Pick the Virtual Reality system that suits your needs.
Virtual Reality is a category with several incredible products, all mostly aimed at different kinds of users. It's easy to see these headsets as competing for your attention — and your wallet, of course — but that's not the case most of the time. Right now VR is all about exploration, and that starts wherever you as the user decides it starts. All you really need to know is what kind of VR experience you want to have first, and from there you can decide which headset you want to buy to fill that need.
This, the Virtual Reality Buyer's Guide, is the start of an ongoing project here at VRHeads. Listed below is a quick look at what makes these headsets special, and where to look if you want to know more!
Article updated November 2016
Every VR experience is a little different, but HTC and Valve have created an experience that stands head and shoulders above the others — assuming you have the cash and the space to play. Unlike other VR experiences, the HTC Vive is built to allow users to walk around. Every step you take in the physical world is a step in the virtual world, and when you lift the controllers in your hands up to your eyes you see those controllers in the virtual world. This means you can shoot zombies using your actual hands as guides, and you can dodge attacks or walk around puzzles as though they were actually in the room with you.
The HTC Vive is a fantastic, unpolished, expensive look at the future of VR. There are amazing experiences to be had here that can't be had anywhere else right now, and the Steam store currently has hundreds of unique VR apps and games for this experience. If you want in on the ground floor of the next great VR experience and have the money to spend a computer that can power it, the HTC Vive is absolutely for you.
Sony is wielding their insanely popular game console to deliver a quality VR experience that just about anyone can easily set up in their living room. The simple headset is designed to fit on any head without applying pressure to your face, making it one of the most comfortable headsets you can buy today.
The big feature here is the ability to connect this comfortable headset to any PlayStation 4, which not only means a ton of people have the required hardware to power this experience already, but also that this expansion ties into your existing PlayStation experiences. You can watch movies in VR, play games with friends who are not using PlayStation VR, and you'll have access to a tremendous list of games from Sony's partners that are exclusive to this console.
The only thing better than sitting on your couch with a controller in hand and a big television on the wall in front of you is for that television to be wrapped entirely around your head so all you can see is the game. That's what Oculus Rift offers right now: a head-mounted display that allows you to see an entirely different world as you look around. When coupled with a great VR game, you are left with the feeling of flying through space or climbing the side of a mountain at sunset. Immersion is what makes this happen, and Oculus does it in an entirely unique fashion.
Over the last couple of years, the folks at Oculus have built a tremendous product based on a crowdsourced project. It's a headset that grew and evolved as users and developers tried early versions and made suggestions to improve the experience. The now Facebook-owned company has a great history of improving at an incredible pace and taking care of their users. Anyone looking to purchase an Oculus Rift should be ready for a killer VR experience — which includes already owning a powerful PC — from a company that is ready for your feedback.
Your phone is with you all the time, has one of the best displays you've ever interacted with, and does a pretty good job knowing when you move it around most of the time. An average smartphone has enough to be a decent VR viewer for pictures and videos, but a great smartphone can be a portable entertainment center of virtual excellence. Google's Daydream platform takes high-end Android phones and tasks them with VR games, portable virtual experiences, and even a virtual theater for watching movies and television shows.
Google's plans for Daydream are unique, hoping to eventually support many different phones in many different headsets that all run the same apps and games. The thing that makes Daydream unique is the controller. Google's controller is special, allowing users to move their hand around in the real world and translate that to motion in the virtual world. It's a fantastic, unique experience made portable by needing only your phone and a simple viewer.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung has partnered with Oculus to transform its high-end phones into a portable entertainment system that you enable by strapping that phone to your face. Using a plastic shell and a simple strap, the Samsung Gear VR is designed to pop a phone in and pull over your head whenever you want to play games or watch movies in a unique VR environment.
While this experience is similar to Google Cardboard in that you use a phone to power the experience, it is limited to specific Samsung-made hardware. As a result, Samsung and Oculus are able to craft a better overall experience. This means better games, more immersive videos, and the ability to wear the headset for longer periods of time. This headset is perfect for Samsung owners who want to have some extra fun with their phones, or users who want to get into more immersive VR without spending a ton of money.
Google Cardboard — View-Master VR
Google has done something special with their first effort in the VR space by making it so just about anyone can make and sell a headset that follows the standard they created. It's called Google Cardboard because the first headset was made out of actual cardboard, but since that first headset there have been dozens of other headsets that are made of several other materials. The core idea, being a VR headset that can run with just about any smartphone while offering short, entertaining experiences, applies to the entire brand. Cardboard is all about sharing with friends and enjoying quick videos and games.
The most substantive of the Cardboard manufacturers currently making headsets is Mattel, due in no small part to the ability to tack an even bigger brand on the box. Mattel's Cardboard headset is called the View-Master VR, and it really does look like a future version of the classic View-Master everyone used as kids. Instead of a small paper disc with images in a ring, you stick a smartphone in the casing and look at the display through the lenses on the other side. Mattel includes some fascinating apps for encouraging exploration among children, but the headset supports all of the Google Cardboard apps that are currently available.
If you want Cardboard but don't want it to be made of actual cardboard, Mattel's View-Master VR is where you start.