Depending on who you ask, VR is either alive and well (and might just help keep you healthy), it’s dead, dead, dead or, at the very least, a promise still unfulfilled. Since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re either the former or looking for new signs of life.
CES 2019, the huge Las Vegas consumer electronics show in January, did indeed give us some things to look forward to with virtual reality. But if you’re interested in what you can get now to experience VR, I’ve picked out the best headsets we’ve tested below.
VR headsets come in a few different forms. There’s the cheap headset that works with your phone and there’s the much more expensive option that requires a powerful PC or gaming console and some space to move around. In between those are standalone headsets that are cordfree and don’t require any additional external hardware to run them — something we’re sure to see more of in 2019. Keep reading to see the best options in each category.
The best VR experiences currently require a tethered headset. This requires you to connect cords from the headset to a reasonably powerful computer for power, audio and running the software. And for some models you’ll also need to run cables to your computer from camera sensors you’ll place in your room that are used for head tracking. But that’s the price you pay for unparalleled immersion. Here are some tips for keeping the cords out of your way.
The well-designed and compact Oculus Rift is a top pick due to its great combination of controls and strong collection of software. The original $599 price has dropped significantly — now $350, £399 and roughly AU$535 for both the headset and touch controllers — but you’ll still need a PC to run it.
The HTC Vive offers up a better virtual reality experience than the Rift thanks to sharp visuals, great motion controls and full-room sensing to walk around in virtual space. It does, however, require more room to setup and use, it’s more expensive at $500 and it, too, needs a high-end PC to drive the software and headset.
Sony Playstation VR
If you already have or were considering buying a Playstation 4, this is a no-brainer. It is the most accessible, affordable and user-friendly full VR option on the market. It uses a single camera sensor unit for motion tracking simplifying setup, though it does mean the tracking isn’t quite as good as the Rift or Vive. But at only $225 at the moment, it’s hard to complain.
Samsung HMD Odyssey+
To help deal with the space and computer requirements of VR headsets as well as their high costs, Microsoft developed Windows Mixed Reality headsets with its PC partners. WMR headsets use what’s called inside-out tracking, so you don’t need to setup camera sensors for motion tracking. They start at around $200 and they all have the same features for the most part. That is except for the Samsung, which is the best we’ve tested with features like built-in AKG headphones and high-res displays with a wider field of view than others.
This is the place to start if you’re still not sure how much you’ll like or want to invest in VR. Since these headsets use your phone for the display and to run apps, they are the least expensive option and don’t require room to use them and they’re cordfree. Note that iPhone users are limited to simple viewers like Google Cardboard on the low end or nicer models like the Zeiss VR One Plus, which will work with Android devices as well. The ones we recommend offer more versatility, but are Android only.
Google Daydream View
Essentially a nicer version of the barebones Cardboard, the Daydream View is comfortable to wear, works with a variety of new and old Android phones, the list of compatible apps continues to grow and at $60 it’s affordable. It also has a controller to make navigating a snap.
Samsung Gear VR
The biggest drawback to the Gear VR is that it only works with Samsung phones. If you’ve got one of those, this is the headset to get. Like Daydream View, the Gear VR comes with a controller for navigation and gameplay. Oculus powers the software and apps of Gear VR, bringing a large selection of compatible apps.
We’re finally starting to see standalone VR headsets, meaning they’re cordfree and don’t require a phone or PC to power them. The VR experience is basically a step up from the phone headsets, but well short of what you’ll get with the full Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headsets.
The Go is essentially like using a phone headset, but without using your phone. It’s relatively inexpensive at $200 considering everything’s built in and includes a controller. The display inside looks sharp and the built-in speakers have convincing spatial audio. Plus, with hundreds of apps, you’ll have plenty of content and games to explore right out of the box. A pumped-up $400 version called the Oculus Quest is expected this spring, so you may want to hold off all together.
Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream
Powered by Google’s Daydream, the Mirage Solo is not unlike Lenovo’s Windows Mixed Reality headset in design minus the need to have a corded connection to a PC. It uses the same inside-out motion tracking as the WMR headset giving it what’s called 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) so you can duck, lean and step. Things that can’t be done with the Oculus Go, Samsung Gear VR and Daydream View. It is expensive at about $400, though, and it, too, can’t compete with the Rift or Vive.