Virtual Reality (VR) technology has been in a pressure cooker the past few years, bubbling away. In 2016 the lid was blown clean off and VR headsets have been gaining traction ever since.
VR headsets have come a long way since the 1960s, with new variations forming such as augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). Ranging in price from $5 to $3,000, picking a VR headset to suit your needs and price range can be tricky. At the pace VR technology is evolving, even knowing if now is the right time to purchase is hard enough.
We’ve compiled a list of the Best Virtual Reality headsets currently available, so if you want a VR headset, you’ll likely find one to suit your needs here.
Best Virtual Reality Headsets
In the world of VR headsets the most sought after, high-end headsets need to be tethered to a PC to work. This is because the games and applications available for these headsets need the processing power, operating system and graphics cards that only PCs currently provide.
Unfortunately, not just any old PC will do. You’ll need a pretty decent processor and graphics card to really get the best from these VR headsets. This can substantially add to the overall cost of ownership, so if you don’t already have a PC that fits the recommended guidelines, keep it in mind.
These VR headsets are about out and out performance and are unparalleled in their ability to give you a true VR experience. Ultimately, this experience is what you’re paying for.
1. HTC Vive
HTC teamed up with Valve, a much-loved gaming company, to produce the HTC Vive and has been dominating the high end of the VR market since its release in 2016. Although VR headsets are still in their early days, the Vive took the whole industry to the next level by incorporating a room-scale feature and motion controllers for each hand.
Your movements around the room are tracked by two base stations, which are just two of the Vive’s 70 sensors (headset and controllers). There’s also a front-facing camera. The recommended space you need is 4.5 x 4.5m, so if you don’t have the space to spare maybe the Vive isn’t for you. While you’re moving around in this space you’ll need to be mindful of the cord tethering you to your PC, which is likely to be worth a pretty penny if it’s supporting the Vive.
It’s recommended you have an Intel Core i5 processor, NVIDIA GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 graphics card and 4GB of RAM to get the most out of your Vive. You’ll also need to be running Windows 7 or newer, sorry Mac users but Macs don’t currently support the Vive.
Visuals are crisp and clear thanks to 1080 x1200 pixels per eye. Although some users have said they can make out individual pixels, it’s still a class leading pixel density along with the Oculus Rift. There’s also an 110° field of view.
Motion sickness isn’t an issue thanks to a 90 fps refresh rate. Such a high pixel density and refresh rate is essential to fully immerse yourself in the games available for the HTC Vive. You can find these games on SteamVR.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to test out the HTC Vive at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I played Front Defence, a 3rd person shooter. Overall I was impressed with the Vive, especially with the motion sensors, which picked up even the most minute movement I made. However, I did find the motion controllers lacked the functionality really needed for the game.
Thankfully, there are a lot of accessories available for the Vive that add to the in-game experience like guns, boxing gloves, and impact vests – some of these would probably have made my experience even more enjoyable.
The HTC Vive is, arguably, the best VR headset available right now but at $799.99, it’s not cheap.
Pros: 70 sensors, two base stations, and two motion controllers offer, arguably, the most immersive VR experience currently available.
Cons: There’s no getting around the $799.99 price tag, which is just the tip of the iceberg if you need to upgrade your PC in order to get the most out of the Vive.
2. Oculus Rift
Oculus is synonymous with Virtual Reality and the Rift was the most highly anticipated headset in recent years. Released in 2016 the Rift initially lost ground to HTC’s Vive, since it came with an Xbox controller instead of motion controllers. This has all changed though and motion controllers are now available for the Rift, and they’re excellent.
The Rift is probably the best looking VR headset available right now, it’s also noticeably lighter and more comfortable than the Vive. So, a heavy VR session shouldn’t cause you too much discomfort.
Like the HTC Vive, the Rift offers 1080 x 1200 pixel resolution for each eye, an 110° field of view, and a 90 fps refresh rate. So again, motion sickness isn’t much of an issue and the visuals are crystal clear. All of these features are essential for making the most of the games available for the Rift, which can also be found on SteamVR.
Again you’ll be tethered to a PC, but since there’s no room-scale feature, you won’t be moving around too much. This means there’s less of a chance of you snagging the cord and sending your PC crashing down. Oculus recommends you use an Intel Core i5-4590 processor, NVIDIA GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card, and have 8GB of RAM in order to get the most from the Rift. Again, you’ll need to be running Windows 7 or newer, so Mac users will have to look elsewhere.
Choosing to get the motion controllers with the Rift will add $200 to the retail price, meaning the total will come to $798. If you don’t opt for the motion controllers you’ll need to use an Xbox controller, which does detract from the whole VR experience.
Pros: The Rift is a nice looking piece of kit and, thanks to its lightweight and ergonomic design, a lengthy VR session shouldn’t cause much discomfort.
Cons: The Rift costs about the same as the Vive but doesn’t offer a room-scale feature, meaning there’s less of an all round VR experience.
These VR headsets are tethered to consoles, much like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are to PCs. At the moment, the only players in this market are PlayStation but it’s expected that Microsoft will enter this market soon using the Xbox 1 console.
Users of these headsets will benefit from their manufacturer’s experience in the gaming industry, with plenty of Virtual Reality compatible games available already.
3. Playstation VR
The PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset is the only offering in this category at the moment. Like the Rift and Vive it is tethered, but not to a PC, the PSVR is tethered to the PlayStation 4. This is great for those who don’t have the high-end PCs needed for the Vive or Rift and don’t fancy upgrading. Of course, if you don’t already have a Playstation 4, you’re going faced with the same problem.
If you do have a PlayStation 4, the PSVR is the ultimate accessory. Per eye the 5.7 inch OLED provides 960 x 1080 pixels, so not as much as the market leaders but still enough to provide sharp imagery. A 100° field of view is impressive, but still slightly behind the Rift and Vive. The PSVR leads the market with a 120 fps refresh rate, so even if you’re quite sensitive, you shouldn’t suffer much from motion sickness.
To get the most out of the PSVR headset you’ll want to get the PlayStation Camera and PlayStation Move (motion controllers). The PlayStation Camera is essential just to get the PSVR to work, so be sure to pick one up. The motion controllers aren’t a necessity, as you can use a DualShock 4 controller, but are recommended to get the most immersive experience.
There are a number of VR specific games for the PSVR and a lot more in development. In case there aren’t enough Virtual Reality games to keep you entertained, there’s a theater mode that allows you to play existing Playstation 4 games on the headset.
At $400 the PSVR is a much cheaper way to get into the high-end VR market. With the motion controllers and the camera, the actual price is closer to $510, but that’s still nearly $300 cheaper than both the Vive and Rift. Some users have said they feel the PSVR is less polished than its competitors, but with the savings on offer, it might be better value for money.
Pros: Maybe the best value for money Virtual Reality headset on the market. There are some good games to choose from and more on the way.
Cons: The PlayStation camera isn’t really an ‘optional extra’ and is needed to really use the PSVR.
4. Xbox VR
Unfortunately, there’s no Virtual Reality headset on the market for Xbox users just yet. Microsoft announced that they will be releasing an MR headset specifically for the Xbox One and their next-gen console ‘Project Scorpio’ (yet to get an official name).An MR headset gives users the ability to view the real world through the headset, possibly with the use of a front-facing camera. This feature could give the Xbox VR headset the edge over the Playstation VR. But we won’t know until the end of 2017, which is when this headset is likely to launch. Until then the best way to get an Xbox VR experience is by using the Xbox controller with the Oculus Rift.
Unlike tethered Virtual Reality headsets, mobile VR headsets use smartphones for their software and hardware needs. A mobile VR headset holds your phone in place and shuts out any external light, two lenses sit between your eyes and the phone’s screen. Your phone then starts running a VR app, game or video.
By their nature, mobile VR headsets are dependent on your smartphone to work, so the hardware will make the difference. You’ll need a high-end processor to run the apps seamlessly. But your phone’s screen resolution may be the real deciding factor. Some users, even of flagship models, have said the resolution isn’t up to par. Although, if we start seeing more phones with 4k screens, like the Sony Xperia Z5, this issue could resolve itself.
Mobile VR headsets are much cheaper than tethered headsets but the experience isn’t as immersive. There is no axis head tracking, so leaning your head forward won’t move objects closer. The majority of mobile VR headsets don’t have motion controllers, which can disorientate people, as they can’t see their hands while playing the headset.
5. Google Daydream
Google’s Daydream is, arguably, the top dog in mobile VR headsets. At the moment, Daydream is only compatible with about three phones, but it will be compatible with more Android phones in the future.
Daydream comes with a motion sensitive controller. The controller has three buttons, with one doubling as a trackpad. It is by far the best controller for any mobile VR headsets currently available. So you can use the controller to point, play golf or simply turn up the volume. Although there aren’t a whole lot of apps or games specifically for the Daydream, lots are in development and, while you’re waiting, you can use ones written for Google Cardboard.
Google say this headset is about 30% lighter than its competitors (we assume they mean the Samsung Gear VR). Not only is it lightweight, but it’s comfy too. These features will be more important when Google launch more apps and features for Daydream and people are using it for longer VR sessions.
Best of all, Daydream only costs $79. Making it, probably, the most competitively priced mobile VR headset on the market.
Pros: Daydream comes with a better controller than any of its competitors and it only costs $79.
Cons: There are a very limited number of phones that are compatible with Daydream at the moment.
6. Samsung Gear VR
The Samsung Gear VR is a very well put together piece of kit. One big downside to the Gear VR is that it’s only compatible with the latest Samsung Galaxy smartphones (currently six devices).
There are controls built into the Gear that you can use while wearing the headset, but no hand controls. Using your phone for VR sessions can take its toll on the battery, however, the Gear has a pass-through connector, which charges your phone while using it.
The latest Gear VR has a 101° field of view, which is up by 5° on the last model. Samsung has also reduced glare, and made the headset more ventilated – so the lenses won’t fog up while you’re using it.
Oculus and Samsung teamed up to build the software ecosystem for the Gear VR. There are already a handful of games and apps available for it and more to come. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use any of the apps or games made for Google Cardboard while you’re waiting.
You can pick up the Gear VR for around $85, which isn’t great compared to what the Daydream offers for less, but it’s still fair for a well-built VR headset.
Pros: Pass-through connector allowing for on-the-go charging is brilliant. New vents also work well and keep the lenses from fogging up.
Cons: The Gear VR is only compatible with the latest Samsung smartphones.
7. Merge VR Goggles
The merge VR Goggles are definitely the funkiest looking VR headset in this category. The violet colored foam doesn’t just make the Merge VR Goggles stand out from the crowd, it’s actually very functional. The soft foam makes this headset the most rugged in its class and ultra portable.
Although you’d imagine wearing, what is essentially a big Nerf dart, to be pretty comfortable, most reports suggest it’s not. This material may worry those who have a germ phobia, but it needn’t because Merge has made it antimicrobial.
One of the nice features on the Merge VR Goggles is a removable section at the front, which reveals your phone’s camera. This thoughtful touch from Merge means you’ll be able to use augmented reality (AR) apps, once they hit the market.
Both android and iOS operating systems work with the Merge VR Goggles, and at $59, it’s a pretty cheap way for Apple users to have some VR fun.
Pros: The soft foam used in this headset makes it virtually indestructible and the removable slot, which will make this AR capable, is a nice touch.
Cons: Many users have reported comfort issues after long VR sessions.
8. Google Cardboard
Google’s Cardboard has been around since 2014 and will have been many people’s first encounter with VR. You can either download instructions and make your own Cardboard or buy a kit.
If you do decide to make your own, it shouldn’t take long as there’s not much to it. Once you’ve put it together just download a VR app, pop your phone in and enjoy.
Admittedly, this isn’t the best or most refined VR experience you’ll ever have, but it’s much better than most people expect it to be. This is especially true when you consider you can make one for basically nothing or buy one for around $15.
Pros: The Cardboard is really cheap and accessible to everyone, regardless of if you’re using an android or iOS.
Cons: This isn’t the best quality VR headset and functionality is limited.
9. Homido V2
Homido has improved massively on their first VR headset with the V2. Both iOS and Android users will be able to use the V2, which is nice for the iOS users who sometimes get the short end of the stick with other headsets.
The V2 has a 100° field of view, which is pretty good for a mobile VR headset. A standout feature of the V2, however, is adjustable lenses for people who are nearsighted or farsighted. These adjustable lenses also come in useful if you want to let one of the kids have a go.
The headpiece itself is well designed and foam around the V2 is comfy and interchangeable. Interchangeable pads are good news, as playing some VR games is sweaty work. There’s also a button on the top right side of the V2 that can be used as a clicker for apps.
At $79.99, the Homido V2 is a direct competitor to Google’s Daydream on price, but not functionality. Although, the V2 could be a good option if you don’t have a phone compatible with the Daydream.
Pros: The adjustable lenses and removable exterior foam piece are good features not found on many VR headsets at any price.
Cons: At $79.99 the V2 is coming up against Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR, which are, arguably, better VR headsets.
10. Freefly VR
Many people who use the Freefly VR consider it to be the best mid-range mobile VR headset on the market. The reason a lot of people can say this: the Freefly VR is compatible with most popular smartphones ranging from 4.7-6.1 inches.
The Freefly VR has a unique wing mechanism and foam clasps that hold your phone in place. This makes it easy to pop your phone in and out, which is a nice touch if you’re sharing with friends.
The padded exterior of the Freefly VR makes it a seriously comfortable headset. The 120° field of vision is class leading and only matched by the PlayStation VR, which is much more expensive.
This comfort and wide field of view do come at a price, as the headset is a bit clunky-looking. But it’s unlikely to be something you’ll be thinking about while wearing it. More than likely, you’ll be focused on using the controller that comes with the Freefly VR. This thumb-sized controller is called the ‘Glide’ and has four buttons and a joystick. Unfortunately, the Glide isn’t compatible with iOS, but you can get the Freefly VR with crossfire triggers which are compatible with iOS.
Above all else, the best thing about the Freefly VR has to be the price. For the Freefly VR and Glide controller the price is $42 and for the Freefly with crossfire triggers, it’s $59.
Pros: The Freefly VR is amazing value for money and compatible with most phones.
Cons: The Freefly VR isn’t the nicest looking piece of equipment on the market and the Glide controller doesn’t work with iOS.
This is the area where the most exciting developments are being made in the VR industry. These Virtual Reality headsets are sold to developers and are often open source. The technology in these headsets is generally a step ahead of anything on the consumer market.
Keep a close eye on this space to get an idea of where the future of VR and AR is heading.
11. Fove O
The Fove O is one of the most exciting Virtual Reality headsets currently in development, incorporating technology that is sure to be standard in VR headsets of the future. The Fove O tracks your eyes using two infrared eye trackers, this allows you to focus on something as you would in real life – VR is about to get a whole lot more realistic.
Images can be magnified, focused on or distorted depending on where your eyes are looking. You’ll also be able to interact with games and apps by looking at items. The screen refresh rate is 70 fps, so not as good as high-end consumer headsets, but it’s likely Fove would up the refresh rate on a consumer model. Eye tracking happens at the much higher rate of 120 fps, which is necessary to keep up with the speed that our eyes move and focus.
With a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, the 5.7-inch display on the Fove O is one of the highest resolution screens on any VR headset available. Unfortunately, there are still no concrete launch plans for a consumer model, but you can pick up the registered developers kit for $599.
Pros: Eye tracking is one of the most promising developments in VR at the moment and is sure to make the whole experience feel more real.
Cons: There are no solid consumer launch plans yet.
12. Razer OSVR HDK 2
The purpose of the Razer OSVR HDK 2 is to make a VR developer’s life easier, taking away the problems presented by hardware and software. The headset is open source, so third parties can do whatever they want to develop it.
Unfortunately for the developers, the Razer OSVR HDK 2 won’t win any awards for comfort. But the dual OLED 2160 x 1200 pixel on the OSVR HDK 2 would be a pleasure to look at.
If you’d like to try your hand at developing, you can purchase the Razer OSVR HDK 2 for $399.
Pros: We love how much easier this headset makes life for developers.
Cons: Developers often have to spend hours testing, which is something we wouldn’t fancy doing with the OSVR HDK 2 due to its poor comfort.
13. Microsoft HoloLens
The Hololens is sure to be another developmental headset that’s going to revolutionize the VR industry. It merges the worlds of VR and AR, although strictly speaking, the Hololens is an AR headset. The HoloLens is available now, but only the developers kit and only if you’re a Windows Insider member.
The HoloLens incorporates holographic images with your real world surroundings. This means you could turn your office desk into the cockpit of a fighter jet or play an instructional cooking video alongside the food you’re actually preparing. Some apps almost completely immerse you in a virtual world, while others rely heavily on your surroundings. The opportunities for combining the worlds of VR and AR are nearly endless.
Gestures are recognized with Kinect-style technology and there is also voice recognition software. All we know about the quality of the images is that they’re high definition and displayed on a screen with a 120° field of view.
I had the chance to shortly test the Microsoft Hololens at the recent Wearable Tech Show and while the demo version was limited, it showcased the potential of Augmented Reality really well.
One of the other highlight features of the HoLoLens is that, although it runs using Windows 10, it’s not tethered to anything. All the hardware and software needed, including the battery, is contained within the HoloLens itself. This is another feature we’re sure VR tech producers will be eager to bring to the consumer market.
The HoloLens is packed with revolutionary features, but if you want them you’ll have to pay $3,000. Standout features call for standout prices.
Pros: The HoloLens bridges the gap between VR and AR, making it something you could incorporate into your daily life.
Cons: It’s $3,000, need we say anymore?
su_spoiler title=”4. Is it the software or hardware that will get the biggest updates in the next generation of VR headsets?” open=”yes” style=”fancy”]Industry experts predict that the software will provide the greatest improvements over the next year or so. But there are promising hardware developments taking place at the moment, eye tracking on the Fove O is an example of this.[/su_spoiler]
While VR headsets are at the forefront of technology, the industry itself is still in the early stages, and we’re only really starting to see the potential uses these headsets could have in everyday life. Augmented reality headsets, like Microsoft’s Hololens, are the most promising headsets for everyday use at the moment. It’ll be interesting to see how consumers react to AR versus VR over the next while.
The hardware is advancing faster than ever, helped along by open-source projects and VR developer kits. What’s even more exciting, however, are the software and content developments in the industry. Google have made serious advancements in this area with their Daydream platform, as has Steam on the gaming side. These are definitely areas to watch over the coming year.
Thankfully, the market is varied, both in the types of VR headsets available and in price points. Early adopters may want to spring for headsets like the Rift or Vive, but if you don’t want to fork out the big bucks for first generation technology there are plenty of mobile headsets that offer very reasonable experiences for the money. Either way, it’s an exciting time for anyone who wants to get a taste of virtual reality.