The Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive have taken the virtual reality medium into the 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 movies.
While VR was a non-starter back in the 90s, developers are now creating mind-blowing experiences that are now very much being played in people's living rooms. Meanwhile, AR and mixed reality are starting to appear on the scene, blending our world with the virtual one.
Explained: How does VR actually work?
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…
The PC and console headsets
This group of headgear is what most of the fuss over the past two years has been about. The Oculus and HTC both work with a PC, the PlayStation VR with a PlayStation 4 so you'll need one of those first. For any of these, you'll need at least $350 and for Rift and Vive you're looking at double that including controllers.
The 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 the latest PCs, it's pushing a lot more pixels than Sony's headset.
Essential reading: Best Oculus Rift games
The Oculus Touch controllers arrived at the end of 2016 and, through our testing, have pushed Rift to the top of the VR headset pile. Simply put, the Oculus Rift platform is finally a finished product that excels at giving you the VR experience the company initially promised. Now the price is still a sore subject, so it won't be for everyone, but it is the best all-round VR headset you can get right now. Be sure to read our definitive Oculus Rift review for more details.
The HTC Vive was made in collaboration with PC games giant Valve and works with Valve's mammoth gaming ecosystem. HTC 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, which can't be said about every device.
Essential reading: Best HTC Vive games
It doesn't rival PS VR for games you already know and love, but in terms of experimentation, there's plenty to explore. However the key to the HTC Vive's success is the Lighthouse room tracking, which enables you to move around with the headset on. It means mounting some sensors in your home, but the effect is next level.
For a long time, the Vive stood as the reigning champ of VR headsets but after revisiting the device in closer comparisons to Oculus Rift and PS VR, it's been moved to second place for a variety of reasons. That doesn't detract from our earlier experiences though, and it still won our Award for best VR headset of 2016. It's also set to get even better with HTC's new peripherals, including the TPCast module for taking it wireless, and the new Trackers, which will turn just about anything into a controller. Check out our HTC Vive review to see why we think it's an awesome VR experience.
Sony PlayStation VR
PlayStation 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 mainstream console VR. Since launch too, there's been a steady stream of new titles including Resident Evil 7.
Essential reading: Best PlayStation VR games
With its low price and PS4 compatibility, PlayStation VR has the chance to go big – even if, by its own admission, the tech isn't quite up to the standards of its competitors. Check out our full PlayStation VR review for all the in-depth details...
Windows 10 VR (coming soon)
If you're interested in the Rifts and Vives, Microsoft's plans for Windows 10 VR are worth a mention. That's mainly as the headsets from HP, Dell, Lenovo & Acer are set to slash the price of VR for PC owners.
The headsets are due to go on sale in the second half of 2017 for between $300 and $400. And they should work with more modestly-specced PCs than the first cohort of headsets.
All we know so far is that the headsets have a headband-style design, will have two depth sensing cameras on the front for room-scale tracking without extra sensors and that there may be some cross-platform apps for both Windows VR and HoloLens (below). So it might be worth hanging on to see how these devices perform.
- Best iPhone VR headsetsBecause iOS users can join the big VR party too
- Best Android VR headsetsCardboard, Gear VR, Zeiss One and more – iOS and Android compatible devices
- The best VR games for 2017Updated: Our favorite virtual reality games for whatever headset you're rocking
- The best PlayStation VR games for your shiny new headsetBig names and indie titles for Sony's PS4 accessory
- The best 360 VR videos on YouTubeFor your phone, desktop or headset viewing consideration
The mobile headsets
These are the best headsets that you can slot your phone into to power it. They're generally wireless and under $100 so a whole different ball game to the beasts above. Be careful though, certain devices work with certain phones.
More options: The best smartphone headsets for VR apps
Samsung Gear VR
Last year's 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. 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 latest Gear VR hasn't gone up at all either – you'll just need one of the following compatible devices to plug in: Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge or S6 Edge+. Read our full Samsung Gear VR review for more details and impressions. If you have a Samsung phone, this is still the best mobile VR experience you can get.
Google Daydream View
The first headset born out of Google's Daydream VR platform, View was first revealed at I/O 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 a handful of handsets including Google's new Pixel phone, but expect more Daydream-ready smartphone throughout 2017. We've done a full Google Daydream VR review and have to say the headset has gone down well at Wareable HQ - our only niggle is the comfort and light bleed which isn't quite up to scratch.
Still, with an impressive batch of launch apps and a bundled handheld controller, when it comes to mobile VR experiences, it's already one of the best. Look out for more details around Huawei's Daydream VR headset and more this year.
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.
Mixed reality & misc headsets
Below are a couple of options which are on sale but will suit developers and hackers more than your average gamer. Some like the HoloLens do mixed reality, rather than strict virtual reality, and others like Fove bring something to the table that you won't find on the current generation of headsets.
Not a copycat of the big VR headsets, Microsoft HoloLens blends virtual and augmented reality to make one of the most ambitious launches ever planned – 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 axis, 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.
The Fove 0 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; 70fps frame rate; and eye-tracking measured at 120fps.
With the redesigned developer kit, 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." You might have to wait a bit though - the company tells us there's no consumer version launch plans at the moment.
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 are 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.
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