While far from the runaway craze VR was predicted to be when it first entered the market, it still manages to enchant most people who try it. Besides, quality headsets are becoming more affordable than ever. Whether you have your eye on a high-tech gift for the gamer or nerd in your life, or just want to treat yourself, here's a guide to the best VR headsets you can buy.
Affordable, portable entry level headset for multimedia and simple games
VR on a budget used to be a nightmare of cheap headsets that needed to be strapped to smartphones of specific sizes. While Google's Cardboard VR is still nice for dipping your toes into the VR pool, the true portable VR solution really arrived this year with Oculus Go - a $200 lightweight headset that doesn't require connection to any other device.
The Oculus Go is great for consuming 360 degree video, VR movies and purely visual experiences. However, because it lacks any tracking capability, its gaming experience is quite limited. It can only track your gaze and your controller pointer, but not actually 'know' where your body is in the virtual space.
To get an idea of the kind of experiences possible check out our list of the best apps and games for Oculus Go.
- Price: $200 (32GB storage) / $250 (32GB storage)
Standalone Daydream VR headset with tracking; uses Android apps and needs more love
This is another headset that doesn’t need a smartphone or a PC. Its main advantage over the Oculus Go is that the Mirage Solo uses the Worldsense tracking system to actually detect your position with 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF), which means that more interactive apps and games are possible.
For mobile VR gaming, it's definitely better than the Oculus Go - you can play Rez Infinite, Hunter's Gate, Virtual Virtual Reality and so on without problems. The major VR video platforms can also be accessed. You can even, if you want to, use it with your PC for simpler PC VR based software.
The Mirage Solo is a headset with a comfortable design that supports a deeper level of immersion than its standalone Oculus competitor. However, the downside is that not only does it cost twice as much, but there is a relative lack of support from Google for its Daydream VR platform.This makes me wonder if it's really a good long-term investment for the price. If you absolutely need the best commercial standalone headset right now, this is it, but if you can wait just a little longer, the Oculus Quest should offer a higher end standlone VR experience for $400 as of 'early next year'.
VR headsets for PC
The fact remains that the absolute best VR experiences available today still require a connection to a home computer. If you've already got a powerful PC, then the two main players in this game are still the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
Comfortable, great controllers and extensive library of content
Oculus is an established name in VR and the Rift was a pioneering device. With 20 infrared sensors, this headset can detect its position in a space in order to adapt the images that it displays according to the user’s head movements. These sensors, combined with a camera placed in front of the player, can detect movements in three dimensions. This allows the user to move around in a 3D environment. With the Touch controllers you can engage with the things that you see in virtual reality, and the headset offers integrated audio with over-ear headphones.
The Oculus Rift is showing its age in places, including when it comes to screen resolution, which is currently lower than that of the Oculus Go. However, access to the apps, games, and experiences in the well-stocked Oculus Store, as well as gaming platforms such as Steam, still make it a strong contender. Compared to the Vive, the Rift is less powerful, but the controllers and headset are more ergonomic and comfortable for most people.
As an added bonus, the Oculus Rift usually retails with a package of 6 games: Robo Recall, Luckyʼs Tale, Quill, Medium, Dead and Buried, and Toybox.
To make sure that your PC will be sufficiently powerful to use the Rift, check the official site.
Room-scale immersive VR experience for gaming and everything else, but you'll need some space
This device by the Taiwanese company will allow you to live the VR experience with total immersion (and we’re not just talking about games). The HTC Vive remote control can act as all kinds of virtual objects: a gaming weapon, a pencil for drawing, a hammer and, of course, virtual hands. Unlike the Oculus Rift, with the Vive (and thanks to HTC's collaboration with Valve) you can receive phone calls, display and reply to your messages, consult your calendar, etc. without exiting the 3D viewer.
A standout feature of the Vive is its room-scale tracking that allows the user to roam around a 4.5×4.5 meter area, with your whole body detected within the virtual environment. However, that requires you to place sensors around the parameter, which doesn't fit in to everyone's interior decor sensibilities.
Money is not a problem? Then get the Vive Pro
The original Vive has come way down from its original $799 asking price, but HTC has since introduced the ultimate high-end, high-price VR system for virtual reality fans with money to burn. The newer Vive Pro boasts improved visuals at 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye (2880 x 1600 pixels combined), integrated high quality audio and larger scale room tracking for the ultimate in VR immersion available today. Of course, it'll cost you.
Is your PC compatible with HTC Vive / Vive Pro? Check here.
Price: $470 for HTC Vive system, $1,193 for Vive Pro. Both devices come with a free trial of HTC's Viveport service to get you started with games and apps.
HTC Vive and Oculus Rift ruled the roost in VR for a few years, but now other manufacturers are starting to catch up. While many of the alternative VR headsets using Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality platform are difficult to recommend over the Rift, Samsung's revamped Odyssey headset is a great option.
Samsung’s new Odyssey+ device has the same screen resolution of the Vive Pro and can run high-end VR games and experiences, including Steam games, but without the need for external sensors as those used with the Vive. This is because tracking is integrated directly into the headset - just like it is on the Mirage Solo. It's not quite as wide-ranging as the Vive, but it has a great price and it's more convenient to set up.
The headset also boasts the new "anti screen door effect", which effectively doubles the pixels per inch on the OLED displays for a clearer image. With integrated AKG headphones and good controllers, the Odyssey + offers a strong package for the price, but doesn't come with a starter kit of games like the Rift or Vive.
Price: $500 direct from Samsung.
Affordable, comfortable, only for use with the PS4 (Pro), natch
The PlayStation 4 VR solution isn't the most powerful or hi-res of this bunch, but it's by far the most comfortable to wear and convenient to use. This makes it a top VR option for the price. To use the headset, you’ll need a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro, and a PlayStation Camera, which is useful for position tracking. So, for anyone who already has a PS4 or is planning to get one, this is a no-brainer.
To interact with games, you can use the PS Dualshock controller or specialized PlayStation Move VR controllers that let you move your hands in the virtual world. Equipped with one OLED 1080p screen, the viewer’s visual field is about 100°.
Another advantage to the PSVR over PC headsets is similar to PC vs PS gaming generally. You might find that you prefer the exclusive games for PSVR, such as Astro Bot Rescue Mission, one of our favorite newer VR games. Here, you’ll find all the games that are compatible with the PlayStation VR. The best way to get a PSVR is usually as some kind of bundle with a console, Move controllers or games.
Have you already tried virtual reality? What headset is best for you? Let us know in the comments!