With the many VR Headsets available, how can you choose the one that works for you. Well Will Greenwald wrote an informative article for PC that solves this problem.
Virtual reality is here. Well, it’s here in the sense that all of the big names in VR have launched or are very close to launching their VR platforms. Whether it’s here for good as an established and widely accepted product category remains to be seen. VR is a fascinating way to put you somewhere else through the power of technology, using a headset and motion tracking to let you look around a virtual space as if you are actually there. It’s also been a promising technology for decades that’s never truly caught on.
That could change with the current wave of VR. Oculus has released the consumer-ready Rift, HTC and Valve have put out the Steam-friendly Vive, Sony has finally launched the PlayStation VR, Samsung continues to incrementally improve its Gear VR, and Google’s getting ready to let its Daydream platform emerge like a butterfly from its Cardboard coccoon. There are a lot of promising headsets across a lot of different price and power spectrums. Let’s look at what they cover.
The Big Question: Mobile or Tethered?
Modern VR headsets fit under one of two categories: Mobile or tethered. Mobile headsets are shells with lenses into which you place your smartphone. The lenses separate the screen into two images for your eyes, turning your smartphone into a VR device. Mobile headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream View are inexpensive at $100 or less, and because all of the processing is done on your phone, you don’t need to connect any wires to the headset. However, because phones aren’t designed specifically for VR, they can’t offer the best picture even with special lenses, and they’re notably underpowered compared with PC- or game console-based VR. Qualcomm showed off some cool Snapdragon 835-powered prototype headsets at CES that let you walk around a virtual space without needing to be plugged into anything or have sensors installed around your room.
Tethered headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR are physically connected to PCs (or in the case of the PS VR, a PlayStation $297.87 at Amazon). The cable makes them a bit unwieldy, but putting all of the actual video processing in a box you don’t need to directly strap to your face means your VR experience can be a lot more complex. The use of a dedicated display in the headset instead of your smartphone, as well as the use of built-in motion sensors and an external camera tracker, drastically improves both image fidelity and head tracking.
The trade-off, besides the clunky cables, is the price. The least expensive option is the PS VR at $400, and it requires $60 to $160 in additional accessories on top of that to really work. The Oculus Rift is $600, but it only comes with a simple remote and an Xbox One gamepad; the Oculus Touch controllers are another $200 on top of that. And while the HTC Vive is the most comprehensive package, it’s also the most expensive at $800. And that’s before you address the processing issue; the Rift and the Vive both need pretty powerful PCs to run, while the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4.
Sony PlayStation VR
Sony’s PlayStation VR is our current Editors’ Choice for virtual reality, offering the most polished and easy-to-use tethered VR experience with a relatively reasonable price tag. You can only play proprietary titles on it, like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, but a theater mode lets you play any PS4 game as if you were sitting in front of a large screen, and the VR games we’ve tried have impressed us. Like the Rift, it also requires an additional investment for full functionality; you need a PlayStation Camera$51.01 at Amazon for the headset to work at all, and a PlayStation Move controller bundle for motion controls. Still, for a $400 headset, that means the total is still less than the price of the Rift.
HTC’s Vive is a comprehensive package that includes a headset, two motion controllers, and two base stations for defining a “whole-room” VR area. It’s technically impressive, and is the only VR system that tracks your movements in a 10-foot cube instead of from your seat. It also includes a set of motion controllers more advanced than the PlayStation Move. But that $800 price tag is pretty hard to get past, and PC-tethered VR systems like the Vive need plenty of power, with HTC recommending at least an Intel Core i5-4590 CPU and a GeForce GTX 970 GPU.
The Oculus Rift has become synonymous with VR, even if the brand has lost some of its luster against the HTC Vive and the PlayStation VR. The retail version of Oculus Rift is out, and while it’s more expensive than the developer kits were, it’s also much more advanced. From a technical standpoint, the headset is nearly identical to the Vive. It costs $200 less than the Vive as well, but it lacks the Vive’s whole-room VR, and if you want motion controls you’ll need to spend that $200 for the (admittedly excellent) Oculus controllers.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung’s Gear VR is one of the most compellingly polished and accessible VR systems, with a catch. To use the Gear VR, you need a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone (currently six devices, including the Galaxy S7$669.99 at T-Mobile and the S7 Edge$789.99 at T-Mobile). This narrows down potential users to people who already own compatible Samsung phones, since buying one just to use with the Gear VR pushes the price to HTC Vive levels. If you already own a phone to go with it, though, the $100 Gear VR features controls built into the headset, a pass-through connector for keeping your phone charged, and is fairly comfortable to wear. Samsung collaborated with Oculus to build the Gear’s software ecosystem, which already has a handful of games and apps, including virtual theaters for watching Netflix and other streaming video services.
Google Daydream View
Google’s new Daydream is similar to Google Cardboard in concept. You still put your phone in an inexpensive headset (the $79 Daydream View), and it functions as your display thanks to a set of lenses that separate the screen into two images. A pairable remote you hold in your hand (similar to the Oculus Remote) controls the action. It’s impressive when you can find apps that work with it, but the software library is currently very light and it isn’t backward compatible with Google Cardboard apps (though Google is working on that with an SDK update).
Windows 10 VR Headsets
Microsoft recently announced partnerships with multiple hardware manufacturers to offer a variety of Windows 10-compatible VR headsets on top of the Vive and Oculus Rift (which have their own software ecosystems with Steam and the Oculus Store). These headsets will use outward-facing sensors for motion sensing, so they won’t need external cameras or sensors like the Rift, Vive, and PS VR. Microsoft says the headsets will start at $299, and the confirmed partners include Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Specific models and availability have not yet been revealed.
The Best VR (Virtual Reality) Headsets:
$799.99 at Amazon The HTC Vive is the most comprehensive virtual reality system available, and also the most expensive. Read the full review ››
Google’s Daydream View VR headset is a comfortable gateway to virtual worlds-there just aren’t many to visit yet.