the spectrum of digital design software. You’ll develop your skills, allowing you to create more accurate and functional models.
If you would like to share your thoughts on our blog, we’d love to hear from you!
Get in touch with the ArchiStar Academy community via Facebook.
Posted on 19 Sep 2019