So VR really is here. You can buy all sorts of headsets right now, most 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 and the upcoming Windows Mixed Reality headsets) is up to $400 and the third and final high-end PC group is $400 and higher. Our advice - decide which group you're in and stick to it.
What do you already own?
So, if you have a recent Samsung phone like a Galaxy S8, get the new Samsung Gear VR. (If you have a slightly older Samsung, S6 say, think about getting a bargain with a slightly older Gear VR).
If you have a Google Pixel phone, Moto Z, ZTE Axon 7 or Huawei Mate 9 Pro, these are all Daydream compatible so consider getting a Google Daydream View. Try one out in a store first if you can - some face shapes get an annoying amount of light bleed.
If you have any other/older Android phone or an iPhone, you can still choose from a range of mobile headsets - referred to as Cardboard headsets but which work with standalone mobile VR apps - and 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 for an accessory that could change how you game, with the headset itself officially starting at $399 but available for less.
If you have a PC but haven't dropped the cash on a Rift or Vive yet, our advice is to wait for reviews of the Windows Mixed Reality headsets. They will arrive from the summer, some in late 2017, priced between around $300 to $400 and from Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Dell. They're called Mixed Reality but as far as we've seen in demos so far, these are lightweight VR headsets that recently got official Mixed Reality motion controllers too.
And if you have a PC with serious specs, it's more likely 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 - the LG SteamVR headset looks promising but may only match Vive. With a PC, you're looking at bundles around the $1,500 mark.
Bonus: a new HTC Daydream headset, built by the Vive team, will arrive from late 2017. This won't need a phone or PC making the 'what you own' question irrelevant.
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 in terms of what is already on sale.
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, Rift sensor 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. And if you're not bothered about motion tracking, in some cases a Samsung Gear VR will be a better fit than say, a PlayStation VR.
Side note: Anecdotally (and on the team) 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. Play a bad quality Cardboard game and that's no fun either.
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 your 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: which specific games do you want to play? Check out our dedicated best VR games lists tailored to each of the main headsets before you decide.
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 longer, fully fledged games to the mix.
If you go for a mobile headset like Gear VR, you can choose to buy an older, cheaper headset and use the gaze or headset tapping controls or splash out on the new 2017 version which comes with a single, handheld controller bundled. That's playing catch up with Daydream's simple controller/pointer.
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. They're not perfect at tracking so we're expecting Sony to release an upgrade. The PS VR Aim Controller, which will work with games like Farpoint, is even more exciting.
A note on Oculus and HTC – Oculus Touch has now more than levelled the peripheral playing field with Vive's two handheld controllers though we'd say a higher proportion of Vive games overall work with the accessories. 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.
Before you buy – read these
- The best VR headsetsDo you go Rift or PS VR, 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
- Virtual reality peripherals to check outVirtual reality gloves, controllers, bikes and treadmills
Should you buy a VR headset now?
Mid 2017 is an interesting time to be buying your first VR headset. Oculus was teasing its standalone Santa Cruz headset and HTC is talking about future redesigns but we don't expect any big, new headset hardware from these companies in the next few months.
That said, we'd consider holding fire purely on account of Windows Mixed Reality. We'll know more when dev kits ship 'this summer' and then you can make your purchase safe in the knowledge that you're not paying for more than would make you happy when it comes to PC VR.
Otherwise, when in doubt, go Gear VR if you have a Samsung, cheap and cheerful mobile VR headsets for iPhones and other Androids till Daydream really gets going. For PS4 gamers, it's the obvious PlayStation VR.
Oh, but whatever you do please don't buy the LG 360 VR, it's terrible.