Virtual Reality is a concept term that has existed since the early 90s. Back then, virtual reality consisted of the sci-fi horror film, The Lawnmower Man, to 3D models on computer monitors. Things since then have gotten a bit more complicated and simpler at the same time – the technology has gotten more complicated and advanced but the hardware behind it has gotten simpler in many instances. For example, the high-end HTC vive is great for virtual reality games but Google has a cardboard-engineered headset that can be purchased for a fraction of the price.
However, these things are not one in the same. Google Cardboard utilizes an existing piece of hardware like your mobile device. There’s a lot of different VR technologies out there today so it’s hard to pin point the very best one. There’s not just one device that’s going to work for everyone. The problem with picking and choosing a cheap headset is that there’s just too many of them. Choosing just one of them can seem like an impossible task. There are things to help you limit your selection down though such as the costs, features and expectations. There are three different classes of VR available today. What kind of experience are you expecting? What is your desired outcome of the headset?
Best VR Headset Complete Guide
HTC Vive - Virtual Reality Headset
If you’re looking for the most simplistic design out there, then Google Cardboard is it. Google Cardboard utilizes the most basic elements of what virtual reality is. It’s just a magnifying lens with hardware attached to it, such as your handheld device. While Google was the first one to make this design famous, they weren’t the first people to come up with the idea. There’s a lot of cardboard based headsets out there and most of them work with both smartphones and iOS phones. The problem with cardboard compatible headsets is that they don’t offer a lot of interactivity. The best use you can get out of these is watching a 360 video and even then, the video quality usually isn’t the best. Another downfall is that they’re not quite great when it comes to longevity for the user. They’re meant to be tested out but not to be used for long periods of time. Then there’s the comfort factor. These headsets are actually very uncomfortable. There’s a lot of plastic versions out there like the Mattel’s own View Master but after about five minutes of use, some discomfort can start to set in.
If you live in a city with a lot of technology related events or go to conventions like Hack-a-thons or technology based conventions, you’ve more than likely seen free Google Cardboards just being handed out. A lot of companies today are partnering up and putting themselves into the headset market. It’s highly lucrative and the technology is getting better every year. If you’d like to make your own, you can print some patterns directly from Google and get your own cardboard with plastic lenses. If you’d like some further customization, Google has some resourceful links to places like Knox Labs and Dodocase. Customization is pretty budget friendly though as prices usually range anywhere from $20 to $30.
No one likes hidden costs. In America today, 2 out of 3 adults own a handheld Android or iPhone device. For the Google Cardboard to function properly, this handheld device is the only thing you need. The real downside is with users that own an older handheld device that’s a couple of years old. Seeing as Google Cardboard is relatively new, there’s no guarantee that the older generations of Android and iPhone will cooperate well with Cardboard. The experience will be a bit lower quality then you’d come to expect.
Some headsets are heavy and take up a lot of space. Google Cardboards are easily the most portable headsets because cardboard is easy to fold up and take it on the go. You can fold the cardboard up to be as small as a pair of eye glasses. The downfall to having a highly portable headset is that they’re generally uncomfortable. No matter where you go though, you should keep in mind that most headsets will work best from the position of a spinning chair unless you want to be standing in a room with plenty of space to do so.
For a headset to be considered compatible with Cardboard, you only need to have one input and no more. The smallest and most simplistic headset designs out there today only have enough room for you to stick your finger in and tap on the screen. If there’s a button on a headset, then it’s usually an easy tap button that leads to a lever that controls the screen. One button may not sound like a lot but there’s quite a bit you can do with just one button. The button will allow you to navigate through options, games or apps and it will allow you to perform simple navigation. There are a number of apps available from Google that are compatible with your Cardboard VR. The Cardboard Map app for example lets you pick a location and fly around the world as if you were a drone. Some headsets however are based on head directional movement instead of a button.
Being that they’re the cheapest on the market, they’re also going to be the most readily available because there’s a far higher demand for the cheap headsets. Not everyone has the cash to fork out on an expensive headset. If you browse through Google’s selection of Cardboard headsets, there’s well over a dozen headsets that are compatible with Cardboard. Even though there’s the downside of having a limited lifespan and not being able to use them comfortable for a lengthy period of time, the availability of these headsets far exceeds the inconvenience of comfort of lifespan. There’s quite a few services that offer VR video such as IM360, Ryot, Jaunt and Vrse. If you like watching YouTube videos, then Google made the entire YouTube library available through Cardboard.
Google Cardboard is just the basic entry point of virtual reality headsets. The mid-range products have more functionality and more options available but these also are going to come with a higher cost as well. When you hold up Google Cardboard, it’s ideally just a smartphone case that looks funny to others who see you using it. Some of the features and functionality you can expect to see in some of the mid-range headsets are tracking sensors, some built in controls that Cardboard doesn’t offer, focus wheels or screens that were designed custom for the headset. Samsung’s Gear is one of the best mid-range headsets on the market right now. It’s one of the most sophisticated and best designed headset available to people not looking to get into professional quality virtual reality or not ready to buy something expensive like a Vive yet. LG also released their own mobile headset, with Google trailing them and planning on their mobile headset release in the next few months. Some of your other options are headsets like the Homido and the Zeiss VR One as some options that are bit more obscure then the Samsung Gear VR. The thing with mid-range headsets is, there’s no real clear line of functionality that these things offer. There’s a lot of variation and difference between all of the mid-range products and choosing one can come down to personal preference when you place them side by side for a review.
To put it in a simple perspective: a mid-range headset can cost anywhere from $75 to $125. The Gear VR’s pricing tag isn’t just for the hardware, you’re also going to be paying for the optimization of the software as well. This allows you to have more control over your apps and headset rather than the Cardboard. There’s also a dedicated app store that comes with the Samsung Gear VR as well, giving you more choices and more selection. Then there’s some headsets like the VR One and Homido which come with a price that’s not exactly easy to forgive. The difference between those two and the Cardboard is that the Homido comes with a focus wheel and the Zeiss comes with a high quality lens for better viewing experience and durability. Both the Homido and Zeiss have been designed with a passive but immersive experience in mind. The pricing of some headsets is still a mystery until further notice such as the LG 360 VR headset. Google’s newest rumor is also a mystery but when do they not keep upcoming projects a big secret until their release?
Something you should take into account is your current smartphone and the adaptability of the headset you plan on purchasing. For example, if you plan on getting a Gear VR or a LG 360 VR, both of those headsets only work with the latest Samsung and LG line of phones. With Google working on a specific non-Cardboard type headset, it’s speculated that this will also require a certain type of phone as well. Google does have a Nexus line of phones but it would be stabbing themselves in the foot to have them as a requirement.
While the mid-range headsets aren’t exactly expensive for the enthusiastic VR gamer, they do come with some weird drawbacks, such as spacing. They’re very easily portable, they’re not large and don’t come packed with a lot of things that require transportation. They also are far more comfortable than the Cardboard from Google and they’re more immersive as well. The games feel more real. The VR cable management is something that most companies take to heart and try to avoid creating. There’s nothing fun about getting twisted up in annoying cables while trying to play a fast paced game. One of the downsides of these mid-range cards is the motion sickness experienced by some players. These headsets have the ability to play games that have a lot of motion and movement, something that the Cardboard cannot do. The mid-range cards don’t really require a great deal of space and some of them allow you to be fully seated while playing games that allow it.
This is where things get a little bit tricky because controllers aren’t exactly in the best place when it comes to the mid-range headsets. Surprisingly, headsets like the Homido and the Zeiss don’t even offer a controller. So in that regard, they could be seen as a step down from the Cardboard. When you’re setting up the LG virtual reality headset, it’s a simple two button process to get fully setup. The Samsung Gear VR system however has a very complicated system in place. There’s a literal trackpad much like you have on laptops that sits on the side of the headset. This isn’t exactly an ideal scenario as it adds weight and can be inconveniencing but the controls of the pad are pretty broad. You can swipe, tap, click back and other input options that come with the headset. There’s other functionality that can be added in terms of controls and movement but it adds weight to your headset and costs more money.
One of the first consumer released headsets was actually the Gear VR. It was one of the first and most sophisticated VR headsets of its time and did very well. It was sold out in almost every major outlet that sold them but now, they’re very easily found with more mid-range headsets on the market today and a higher demand for high-end VR headsets. There’s also some sales on products like the Zeiss VR One that are easily found for those looking to shop on a budget. Like with most products, it’s basically just a waiting game to find the best headset that fits your budget and offers all of the functionality that you’re looking for. LG still hasn’t given a solid date for the release of their product and no one expects Google to keep everyone in the loop until the headset is almost finished. You also have to take into account that these are simply rumors at the moment and not confirmations that LG and Google will be releasing their own headsets. The Gear VR at this point in time is the only great option for a mid-range headset if you’d like a non-Cardboard option. The headset comes with hundreds of games, a lot of apps and while the controls can be a little complex, there’s constant software updates for user experience.
This is where most of the demand in the market is today. It comes down to the high quality and high-end virtual reality headsets. These are relatively expensive and the main reason is, the design of these headsets doesn’t work with a handheld device. The Vive for example plugs directly into your computer and has its own built in system. The three major high-end headsets at the moment are the Vive, PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift. All three of them won’t work with handheld devices and need to be hooked up to either a console or a high-end gaming computer with a killer graphics card. The reason for eliminating the need for a phone is so that features can be built that utilize a far more powerful device and functionality that the phone couldn’t originally do can now be implemented. Some of these design features are motion tracking, high pixel resolution screens, high quality graphics and more sophisticated features that require a powerful computer or console to run.
It’s not made of cardboard, cheap material and doesn’t only come with basic functionality, so you can expect to pay out big for these. The Oculus starts out at a reasonable price, plus the cost of motion controllers and other accessories you want to add on also has to be factored in. The Vive however is pricier but adds a heap of technology never seen before in a virtual reality headset. The PlayStation VR however remains a mystery when it comes to pricing and what will come with it. What we do know is that the PlayStation VR will have a box that comes with it to process video and it’s also going to be several hundred dollars at a bare minimum. It could be less than the Oculus or it could be more than the Vive, no one knows for sure yet.
While the price tag might be a bit off-putting, the good news is that you more than likely already own some form of a computer or console, whether it be a desktop computer, laptop computer or a console. The downside is that you cannot use a Mac and that you need a rather powerful computer to operate a high-end headset. The cost of a headset ready desktop could be as low as $1,000 but you can’t ensure you’re going to have the most optimal experience unless you spend a bit more. The problem is, these headsets require a high-end graphics cards and only people who are hardcore gamers or movie editors already have these things readily available. For console users though, all you need is a console and no extra hardware necessary. It’s probably cheaper at that rate to just buy a PlayStation 4 unless you plan on doing a lot of hardcore gaming to justify the cost of buying a PC or high-end gaming laptop.
This is where a lot of people also bite themselves in the behind with these high-end headsets. You need a lot of space because of the added functionality of the headset. You need to be able to move around as a lot of games have built in immersive gameplay that allow you to walk around, move and duck. Some games require a lot of exercise and stamina as well, so make sure you have an ample amount of room. Good lighting should also be something taken into consideration as well. The best way to accomplish optimal movement is to place some LEDs on the headset and then use an external camera to track them. With the PlayStation VR, you’ll be doing a lot of leaning or crouching and not so much moving around because of where the tracker is positioned. The Vive however lets you walk around a rather large room without interrupting the gameplay. Don’t worry about bumping into things if your friends don’t tell you you’re about to run into a wall. There’s a guided system on the Vive that will alert you when you’re getting too close to an edge.
The Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR makes a lot of use on game pads. The Oculus will even come with its own Xbox one controller, so you’re going to be utilizing that as the main source of a control. PlayStation VR as you probably might have guessed uses a PlayStation 4 controller. The thing that really sets high-end virtual reality headsets apart from the rest of the crowd isn’t the controllers that are shipped with them though, it’s the motion control functionality. Unlike utilizing a controller, this functionality lets you play games like pool, lets you paint, lets you play games like bowling and ping pong. They’re highly realistic, fluid and react to your every move. PlayStation VR will come equipped with a light strip that is used by tracking cameras as well as wands that are used for motion tracking, kind of like Wii remotes. The Vive and the Oculus however come with their own specialty controllers. The controllers you like to use really come down to a personal selection and how the controllers feel to you. Oculus controllers however aren’t going to arrive until months after the actual official release of the headset. All three headsets though will allow you to freely move around in a space (depending on the room, system and how well the tracking is setup).
The rumors are that April is when the big news for all high-end headset fans is coming. The Oculus will be shipping at the end of March and the Vive is going to be released not long after the Oculus. This is exciting news for gamers everywhere because this is the official first release of high-end virtual reality headsets and they’re shipping within relatively short time of one another. Don’t expect yours right away though as Oculus and Vive orders are heavily backed up. You might not be getting yours until the summer.
Best Virtual Reality Headset Review
1. HTC Vive Review
When news of the Oculus Rift came out, the internet almost exploded with joy and excitement. However, Oculus isn’t exactly coming along too well and news of development seems very sporadic now days so where does that leave them? The good news is, this allows other companies to pick up the pace and develop their own headsets like the HTC Vive.
The HTC Vive is a Valve backed headset that a lot of streamers on Twitch are currently using. The HTC Vive is the very first Steam VR headset. The Vive however is a lot different than the Oculus. The Oculus requires people to be seated when using it to get the full enjoyment out of it. This means that you’ll probably be stuck playing simulators or cockpit style games. The Vive, while there are some games that allow you to be sitting require a lot of room to use because some games allow you to stand up or walk around. It’s far more immersive in design and in experience over the Oculus.
The headset resolution is rather impressive, coming in at 2,160 x 1,200 pixels which are presented on two OLED displays. The Vive also has two different tracking stations, IR tracking and two motion controllers. This allows developers to create games that simulate archery or shooting just with the controllers alone. This means, games can be made that don’t require the production of an accessory like a bow or gun for hunting games. More impressive, there’s a 720p camera on the front which allows for object tracking.
The design overall of the Vive looks like it came straight from the future. You’ll first notice that there’s some infrared tracking dots on the front of the headset that follow the round design of the headset. This makes the headset look aggressive and not like a tin can on your head, much like the Oculus Rift. There’s nothing wrong with a streamlined look but the HTC Vive wants a more aggressive look that has a futuristic design to it while still maintaining all the core functionality and features that other headsets offer.
One of the great things about the design of the Vive is how the pieces were built. They were built with thick plastic and they’re made durable to last. Everything from the trackers, the controllers, cables and even the link box is a hard and thick plastic coat. Dropping it (while it’s not recommended) would probably be safe. At least safer then dropping some other high quality headsets out there today using less than favorable design materials.
The headset isn’t the lightest headset on the market but it highly makes up for that with all of the functions and durability. The controllers kind of look remotely close to Wii Remotes and allows for comfortable hand movements and in-game functions like picking up objects or using weapons.
As expected, having that kind of construction on a headset does come at a cost. The Vive cable and can get in your way in movement based games. It’s a very thick cable and it’s made to withstand collisions with household objects or being accidentally stepped on. So you have to be careful if you’re doing a lot of movement or spinning around but it’s something that you get used to after a while.
One of the great things about the Vive is the cable management system. Instead of going straight into a computer, there’s a link box that holds all of the cables. The power, the USB and HDMI all go to the same place so that you don’t need an additional cable to hook up. Another safety feature for those who get a little too excited when playing games is that the system will breakaway when it’s yanked instead of pulling your entire computer off the desk.
Before, the Vive Pre attachment mechanism wasn’t exactly the best. Since then, the Vive headband has had some dramatic improvements in functionality and in comfort. The bands have become more durable and sturdy on both sides of the headset. There’s Velcro side tabs to help you fit your headset accordingly. For most people, they can adjust the tabs to find a comfortable fit in as little as a minute and get to playing games.
There’s a face gasket that was made squishy for comfort in mind. Some headsets only cover a portion of your eyes while the Vive’s face gasket goes all the way around your eyes. There’s a term by some users of other headsets that they call “VR Face” where a lot of pressure is put onto your nose and eyes so that when you take the headset off, you have visible red spots all over your face from the discomforting pressure. With the Vive, there’s no “VR Face” as it was built with that in mind.
In games with a lot of physical activity though, there’s going to be some sweat production. Burning calories often involves sweating, especially in games that involve jumping around, ducking constantly or constant movement. It might help to keep a fan on you in the room you’re playing if you’re going to be playing a game that requires a lot of physical activity.
When doing testing for the game, it seems that most people had a unanimous opinion about the overall functionality and features of the Vive. Everyone reported that there was a high level of immersion with all of the games and everyone absolutely loved how intuitive the controls were. One of the great things that wasn’t reported was the nauseating effect that can come with some headsets. Some headsets are often glitch when moving or turning so it can produce some painful nauseating side effects. Motion sickness also wasn’t reported by users which is great news for people that get motion sick easily.
There’s one game that some users have reported slight motion sickness, which is called the Ghosts Within. The trick in this game is to make slow movements as it’s not the Vive that’s causing motion sickness but the game itself. One thing that can help is the UI, processing and tracking to remain sharp throughout the entire play through. Games with clearly defined textures and better looking surfaces will always look sharper and have less lag during any kind of motion.
With a great product though, does come some negative points. One of those negative points is there’s certain rings you can see around the field of view. In games that have a dark environment or when the screen goes dark, this can be confusing because it’s going to look like the structure of the headset is blending in. The only downside to this is it can ruin the immersion for some people but it’s not really a big deal or a deal breaker. This also doesn’t happen in all games, only games where the setting is really dark or really bright.
There are earbuds that are supplied through the Vive but they’re the cheap kind of earbuds and you can use your own if you’d like. Another great Vive function is the 3.5mm plug on the back of the headset so that you can just plug in your ear pieces instead of linking them directly to a link box. The ear buds aren’t bad but if you’ve bought your own, they’re probably better than the basic buds you were sent.
Thankfully, all of these things combine together to enhance the user’s experience. Even if you’re in a small space, you should be able to move around some but it’s recommended you have a place with plenty of room to play some of these games. When you’re playing a game, you can almost feel yourself reaching out to touch an object in game and it feels so real, even if you know it’s just virtual reality.
Another great feature is the expansion of online virtual reality play that the Vive offers. You can compete against other players and while this functionality is still being expanded on, no one 10 years ago would have dreamed that we would be using virtual reality to compete against other players. Competing against other players is far more gratifying versus playing against scripted opponents. It adds a new level of immersion to the already immersive headset.
Another thing to consider is the drawbacks of the availability of VR games on the Steam marketplace. This headset, like other headsets isn’t going to work with just any game. There are however a lot of games that are compatible with the headset already so you may be surprised when you turn on the headset and see some games in your library that are ready to go. However, you should always check before purchasing another game to see if it’s compatible yet or if it will be in the future.
When it comes to the overall user experience, the Oculus Rift has gone all out. It was one of the main focuses of the headset overall, which is what Vive had in mind as well. There’s a specific process mapped out by Valve to follow when you’re setting the headset up. There is definitely no shortage of cords that need connected but you have to properly position the lighthouse sensors for the headset. They need to be positioned at least 4 to 5 feet above the ground. When setting up your sensors, they should slightly aim towards the ground for the best experience possible.
The good news for non-tech savvy users is that setup is easy if you follow the simple instructions and press the correct buttons when you’re told to. There have been reports of connectivity issues but these aren’t very common. However, even when you’re setup, you’re going to need three different things to fully experience the Vive and get the most out of it. You’re going to need a high end graphics card, a spacious room and a VR capable computer. You may be able to get away with a mid-range graphics cards but Valve’s requirements are for 100% optimal performance.