VR Cover review: Does virtual reality need the equivalent of a smartphone case?

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New Atlas takes a quick look at the VR Cover, a cotton padding designed to make virtual reality more comfortable(Credit: Will Shanklin/New Atlas)

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With many people seeing virtual reality as the biggest thing to come along since the smartphone, maybe it's appropriate that VR headsets would get their own equivalent of the smartphone case. But is such a thing necessary, or just an "in" for accessory makers? And does it make more sense in some places than others? Join New Atlas, as we take a quick look at the VR Cover for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

Just as a case for your phone isn't much more than a piece of plastic shaped to fit snugly around the latest iPhone or Galaxy, the VR Cover is just a piece of fabric (100 percent cotton, actually) that fits around the face padding of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Gear VR. Whereas the phone case protects your investment from bangs, drops and scuffs, the VR Case protects your headset (and your face) from gross sweat and the potential for bacteria, while enhancing your comfort.

From that angle it works perfectly well, at least for the Vive. We never found the Vive to be particularly uncomfortable to start with, but once contrasted with the experience of using it with the VR Cover, we want to leave it on there. You get some cushy-feeling padding against your face, it stays on pretty well and it doesn't appear to soak up sweat the way the standard foam padding does (and if it does, you can just throw it in the washing machine like it's a pair of smelly gym socks).

With the Oculus Rift cover, on the other hand, we found any minor comfort advantages to be negated by the fact that it doesn't fit the headset as well as the Vive version, and also manages to fog up the Rift's lenses like Willie Nelson's tour bus. Lens fog was a minor issue with the Rift from the start, but VR Cover's extra padding cuts down on what ventilation was already there, making it nearly impossible to use with a crystal-clear field of view.

We had no lens fog issues with the Vive version.

While the Vive version of VR Cover has little velcro straps that fold down under the Vive's standard foam padding (this keeps it in place, if a little floppily), the Rift version has no such luxury: It's just hanging on by folding loosely around the Rift's default face pad. So if you slide the headset around much while pressed against your face, you're going to have to make some adjustments to keep the cover from bunching up or otherwise getting out of whack.

One potential concern going in was that the VR Cover might affect your field of view while inside virtual worlds. After all, it does add a tiny bit of distance between your eyes and lenses. In experience, though, we found there was nothing to worry about. The company says it only adds less than 1 mm to the lens distance, making the FOV difference negligible, and our hands-on time has lined up with that.

So does VR Cover have a place in the young world of virtual reality? Well, we do recommend staying far away from the Rift version of VR Cover: It isn't necessary to begin with, and it makes the experience worse. The Vive cover, on the other hand, enhances comfort and hygiene, with no drawbacks. That disgusting sweat-drenched foam pressing against your face feeling that you sometimes get after spending a while inside the Vive is gone, replaced with a sensation that isn't unlike a soft blanket resting around your eyes. It's worth the US$19 price tag.

We only looked at the standard cloth versions of VR Cover, but the company also sells a water-resistant pleather version for the Vive and Gear VR that's designed for exhibitions, where multiple people will use the same headset (we tried that model at E3 and it's extremely comfy), as well as a new memory foam model that completely replaces the Vive's standard padding (we'll be trying that one soon).

Product page: VR Cover

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