Which is the best VR headset for Architecture & Design firms in 2021?
Ever since the launch of the first commercial VR headsets in 2015, there has been a steady rise in the adoption of Virtual Reality in Architecture and Design firms globally. One of the challenges in this period for Architects has been to keep up with the pace of changes in technology - especially figuring out hardware that fits their design workflow and budget. New headset models have arrived and phased out like the Oculus Rift S. VR software for architects on these headsets has been evolving as well due to the changing policies of each platform. In our article on how to get started with Virtual Reality for Architecture & Design, we talked about the broad themes that one needs to consider when implementing VR at your design firm.
In this article, we are going to go deep into the topic of VR headsets that are most suitable for Architecture & Design firms - particularly small & medium businesses looking to get started with the technology. As with most technology decisions, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this question. However, some questions can lead you to procure the right headset for your needs. Before that, let's try and understand the broad categories of VR headsets in the market today.
The two categories of VR headsets
While there are multiple commercial VR headsets in the market today with different price points and feature sets, they can be broadly categorized into two types:
1) Tethered to a PC
Simply put, these headsets require to be connected to a PC to work. The Windows PCs ( Macs are not compatible here) are typically powerful and have a certain VR-ready requirement to function with these headsets. The leading headsets in this space are HP Reverb G2, HTC Vive Pro & Valve Index. The Oculus Rift S was an important part of this ecosystem till the decision to phase it out was announced by Facebook in 2020. Typical price points for these headsets lie between USD 599 to USD 1,199. Being tethered to a PC enables these headsets to run large models while limiting the mobility of using them beyond office spaces where they have been installed along with the PC.
HTC Vive Pro
HP Reverb G2
Oculus Rift S ( phasing out )
2) Standalone Headset
Unlike the tethered VR headsets, these headsets come with a built-in processor and can run without any additional hardware. This is a very useful feature to enable mobility and travel with the VR headset. With the majority of cloud-collaboration software like SENTIO VR that enables accessing the 3D model from anywhere using access codes and immersive meeting capabilities, multiple users can leverage this characteristic of standalone headsets to work together on a design or a client presentation. The leading headset in this space is the Oculus Quest 2 (USD 299) with a large ecosystem of software available for 3D to VR presentations. Another notables headset in this space is the Pico Neo 2.
Oculus Quest 2
Things to consider before purchasing a VR headset
1. What is your budget for hardware and software costs involved?
Most Small & Medium businesses in our experience initiate their VR implementation by buying 1-2 headsets for their design teams. This helps them to test out the workflows for their business before rolling out the technology across all projects/teams. Are you planning to do this at a small scale first & then scale up? Or are you planning an Enterprise-level deployment that will need how to manage the software deployment and user management for multiple users? This is an important question to consider as:
Hardware costs can be different for enterprise features. For example, Oculus Quest 2 has different price points for consumers ($299 )and enterprise editions ( $799 ).
Software pricing typically scale with a higher number of users using the platform
Our recommendation is to run a pilot test with a small budget to test your business’ ideal workflow for VR presentations. By purchasing 1-2 Oculus Quest 2 headsets at a price point of USD 299, you will be able to evaluate the benefits of using VR in a period of 1-2 months - which will enable your business to plan a budget with a higher number of headsets and teams going forward.
2. Do you want to have a wireless VR system or a tethered one?
As discussed above, the benefit of a tethered VR headset is primarily the ability to process heavier models (more than 1 million polygons is a good benchmark). If this is a really important factor for your business requirements, then we suggest going this route. Especially for Revit users, the models tend to be typically heavier and the Windows PCs satisfy the requirements for a compatible headset. However, if you prefer to have a more mobile and flexible VR implementation, the best choice is a standalone VR headset. While this may limit your ability to work with heavier models, there are ways to leverage higher PC power on headsets like Oculus Quest 2 by using the Airlink option which can improve the ability to handle larger models as well. With standalone VR headsets capturing 82.7% of the headsets market in Quarter 1 of 2021 according to the IDC report, it is reasonable to assume that the focus and shift of VR headsets will grow towards this segment in the future - making it an important point to consider before acquiring headsets for your business.
Our recommendation is to choose a standalone VR headset ( Quest 2 ) for most use cases - unless it is absolutely critical to work with heavy models in which case going for a PC tethered headset makes sense.
3. What kind of 3D content are you planning to showcase in VR?
Architecture & 3D design content can fall into two categories broadly:
360 panoramas using renders from rendering software like Enscape, Lumion, V-Ray, Twinmotion, etc. In this case, the size of the files is not an issue at all as they are images and we recommend using Oculus Quest 2 as the ideal headset for client presentations. It provides the benefits of cost & mobility while ensuring that you can show the designs in high-quality to your clients in meetings by using 360 tour software.
3D walkthroughs using models from software like SketchUp & Revit. In this case, the size of the files can be an important factor for your choice of headset. With a PC-tethered VR headset like HP Reverb G2, you can use the device to review heavy models primarily because the headsets are tethered to a powerful Windows PC. However, we still recommend using the Oculus Quest 2 as your headset of choice. While most 3D to VR software set a limit to polygon size ( ranging from 200K to 1M polygons ) for rendering on a standalone headset like Oculus Quest 2 owing to its limited processing power, the ability to leverage PC power use Airlink is something that has strengthened the case for Oculus Quest 2.
Our recommendation is to define your design workflow very clearly first ( 360 renders, 3D models, or both ) and then choose the right headset considering points 1 and 2 above. If you are working with 360 renders, Oculus Quest 2 is the undisputed choice for your requirements. If you are working with 3D models, consider the budget, mobility, and model complexity before taking your final decision.
In summary, the data on VR headset adoption across the globe and in Architecture suggests that standalone VR headsets will dominate the adoption across consumer and enterprise use cases. Therefore, building your workflow around this segment of headsets is the proper approach in the medium to long term. However, there are restrictions today ( especially around model sizes ) that make this choice a little tougher in the case of Architecture & Design workflows. With certain workarounds like using Oculus Airlink, model optimizations, and improving software capabilities -these problems can be managed to a great extent at a very reasonable price point. From the perspective of SENTIO VR, we can observe that the Oculus Quest 2 stands out in terms of capabilities, costs & mobility in the spectrum of VR headsets for Architects in 2021.
If you are interested in trying out immersive design reviews and client presentations, learn more about SENTIO VR here.