VR headsets can't yet be neatly grouped into categories. Sure, everyone knows the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are in a zone of their own, but move below that to cheaper, more accessible headsets and things get messier. PlayStation VR, Gear VR, Daydream, Cardboard headsets that are a bit better than the cheap Google ones.
It's so complicated that we can't even discuss what the best option under say $500 or $300 really is because a lot depends on what you already own or are willing to buy.
You can easily go through comparisons spec by spec (and we will below) but from our experience of using a whole range of devices, it's best to ask yourself two questions: how and how much will you use it? And what do you want to play and do inside VR? Actually one more (age old) question for gamers: what do your friends have?
You own a PS4
Games, games, games. If you have a PS4 and you just want to climb inside it sometimes, then go ahead and get a $399 PlayStation VR headset. It's easy to set up, won't ruin your living room vibe and there's already a bunch of high production value (if short) games, indie puzzlers, reworking of retro classics and wacky experiments to start playing. The rest of 2017 will see big launches (Farpoint, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Gran Turismo) turning up on the platform too. Check out our list of the best PlayStation VR games now and what's coming next for all the details.
Like we said, your fellow gamers may have an impact as we see more multiplayer games. Some new titles are cross-platform with the Vive and Rift, which is very cool, and others will rely on your PS4-owning friends getting onboard. Sony is also making promising moves into social VR gaming with a handful of local multiplayer titles and the ability to capture in-game footage to share.
One advantage PlayStation VR has over the mobile VR competition is the positional tracking and Move controllers. Still, Move wasn't initially designed to be used for VR and it shows. Down the line, we're sure Sony will bring out a superior replacement.
Daydream and now the Gear VR both have single, handheld controllers. We haven't fully tested the new Samsung accessory yet but don't get too excited about these - they are for pointing, clicking and waving. Enough to satisfy non-gamers but no more than that.
The PlayStation VR isn't perfect in its design, specs or execution - see below. If it was, we'd be recommending it wholeheartedly for PS4 gamers. It does feel like more of the complete package than a mobile headset, no question, but as we start to see more handheld controllers, inside-out tracking and substantial games, that could all change quickly.
You own a Samsung phone
Maybe you're considering the PSVR but you own a recent (S6 and onwards) Samsung phone. In that case, definitely stop and have a think. The best mobile VR headset, in our view, right now is still the Samsung Gear VR, and if you do already have a Samsung phone (with its screen still intact of course), at $100 it's really, really affordable.
What you can download will differ. If you're happy with cheap and cheerful mobile-style games as well as a whole Samsung VR store full of high quality apps, mini series and experiments then you won't regret the decision. We also can't stress how much easier the Samsung is to grab and get going; that means it's better for frequent but shorter sessions and passing and playing with family, flatmates or friends, though there are some better games making their way onto the system.
Read this: The best Samsung Gear VR games
The main difference is what it's designed to do - the PlayStation VR is a gaming helmet with a few VR films and apps chucked in for good measure, the Gear VR is more of an all-round entertainment accessory.
If you need some numbers to back up that gut feeling, here you go. The Gear VR has a higher per eye resolution than the PS VR. It depends on the phone but, for example, stick the new Galaxy S8 in there and you get 1,440 x 1,280 per eye versus the 1,080 x 960 per eye from PlayStation.
More VR to explore
- The best Samsung Gear VR apps and gamesIt's on my face - now what?
- Tribeca Film Festival: Our VR picksSci-fi mindtrips & infant battle royales & elephant protectors & apocalyptic invasions
- The best PlayStation VR games to play firstBig names and indie titles for Sony's PS4 headset
- MindMaze's brain-reading tech & VR avatarsThe uncanny valley beckons
- Google Daydream apps and games to downloadAll the apps and games to check out with Google's virtual reality headset
The Samsung will also weigh 100g (or more) less than the PSVR which comes in at 610g. Both are very comfortable to use but, again depending on the phone, you will probably notice it over a period of weeks and months. Don't forget, the Gear VR is totally wireless too.
A couple more things: the field of view is pretty much identical (10o and 101 degrees) but the Samsung does rock a focal adjustment dial which we really missed on the PSVR. Plus the strap feels more secure as you can tighten it just so. Plus there's no annoying flaps either side of your face that sometimes let the light in. There are many reasons to feel rightly smug spending just $100 on a Gear VR headset.
None of the above
Well, sucks to be you. Just kidding. Let's start with phones - we love the Daydream platform and there's some really great apps and games. But it's a struggle to recommend the Daydream View, and Huawei's Daydream headset hasn't turned up yet.
If you have a Pixel phone or another Daydream-ready handset - Huawei Mate 9 Pro, ZTE Axon 7, Motorola Moto Z or, soon, the Asus ZenFone AR - we'd say wait. If we don't see a whole range of Gear VR-style Daydream headsets, with different designs, prices and accessories in the next six months, we'll eat our shorts.
As for what else is coming next, Qualcomm's VR headset dev kit adds hand tracking to mobile VR and HTC is heavily rumoured to be working on a mobile headset. All we know is that it won't be a smartphone "slapped on a headset" and we could see it before the end of the year.
To be honest, we don't see why not. When we have the equivalent of the Gear VR for all high end phones, and more Daydream apps and games, this could take a big chunk out of Sony's PSVR sales. It needs to match the Samsung, though, so here's hoping.
Then there's the prospect of say, upgrading your phone on contract to a new Samsung or buying a PS4 alongside Sony's headset. You can do your own maths but both of these options starts to look much more expensive especially when you add on the price of the $60 PlayStation camera V2 and $90 Move controllers. Without the kit to start with, both are as much of an investment as a new phone or TV. But wait, there's more...
You own an Xbox
If you own an Xbox One, or you have both consoles, and you can wait a bit longer, Microsoft has confirmed it is building an Xbox One mixed reality headset for its console and Project Scorpio. Just not till 2018. Yep, Xbox owners will have to wait 18 months to two years longer than PS4 owners for their very own console headset.
All we know right now is that games like Fallout 4 will be getting the VR treatment, Oculus doesn't seem to be involved, and it will be a mixed reality device. As for how much it'll cost, we imagine Sony's PSVR pricing will factor into Microsoft's decisions here so expect something as affordable.
We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention the Windows Mixed Reality headsets which will start to go on sale from Lenovo, Acer, Asus and Dell this summer. Don't let the name fool you, they are not HoloLens knock-offs, they are VR headsets with front-facing pass-through cameras so they can do AR too. They feature inside-out tracking, so no annoying extras, and prices will start at around $300. One big note: you need a PC, though not as high specced as Rift and Vive require.
Anyone weighing up the Sony PlayStation VR with a mobile headset in spring 2017 should have one eye on early reviews of these headsets as a sign of what's to come from Xbox Mixed Reality. They're not really a known quantity right now - we've seen a few eyes-on pics hit the internet but not very many people have actually tried them.
Which affordable or mid range VR headset do you have? Or are you wavering between two choices? Let us know in the comments.