So VR really is here. You can buy all sorts of headsets right now, many of which we've reviewed, from Google, Sony, Samsung, HTC, Oculus and more. Therein lies the new problem. Most of this tech is still very much first-gen, which means each headset will have very real pros and cons to consider.
That's why we've put together this starter guide for anyone buying their first VR headset. Here are the main factors to think about when deciding what to go for. And if you have any tips yourself, do add these in the comments below.
What's your budget?
With headsets from $10 right up to $700, budget is probably a good place to start. We see three main groups right now: the first group of mobile VR headsets is up to $100, the second (essentially the PlayStation VR) is up to $400 and the third and final high-end PC group is $400 and higher.
Of course with Black Friday deals and other sales and discounts this time of year, you might find yourself being able to afford more than you first thought.
What do you already own?
So, if you have a recent Samsung phone like an S7 Edge, get a Samsung Gear VR. (If you have a slightly older Samsung get a bargain with a slightly older Gear VR).
If you have a Google Pixel phone, get a Google Daydream View which will support selected upcoming Android phones too. If you have an iPhone, you can still choose from a range of decent iPhone-compatible VR headsets even though Apple doesn't make its own headset (yet).
Then we come to PS VR, which requires a PS4 console and PlayStation Camera to work. We mentioned price – if you already have a PS4 at home, this is a seriously decent price, starting at $399.
And if you don't have a PC with serious specs, it's unlikely you'll want to buy an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Unless, that is, you've been waiting for the latest wave of cutting edge VR gaming headsets to splash your cash on a better rig. With a PC, you're looking at bundles around the $1,500 mark.
Casual or hardcore?
Answering this question essentially answers all sorts of other VR related questions. Do you want the ease of a wireless headset? In that case go for a mobile headset like a Gear VR or Daydream View. Are you excited about getting to grips with handheld controllers in games? Then look at the PlayStation VR, Vive and Rift.
With the last three, there's also the issue of set-up and space. If you're a gamer and a creative who plans to spend hours in these devices, you won't mind setting up the PlayStation Camera or the Vive's base stations for room scale headset and controller tracking. You also probably won't mind rearranging some furniture.
If you're not very tech inclined, a mobile VR headset means you just have to download an app, click on experiences and slot your phone in – you're away within minutes.
Side note: Anecdotally the Vive is the best in terms of not causing any motion sickness; the PS VR is probably the headset we've had the most complaints from, though it depends on both the person and the game.
For casual and hardcore gamers, as well as the 'casual' group who want to try out the 360-degree docs, live events and broader entertainment offerings, there's also the age-old question of what do you friends have? Are they going to want to play multiplayer EVE: Valkyrie or just chat about whether you saw that 360 music video? See also: what specific games do you want to play?
Pretty much all the platforms now offer plenty of introductory apps and experiences, particularly the Gear VR, but only the Sony, Oculus and HTC add the longer, fully fledged games to the mix.
If you go for a mobile headset like Gear VR, a cheap Bluetooth controller is a good bet. You won't be able to use one for every game but turning your head for everything can get annoying after a while.
For anyone buying a PlayStation VR, the Move controllers aren't mandatory – but boy, can they be fun. A lot of the quality titles give you the option, and suggest you play with them over the DualShock. Still, if you don't already have some and have reached your budget on the headset, you can always buy them a month or so into your time with it.
A note on Oculus and HTC – the Vive is more expensive but it includes the two handheld controllers. HTC is already showing off prototypes for the next version of its controllers but when these do launch, probably next year, they will be compatible with the first-gen headset. The equivalent Oculus Touch controllers haven't launched yet and are a separate purchase.
Before you buy – read these
- The best VR headsets: The top virtual reality devices to go and buy nowDo you go Rift or PS VR or Vive or Daydream? We help you decide
- The best VR headsets for iPhone usersBecause iOS users can join the big VR party too
- A super quick safety guide to letting your kids use VR headsetsShould you share your new tech toy with the whole family?
- Sony PlayStation VR v HTC Vive: Which VR headset is worth the money?It's not all about Oculus, y'know
- Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR: What is the best VR gaming headset?Sony and Oculus' first gen headsets go head to head
Should you buy one now?
Late 2016 is a pretty good time to buy your first VR headset. Apart from Oculus teasing its standalone Santa Cruz headset and HTC talking about future redesigns, we don't expect any new headset hardware from these companies in the next few months.
Coming up there's Fove's eye-tracking headset and a few other interesting bits of tech. If you're about to buy a new phone and are interested in Daydream, maybe hold off and see which companies launch Daydream compatible phones and headsets next.
When in doubt, go Gear VR if you have a Samsung, cheap and cheerful for iPhones and other Androids till Daydream gets going. For PS4 gamers, it's PlayStation VR.
Oh, but whatever you do please don't buy the LG 360 VR, it's terrible.