Within the past few years, Virtual Reality has quickly gone from obscurity to cultural phenomenon – and for good reason. The technology permits the experience of all types of visual media in a way never before possible. It offers unrivaled immersion into both games, movies and even the visual arts. Not surprisingly, its huge popularity has caused many manufacturers to implement their own versions of VR headsets. However, this now means that there are many choices available for a consumer now looking for their own headset. For instance, a decent starter VR set can be purchased for as little as $10, but quality ones such as the HTC Vive can be as much as $800.
With that in mind, this article will review the top 7 virtual reality headsets so you get the one that’s right for you. If you aren’t entirely familiar with VR headsets, we’ve put together some quick information to help you understand all of the moving parts.
What is a Virtual Reality (VR) Headset
A Virtual Reality Headset is essentially a device with a screen that sits in front of your eyes so as to encompass your entire field of vision. It is able to do so because of lenses built in front of the display which curves the light so you can only see the light from the screen and nothing else. Another important feature of VR headsets is that they also track the movement of your head. So when you look around in real life, the image displayed on the screen will move accordingly. The end result is stunning and can really make you think that you are somewhere that you are not.
As such, it’s important to remember not to think of these sets as the ones you might have been used to 10 or 15 years ago. Until recently, virtual reality sets were known for being lackluster money-grabs. Thankfully, the poor resolutions and/or bad-to-non-existent head-tracking are a thing of the past. There is simply nothing like being in a good VR headset.
What You Can do with a VR Headset
On the face of it, you can pretty much do anything you could do with a normal screen, but with greater immersion. This includes watching movies in a virtual movie theater, games or visual art. Some sets are made to hook directly up to gaming systems, such as the PlayStation VR. These are made specifically for long sessions of gaming and are much more comfortable than, say, the Google Cardboard, which is made just for watching quick clips or trying out VR for the first time.
That being said, what is great is that there are a lot of sources online for finding fun VR experiences. If you are using your phone with Google cardboard, you can download plenty of apps which are simply just VR experiences or you can walk around in Google Streetview.
As an extra bonus, all VR headsets are 3d capable out-of-the-box. In these devices, each eye is presented with a separate display. This means, depending on the media you a viewing, the display will be slightly different for each eye, producing the same type of 3d effect you see in the movies. There are a growing number of YouTube videos made in 3D 360, which are simply phenomenal to watch.
If you’re buying a VR system for gaming, it’s important to note that there are controllers made specifically for VR that you can use to increase the immersion when gaming. They can be a bit on the pricey side, but they are great accessories. Also, extremely important to note, when using a VR system, your computer has to render the scene twice in some cases, so it is important to buy a videocard that is capable of handling the highly demanding rendering requirements. The Geforce 1060 is great mid-range graphics card for this sort of task if you’re looking to upgrade.
The 7 Best Virtual Reality Sets Reviewed
Below we’ll be reviewing seven of the best virtual reality sets out there. They’ll cover a wide range of price points, entry level to enthusiast. Each of the products can be found directly on Amazon by clicking the appropriate links.
The PlayStation VR, while a little funky looking, is designed with high performance gaming in mind. It feels great on the head for long periods of time and looks great as well. The AMOLED screen is absolutely gorgeous and the blacks really pop. However, a few of the downsides are that the PlayStation VR is really only made for the PS4, so if you’re looking to use this with your PC, you shoulfd probably look elsewhere first. As well, it doesn’t come with the PS4 camera which is needed to access some of the features of the device. Nevertheless, this is a great midrange option for VR if you already have a PS4.
The HTC Vive is the most expensive VR kit we will be reviewing, but it comes with a load of accessories and functionality. First off, this devices is meant for Windows gaming computers. So before buying this, make sure that your computer is able to run games well at a high resolution. Like the PlayStation VR, this set, made for gamers, feels great on the head for long gaming sessions and you won’t get fatigue. It also comes with a set of controllers, something that most other VR systems don’t provide. Importantly, the device comes with two base stations. These devices work with the VR set to determine where your head and controllers are in relation to each other. This provides a really cool effect as you can see your own hands in game by using the controller. It is expensive, but it provides an unparalled VR experience. Definitely get the HTC Vive if you are looking for the top-of-the-line VR experience.
The Samsung Gear VR is unlike the other VR kits as it does not provide an out-of-the-box VR experience. It works by using a Samsung smartphone – so one could put it in the same category as the Google Cardboard. However, we find that the Samsung VR provides a more polished experience than the Google Cardboard due to its (obviously) better build quality. Depending on your phone (which must be a Samsung), the picture looks great and the head tracking works perfectly as well. However, the strap isn’t perfect and sometimes it’ll slide off the head, so it isn’t best for long viewings. However, it is a perfect entry level set for people who aren’t yet sure if they like VR yet.
The TaoTronics 3D VR set is another low end kit made for people who are just starting with VR. It is cheaper than the Samsung Gear, but will work with any phone. Again, the quality of the picture depends highly on the phone. It rested on the head well, but sometimes slid off.
This kit is the classic Google Cardboard. It is a VR kit actually made out of cardboard that you slide your phone in. It even has a little button you can press to interact with your phone while you are using the device. While it is the cheapest option, this is very clearly a beginning device. We constantly had to keep readjusting it to keep it from falling off. However, besides that, it is a great entry level choice.
The Avegant Glyph is an interesting VR device. It is definitely aimed at the casual market, however the price point is a little bit high. However, with that price you pay for great build quality. This is a device that is meant for bringing around with you. It is smaller and more nimble that the other devices and includes built-in speakers. It is extremely comfortable and looks great. It is the perfect kind of devices if you want to watch movies in isolation while traveling.
We couldn’t review every kit, but here are what others are saying online about some other really popular virtual reality headsets that you can use right out of the box with your smartphone
The Bnext VR headset has great value if you are just starting out with VR. It has adjustable lens for those whose eyes aren’t the same distance to the screen. It even has adjustable Field of View. It is also reported that the set blocks out all light to give a great experience. For the price, definitely give it a shot.
The VersionTech Virtual Reality kit is another solid started device. It’s key feature is durable, yet comfortable, adjustable straps that apparently feel really great for extended periods of time. Unlike the other kits, it has a heat sink built-in behind the housing for the phone. This is good if your phone tends to overheat, since, if it does during normal use, it will certainly if kept in an enclosed space for extended periods of time.
This is one of the cheapest smartphone VR sets that isn’t also made of cardboard. It is reported to block out light very well and the straps are sturdy and comfortable for long periods of use. The kit, like others, includes a function to adjust the lens for focus. Considering the price, that’s pretty impressive.
The Luphie 3D VR is a bit on the pricey side for VR kits that house your smartphone. However, unlike the other kits, it features built in headphones for a really immersive experience. For the price it has all you should expect: adjustable focal distance and pupil distance and good light seals. This is definitely a more premium smartphone VR set, but, with it, you get everything you could need for an impressive virtual reality experience.
The Future of VR
Virtual reality as a medium is just getting started and there is a lot of room for improvement. The biggest one, for example, is the screen resolution. In all of the devices, you can visibly see the pixels due to the lenses and how close the device is to your face. Of course, the resolution is expected to increase in future iterations. Yet, this isn’t a deal breaker. VR is still amazing and if you haven’t yet tried it out yet, you owe it to yourself to at least try it with Google Cardboard on your smartphone. Not sure? Check this video out:
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