Hate the Holidays? Escape with VR

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It's the holiday season and you can't wait to celebrate it with your family and loved ones. There are plenty of presents to go around, food to eat, and bonding to do. Yet, just only two hours in, you start to realize how much you hate Grandma's sweater (Sorry, Grandma!), the never-right-tasting egg nog, and the nonstop babbling of your cousin's kids. And that's okay, because you've secretly got your escape planned. You just need to work on your excuses to leave. Where do you escape to? Virtual reality, of course. Whether you're gone for a few minutes, hours, or days... (ahem), with the help of VR, you'll be able to leave the confines of your holiday prison and travel far, far away.

Teach Me!

To begin, there are three platforms for experiencing VR content: mobile, console, and PC, ranging from least to most powerful. One of the easiest ways to jump in is with Google Cardboard—literally a piece of cardboard with two built-in lenses and a spot for you to place your phone. Setup is quite simple, and it’s the most cost-effective solution out there.

Samsung users can try the Samsung Gear VR Headset. This bundle includes a headset, which is compatible with Galaxy S6, S7, S8 series phones, as well as the Note 8. The controller can point, drag, tilt, shoot, and much more to help you navigate through virtual worlds and menus. If you still want to try VR, but want something a step up from the cardboard tier, consider the Google Daydream VR Headset, granted you have a Daydream-compatible Android smartphone. On the other hand, iPhone users are left... waiting. (I'm sure Apple has something in the works, but for the meantime, try out Google Cardboard or other third-party headsets.)

Google Daydream View Virtual Reality Headset

Next up are consoles. If you have a PlayStation 4, then you'll want to check out the PlayStation VR Skyrim VR Bundle. This kit contains a headset, a camera, two motion controllers, which are all required for a complete VR experience, and a copy of Skyrim VR. Please note that some games can be played using the DualShock 4 controller instead of the motion controllers. (I don't know about you guys, but I'm totally ready for my fourth play-through as another sneaky bow-wielding dragon-slaying... thief.) If shouting at things and people isn't your cup of tea, there are also additional bundles for FPS, racing, and Batman fans, and more. While that's all fine and dandy, I'm a bit reluctant to tell the Xbox fans out there that the Xbox currently does not have a VR headset but, don't fret, because there's supposedly one in the works. (Soon I hope, right?)

Sony PlayStation VR Skyrim VR Bundle

Last comes the PC. While not exactly tricky, the PC VR experience requires a bit more, especially if you're looking for more. Not only do you need a headset, controllers, and sensors, but you'll also need a capable gaming rig. Most importantly, that means a powerful processor, graphics card, and probably at least 8GB of RAM. (If you're playing games, I'd recommend 16GB of RAM.) The top two headset competitors in the ring are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

HTC Vive VR Headset

The recommended specs for Oculus Rift users include an NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or better graphics card, an Intel® Core™ i5-4590 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or better processor, and 8GB+ of RAM. The HTC Vive follows suit with similar requirements. Additionally, it’s important to note that you will need USB ports and HDMI or DisplayPort outputs. Luckily, if you’re not part of the DIY crowd, you can buy a Rift or Vive-ready system to save you the time and trouble tinkering around with expensive computer parts. There are also wearable backpack VR systems, such as the MSI VR ONE, the ZOTAC VR GO, and the HP VR G1, for an untethered experience.

CyberpowerPC BattleBox Essential Liquid Cool Desktop Computer

Alternatively, there are "mixed reality" options from Dell, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, and Acer. These options are cheaper than the Rift and Vive; however, they may not provide you with the “premium” experience, in comparison. These headsets do have inside-out tracking built in, so no additional sensors are required. (I haven’t been able to try these, so I can’t really give you my opinion on them.)

Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality Headset

Now What?

Now that you've got the hardware for VR, the world is your oyster and you're free to explore all that it offers. For starters, try viewing some 360 pictures. You'll quickly notice how immersive it feels just by being able to look around. Better yet, try Google Earth VR to explore the world without even leaving your seat. Then expand your reach to 360 videos. Things start getting interesting here because the VR experience places you directly in the seat of the action, allowing you to ride roller coasters, see wild animals up close, and so much more. You can also watch movies and TV shows on the big screen as if you had your own private movie theater. With the advancement of VR technology, people can now experience things they couldn't before, especially without having to be there. Obviously, it's not the same, but it really does open new doors for people and lets us share things that we didn't think were possible before.

Looking at photos and watching videos are great, but you're still a bystander. One of the most interesting aspects of VR, in my opinion, is the social one. With VRChat, users can create, publish, and explore virtual worlds with other people from around the globe. This not only includes user-made environments, but avatars, as well. So, if you’ve always wanted to be a sack of potatoes, now’s your chance. Now, it goes without saying that whatever happens here is probably unregulated and the chance of running into trolls is high, but the potential is amazing. (Seriously, caution advised. It might be as bad as Xbox Live chat and I can’t say for sure, but if you’re brave enough to venture in, I’m sure it would be a hilarious experience.)

VR isn’t just made for entertainment, so if you’re pressed for time and trying to squeeze every minute out of the holidays, it’s also useful in professional, work-related tasks. If you’re a designer or an artist, there are apps like 3D CAD VR, Tilt Brush that lets you paint in 3D space, Blocks by Google for creating 3D objects with little-to-no modelling experience, and TrueScale, an interior designing tool that can simultaneously create 2D floor plans, 3D mockups, and full room-scale environments in VR.

And we saved the best for last. Games! This is probably what you’ve been waiting for and it’s worth trying. There are plenty of great titles out there covering a wide variety of genres to keep you entertained for hours. Aside from Skyrim and DOOM VFR, Fallout 4 is also now available in VR. And just because they’re not big titles doesn’t mean they’re not worth playing. Below you’ll find a few of my recommendations and a quick tl;dr because you should honestly be playing these games instead of reading this article.

The Talos Principle VR: An increasingly complicated puzzle game set in a non-linear world.

SUPERHOT VR: One of the most innovative shooters I’ve played in years.

Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality: Will satisfy your Szechuan sauce cravings.

Fruit Ninja VR: Trains you to be the best ninja ever, but now without using fingers.

Arizona Sunshine: Puts you amid a zombie apocalypse, as if that’s where anyone wants to be.

Chair in a Room: Strapped to a chair, in a room, scary things happen and all you can do is watch.

Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades: A VR sandbox game for a lot of random fun.

The Lab: A compilation of Valve’s room-scale VR experiments set in a pocket universe within Aperture Science.

Rec Room: A virtual-reality social club where you can play games like laser tag, disc golf, and charades with other people.

Job Simulator: Replaces your real job with a virtual one, but you don’t get paid. Still a lot of fun.

After covering the basics of VR, the hardware you need, and what you can do with it, you’ve got plenty of knowledge to start your own journey. Your experience will vary depending on your setup, but I’m sure it’ll be great regardless. Now, before we go though, make sure to lock your door and move the furniture out of the way or else we’ll probably see you on YouTube.

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