This is a small, less detailed version of Kippenoma’s guide, which you can find in this video’s description for more information, as well as a link to the VR Discord he’s on for if you have any questions you’d like answered.
The cheapest way to play Half-Life: Alyx is to get a Windows Mixed Reality Headset. If you live in America -and 25% of you watching this video will be- then these can be had for somewhere between $150 and $300. In Europe, things aren’t so good. In the UK it looks like they start from £350. All of them have similar specs. Their screens are the standard 90 hz and generally have decent resolutions
of 1440p or above. And these cheap WMR headsets are all self-contained within the headset and controllers, meaning that they’re easy to setup, mostly being just plug-and-play. The downsides are that they have inferior tracking coverage, accuracy and controllers to the more expensive solutions. But I think at this price-point you’ve got to accept that it’ll come with some limitations and have got to consider their strengths.Instead of other VR setups which require external tracking units, these headsets have cameras built in to them to track where you’re looking, and where your controllers are. It makes these systems practical, but will come with down-sides- most of which are pretty expected. To help them track your direction, you will need to game in a well-lit room, preferably with lots
of mess or features to help it to track where you’re looking. As an example, posters will work better than large, empty white walls.
The other downside is that these cameras also track your controllers, so if the headset can’t see these, it won’t be able to track where your hands are. And they’re not very configurable. There’s
a thing called IPD- this is how far apart your eyes’ pupils are. As long as you’re relatively normal then these headsets should be okay, but if your eyes are unusually close together or far apart then these cheaper headsets generally can’t be adjusted. In my opinion, having an all-in-one device such as these is practical to set up, but they do get through batteries pretty quickly, the controllers requiring 2 AA batteries each! Get a spare pack of rechargeables and maybe have the ones you’re not using on charge so you can quickly switch them over when the first set runs out. HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Medion all produce their own headsets for the WMR standard, they’re all quite similar but be sure to look up reviews.
The Samsung Odyssey+ is usually a bit more expensive than the rest at 360 dollars, but can sometimes be had for under $300, and is currently on sale for $230, making it a good choice at this price-range. Using OLED, it has better blacks than other cheap headsets, but will suffer from more screen-door effect which refers to being able to see the lines between the rows of pixels- though this will only be noticeable when you’re actively looking for it. It comes with headphones and better shaped controllers than other budget headsets. And, unusually at this level, you can adjust the IPD for your eyes.
Moving up the price-range to about $400 (Or £400!) gets you to the sweet-spot, and to the well known names like ‘Oculus’ and ‘Vive’. You can expect a decent experience, and there are enough headsets to choose from to be able to get one that suits what you want from VR. You’ll generally get better tracking accuracy and coverage, better controllers and better build quality. But in which ways these are better depends on which gear you choose to buy.
At the bottom of this mid-range is the Vive. It’s been discontinued so is only available pre-owned, but is the cheapest way to get a mid-range experience. The Vive’s display has good blacks but has visible lines of pixels, suffers from the godray effect, and has a lower than usual resolution. This will make it easier to run on slower systems but the clarity of your experience will be reduced. Unlike the cheaper headsets, it uses external base-stations- these are harder to set up but result in better tracking. It doesn’t come with speakers- only a 3.5 mm jack so you’ll need a headset of your own to plug into it. Think of it as like a first-gen VR system, coming with the associated pros and cons. If you’re interested then look into HTC’s certified pre-owned program, as they’ll even come with a warranty of 1 year.
In many ways, the Oculus Rift S is the opposite. It’s a new design intended for the lower end of the market. Instead of 90 hz, it’s only 80 meaning that motion will be less smooth and you may suffer from more nausea. But on the plus side, its display is otherwise of high quality and it contains perhaps the best tracking system for one that’s inside the headset itself. If you don’t want to set up external base-stations, the Oculus Rift S is the next-best thing, being superior to the cheaper WMR headsets. Also compared to those, the Rift-S’s controllers use just 1 AA battery each and will last for longer. It has poor built-in audio so your own headset is recommended, but its controllers are good and you get native access to the Oculus store. It has a fixed IPD so check your eyes before getting this one.
And last at this price-range is the Oculus Quest. It’s like an all-in-one system- it won’t need a PC to run a number of VR games. But it’s vuilt-in hardware is not that powerful compared to proper PCs. For Half-Life: Alyx you’ll need to link it to your gaming PC. It has a lower refresh rate of just 72 hz, which is the lowest covered in this video. Be warned, because of this you might experience more nausea with this device than with the others- especially with the latency its cable adds! Regardless of headset used, you may still experience some degree of nausea when you first try VR. Most people DO get used to it across repeated sessions over a period of weeks or even just days, so it’s unlikely you’ll be burdened with sickness after every VR session you ever have with the device or
anything like that. Other downsides of using the Quest are that it’s not the most comfortable headset, and when linked to a PC, the image quality will be worse because it has to significantly reduce the resolution to ‘fit’ through the USBconnection, which will be particularly noticeable around the edges of the display, as will the downgrade to the colour accuracy. Those are the negatives. The pluses are that it’s cheap, has a relatively high resolution, is easy to set up, its controllers are good and you can adjust the IPD to suit your eyes. The Quest is good if you’re going to use its built-in hardware to play games, but if you’re only going to use it to connect to your main PC then there are better options to consider.
And last we move onto the high-end experience. Starting with the Valve Index, costing $1,000! Spending this much gives you the highest refresh rate display. You can choose 80, 90, 120 or 144, so this will be the most responsive VR experience you can get- provided your computer is powerful enough to run it! The Index has a high resolution and one of the best FOVs, meaning the viewable area will stretch off further in all directions to immerse you more in the game. The audio is high-quality and extremely convincing, it has the best microphones, the best tracking system- even tracking the
controllers when they’re behind you. The Index is also comfortable and comes with ‘knuckles controllers’. Unlike the others, you don’t need to hold onto these and they can track each of your fingers individually. These were designed to be comfortable for longer play-sessions, as they’re less tiring to use than the more standard controller types. The Valve Index is what the company made and tested Half-Life Alyx with, so you’re guaranteed the experience they intended you to have with it. And if you get the Index it will come with a free copy of the game. And if you get it before the end of the year, you’ll get some othersmall bonuses too.
But all this comes at a price. That price being $1,000. And the tracking may be good, but it requires base-systems to be set up around your room. And the display is responsive, but being LCD means the blacks will be worse than in some of the other headsets- even some from the budget WMR category!
Although no other package at this price-point can offer such a well-rounded experience, some do come with their own strengths. Just be sure to do your research into them before buying.
The HTC Vive Pro supports a wireless adapter if you want to go cables free, though it comes with compromises to the visual quality. This adapter can also be added to the normal Vive model. The HP Reverb has a greater than 4K display. And the Pimax 8K has THE highest FOV available. Whichever option you choose, this following information will be important:
Half-Life: Alyx is a VR-only game. You can use it sitting down or standing up, and a play-space of 2×1.5 metres is recommended for ‘room-scale gaming’, giving you enough freedom to rummage about and to tackle head-crabs the way they were meant to be tackled. If you wear glasses, some headsets will let you wear them, but with others you can get yourself a set of prescription lenses to mount to the headset itself. Measure the distance between the pupils of your eyes. Some headsets let you adjust their lenses, but others are fixed and won’t work if your eyes are an extreme distance apart. Unless you’re using a wireless attachment, all headsets will require a cable going from them to the computer. And last, make sure your PC is up to the task of playing Half-Life: Alyx! If you’re buying a PC today, getting something that meets these minimum requirements isn’t hard or particularly expensive. I quickly threw together a PC full of new components for under £500 that would be able to run it. It’s not like this requirement is much higher than any other new game out these days. But if you’ve had a mid-range gaming PC for 2-3 years, do check your components, as there are many which run at, or just below this required level of performance. As we only have these requirements to go off, it would be irresponsible of me to recommend to you anything less than this. And it’s
a real shame, since there are so many bargains to be had out there, especially on 4 GB cards like the Radeon 570 and Geforce 1650 Super. But these fall just below the minimum requirements. Key to an enjoyable and nausea-free VR experience is smooth framerates, and to help with this, if anything, you should be aiming for above the minimum, especially with the higher frames required with VR as opposed to normal computer screens.
This has just been a brief summary of everything. Seriously, check out the links in the description- Kippenoma really helped me to make this video and he knows his stuff. His own guides will mention a lot more things that you’ll find helpful if you’re considering one of the headsets he writes about. You can talk to him on the Discord server, or on the virtualreality subreddit. All of this is listed in the description.
So, VR: not as inaccessible as you might think. If you have a mid-range gaming PC built within the last few years, and live in America, you can just spend $230 on a Samsung Odyssey+ and say you’re ready for it. On the other hand, if you live in the UK and don’t have a PC then you’re looking at about £850 for everything you’ll need. But that’s for the minimum! Think about what you want, and what you have already.
There are so many choices out there, and you still have a few months to save up and to make up your mind.