Virtual reality is here – 2016 is the year that the likes of Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive have taken the medium mainstream.
For the uninitiated, VR is an immersive experience in which your head movements are tracked in a three-dimensional world, making it ideally suited to games and even movies.
Explained: How does VR actually work?
While VR was a non-starter back in the 90s, developers are now creating mind-blowing experiences that look set to revolutionise gaming and entertainment.
But what are the best VR headsets and which one should you go and buy? We've put together the definitive selection of the most gob-smackingly awesome devices just waiting to be strapped to your face.
Read on for the full list of…
The HTC Vive is made in collaboration with PC games giant Valve; the makers of legendary gaming series Half-Life and the gaming platform Steam.
The HTC Vive plugs into PCs and work with Valve's mammoth gaming ecosystem. It packs in 70 sensors to offer 360-degree head-tracking as well as a 90Hz refresh rate; the stat that's key to keeping down latency, which is the technical term for the effect that causes motion sickness. Thankfully, that wasn't an issue in our review time.
Essential reading: Best HTC Vive games
However, the key to the HTC Vive's success is the Lighthouse room tracking that enables you to move around with the headset on. It means mounting some sensors in your home, but the effect is next level. Check out our HTC Vive review to see why we think it's the most awesome VR experience.
Oculus Rift is the headset that started the current hysteria. Developed by Palmer Luckey, funded via Kickstarter and snapped up by Facebook for a cool $2 billion, the Rift plugs into your computer's DVI and USB ports and tracks your head movements to provide 3D imagery on its stereo screens.
The consumer edition Rift uses a 2160 x 1200 resolution, working at 233 million pixels per second, with a 90Hz refresh rate. It's high-tech stuff, which matches the HTC Vive for refresh rate, but lags behind PlayStation VR on this front. However, given its access to the power of latest PCs, it's pushing a lot more pixels than Sony's headset.
Essential reading: Best Oculus Rift games
The Oculus Touch controllers are slated to arrive later in the year, so you'll have to settle for an Xbox One controller in the box for now. Be sure to read our definitive Oculus Rift review for more details.
Sony PlayStation VR
We finally have a launch date for the PlayStation VR headset: 13 October 2016.
PS VR will be most people's introduction to 'good' VR. It's not perfect but it's going after console gamers hard and, ultimately, it is still a truly awesome PS4 accessory. There's nothing else in the PS VR's category of quality but affordable VR; therefore it is the benchmark for console mainstream VR.
Essential reading: Best PlayStation VR games
With its low price and pre-Christmas on-sale date, PlayStation VR has the chance to go big – even if by its own admission, the tech isn't up to the standards of its competitors. Check out our full PlayStation VR review for all the in-depth details..
Samsung Gear VR (2016)
The new Samsung Gear VR doesn't look much different to its predecessor but it has several upgrades that make it totally worth it. Gone is the hugely annoying lens fog thanks to new vents and more space inside the headset.
Of course, the visual experience of using Gear VR will depend on which Samsung smartphone you use, like the large and sharp Note 7 screen.
But there are some improvements to the actual headset no matter which Sammie handset you've got – specifically Samsung has widened the viewing angle to 101 degrees (from 96 degrees) and darkened the colour tint to reduce glare and reflections.
The price of the new Gear VR hasn't gone up at all either - you'll just need one of the following compatible devices to plug in: Galaxy Note 7, S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+.
Google announced its Cardboard virtual reality headset way back at I/O 2014. Popping a smartphone into a cardboard container and then strapping it to your head may sound like a joke, but it actually works and is a low-cost way to experience virtual reality.
After all, your smartphone contains all the necessary gyroscopic sensors and positioning systems to accurately track your head movements.
There's actually a bunch of unofficial Cardboard headsets but Google also now sells the real deal in its store. It's better than you'd think... honest.
Take a look at the best Google Cardboard VR apps and games.
Google Daydream View
The first headset born out of Google's Daydream VR platform, View was first revealed at I/O 2016 in late 2016.
Google claims View is 30% lighter than other mobile headsets on the market - no names named but we'd guess they mean the newest Samsung Gear VR.
For now it's only compatible with Google's new Pixel phone which is Daydream ready but we're expecting compatible phones from Samsung, HTC, Sony et al. For controls, you'll use the Daydream controller that accompanies the headset which is included in package.
$79 | store.google.com
Not a copycat of the big VR headsets, Microsoft HoloLens blends virtual and augmented reality to make one of the most ambitious launches ever planed - you can buy it now if you're a dev (and you've got money to burn). The device merges real-world elements with virtual 'holographic' images, meaning you can look at your Minecraft world on your kitchen table, or walk around the surface of Mars in your living room.
Must read: Everything you need to know about AR
Using Kinect-style tech to recognise gestures and voice commands, the headset has a 120-degree field of vision on both axes, and is capable of 'high definition' visuals, but it's still a letterbox compared to the likes of Oculus and Vive. More importantly, however, there's no connection to a PC – a full Windows 10 system is built into the headset and runs off a battery.
The Development Edition is available now for Windows Insider members with a price tag of $3,000.
Razer OSVR HDK 2
Razer's OSVR isn't a rival to the likes of Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR. Instead, it's intended to make life easier for developers to make applications for VR hardware, without technical (software and hardware) limitations getting in their way.
You can pick up the OSVR Hacker Developer Kit 2 now. Its 2160 x 1200 dual OLED display puts it right up against the big names. However, there's still some comfort issues to work through. As the name says, the headset still remains open source, allowing third parties to do whatever they want with it.
Fove VR differs from the likes of Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR because it offers interactive eye-tracking. Inside the headset is an infrared sensor that monitors the wearer's eyes; offering both a new control method and an edge on its competitors when it comes to realism.
With Fove, simulated depth-of-field is possible, due to the system knowing exactly what you're looking at, and as a result, the virtual should appear more real. The Fove setup is an 5.7-inch, 1440p, display; a 100+ degree field of view; 90fps frame rate; and eye-tracking measured at 120fps.
Fove VR has been redesigned ahead of the first developer kits being shipped. Gone are the big side panels and quite a lot of the heft of the last prototype design - the company promises the new model offers "dramatically reduced weight, size and overall wearability, as well as better production efficiency."
Pre-orders open November, getfove.com
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