Buyers guide: The best VR headsets 2016

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Intro

Best VR headsets 2015

After what feels like an eternity of waiting, we are finally living in the age of VR. Consumer versions of both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have been officially released, Sony’s PlayStation VR is just around the corner, and that’s not to mention the dozens of other VR headsets that are either out now or out soon.

Virtual reality headsets might not be quite mainstream just yet, but it’s only a matter of time before their prices creep down and they slowly make their way into every gamer’s home. These are all the virtual reality headsets that you need to know about, in order of excellence, as selected by our resident expert goggle wearer.

HTC Vive

Best VR Headset

Availability Out now | Price $799 / £689 / AU$899 | Official page

As of right now, the HTC Vive is the most complete VR experience on the market. As well as a headset and two base stations (which are used for tracking the headset’s movement) the Vive also includes two motion controllers in the box. This is important, since it allows the Vive to offer a much more immersive experience than using a traditional controller. Meanwhile, Oculus’s Touch controllers still don’t have a release date.

The headset itself contains two 1080p screens which makes for a very crisp image. Unfortunately it’s not quite high-resolution enough to prevent you from being able to discern individual pixels when you wear it, but this is still the highest resolution headset on the market right now alongside the Oculus Rift.

A standout feature of the HTC Vive is its room-scale feature which allows you to walk around a space that’s 4.5 x 4.5m big. This really adds another dimension to the feeling of presence that you experience while using it; you’re not just pressing up on an analogue stick, you’re using your legs to walk over to it.

That’s if you have enough space in your real room that is.

The Vive’s downside, however, is its price. It’s expensive, double the price of the most expensive console that’s currently out, and equivalent in price to the kind of beastly gaming PC you’ll need to run it.

Best game: The Lab

Pros: Most complete and best overall VR experience

Cons: Expensive, base stations are a pain to set up

PlayStation VR

Best VR headset

Availability: October 13, 2016 | Price: $399 / £349 / AU$550 | Official page

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are excellent pieces of hardware, but the kind of PC you need to run them is an expensive piece of kit. This is where Sony’s PlayStaion VR might just end up having a huge advantage, you can power it using a standard PlayStation 4.

But don’t rush out to pre-order one just yet. Rumours have been circulating that the upcoming PS4 refresh, the PlayStation 4.5 may come about to offer a more complete VR experience.

The PSVR hardware itself also stands out: the latest model is the most stylish and comfortable VR headset we’ve used. The internal components are also of a high quality, and special mention has to go to the headset’s 120Hz refresh rate, which really helps to eliminate motion sickness.

Best game: London Heist

Pros: Works with PS4, 120Hz refresh rate, supported by Sony studios

Cons: Only works with PS4

Oculus Rift

Best VR headset

Availability: Out now| Price: $600 / £499 / AU$649 | Official page

The current VR arms race is all thanks to one man: Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. As a teenager, Luckey collected VR tech and was fascinated with making his own headset in his garage. Numerous prototypes and a $2bn Facebook buyout later, Oculus is still the biggest name in VR.

Now the consumer version of the Oculus Rift is finally out and we can get our hands on the headset that started it all.

Yet compared to the HTC Vive with its room-scale technology and two included motion controllers the Rift feels like a paired down VR experience in comparison. You’re very much limited to a more static VR experience played with a traditional game controller – yes, you can stand up should you choose to do so, however, without proper hand tracking it will never quite feel as immersive as you’d like.

Still though, at $200 cheaper than the Vive, the Rift offers a very compelling mid-range virtual reality option for those with less space to spare.

Best game: Elite: Dangerous

Pros: VR pioneers, Facebook backing, price

Cons: No motion controls (yet), no room-scale

Microsoft HoloLens

The best VR headsets 2015

Availability: Out now (dev kit) | Price: Unknown | Official page

Microsoft raised a lot of eyebrows when it showed off Microsoft HoloLens last year, which technically isn’t VR, but rather a holographic computing device, it’s ‘Augmented Reality’ if you will.

Instead of immersing the player in an entirely computer-generated world, HoloLens adds interactive holograms to the space you already inhabit. Microsoft showed demos of people building Minecraft structures on top of their tables, exploring objects such as a motorbikes, or being able to create video feeds on any surface you like.

It’s impressive technology, but its uniqueness could also be its weakness: while most VR games are being made to work across multiple VR platforms, HoloLens is a very distinct proposition.

It also seems like one that Microsoft is positioning as an office productivity device in addition to a gaming device, and this may end up hurting its chances with gamers.

With no word yet on a consumer version’s release date or pricing, Microsoft’s HoloLens is still a bit of an unknown at this point, but we’ll be very interested to see if AR ends up being as big of a deal as VR feels right now.

Best game: Minecraft

Pros: Unique concept, Microsoft backing, Minecraft

Cons: Won’t play “true” VR games

Razer OSVR

Best VR Headset

Availability: July 2016 (dev kit) | Price: $399 | Official page

OSVR stands for Open Source Virtual Reality, so everything about the platform is open and freely available. You can even download the 3D files and create your own headset, if you like.

However, Razer has done the hard work for you with its own OSVR hardware, which will see the release of its second Dev Kit in July 2016 for $399. The hardware is pretty impressive given that low price: the 2160 x 1200 resolution dual-display is on par with both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, as is its resolution and field of view. That said however, with just one camera tracking movement, the OSVR’s solution isn’t as sophisticated as the Vive’s.

The OSVR consortium is also backed by some big names, including Leap Motion, who make one of the better motion controllers on the market, and Gearbox Software, developer of the excellent Borderlands series.

But after spending some time with the OSVR HDK 2 at this year’s E3, we can honestly say that this one won’t give the Vive or Oculus Rift a run for their money.

Best game: No exclusives (aiming for cross compatibility with Vive and Rift)

Pros: Open source, can build your own or buy Razer’s keenly-priced version

Cons: Limited support right now

Samsung Gear VR

The best VR headsets 2015

Availability: Out now | Price: $199 (£169, AU$249) | Official page

Powered by technology from Oculus, the Samsung Gear VR was effectively the first VR headset on the market. To use it, you simply grab a Samsung phone, download apps and games from the Oculus store, and clip it into the headset.

The original model supported the Note 4, but subsequent models have expanded compatibility to a number of phones including the Note 5, Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7.

Because of the huge number of phones that are compatible with the Gear VR, the quality of the VR experience can vary by quite a bit. Use an older Note 4 and you’ll be limited to a pixel density of 518 ppi, but a newer S7 bumps this up to 577 ppi.

The Gear VR headset isn’t the highest-quality VR experience available, but it is one of the easiest to get up and running quickly.

Best game: Gunner

Pros: Oculus store, good build quality, works with many of the most popular phones

Cons: Expensive compared to other mobile VR offerings

Carl Zeiss VR One Plus

The best VR headsets 2015

Availability: Out now | Price: $129 (£116, €129) | Official page

Like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the Carl Zeiss VR One uses a mobile phone as its display. However, unlike the Galaxy Gear, it supports both the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S5 through a removable tray that slides between the lenses and the back panel.

Even better news is the price, which at $129, is half the price of Samsung’s equivalent headset. The downside is that there’s not much content for the device from Zeiss aside from an augmented reality demo and movie app that shows videos from your phone in a virtual cinema. You can thankfully use apps designed for Google Cardboard, though, and more are sure to come down the line.

The VR One Plus isn’t the best example of virtual reality on the market, but it’s a step up from Google Cardboard for those who don’t have a Samsung Galaxy phone.

Best game: Jack White: THIRD-D

Pros: Good build quality, keen pricing, works on iPhone and Samsung Galaxy

Cons: Limited Zeiss apps

Google Cardboard

The best VR headsets 2015

Availability: Out now | Price: Free-$85 (depending on model) | Official page

Google Cardboard is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on VR, but it makes a great weekend project if you want to see what the fuss is about. You can either download the instructions and make your own headset, or you can buy a kit from a variety of vendors for around $25 (the most expensive model is an outlier at $85).

Once you’ve bought or constructed your headset, you can download Google Cardboard apps to your iOS or Android phone, drop your device into the headset, and get playing. It’s not the best VR experience out there, but if you have a modern phablet-sized phone with a hi-res screen, it’s actually pretty good.

Best game: Google Cardboard

Pros: Extremely cheap to make, cheap to buy, works across a variety of devices

Cons: Poor quality VR experience overall

Avegant Glyph

Best VR headset

Availability: Out now (US) | Price: $600 | Official page

Major caveat: the Avegant Glyph isn’t technically a virtual reality headset. It’s more like a pair of headphones that you can wear like a visor, Geordi La Forge-style.

The Glyph is compatible with anything that supports external displays, so you can use it with your home consoles or practically any modern mobile phone. You simply slip the band over your eyes, cover your ears with the headphones, and watch or play your content on the retina-quality display.

The benefit (and drawback) Glyph has over true virtual reality is that you can still see things outside the headset, so you can use your hands to take a drink, text message, even go to the toilet. However, it’s a big old headset, expensive, not true VR, and you look like a bit of a berk wearing it.

Best game: Grand Theft Auto V

Pros: Good build quality, great display

Cons: Bulky, not “true” immersive VR

Sulon Q

Best VR Headset

Availability: Summer 2016 | Price: Unknown | Official page

The Sulon Q is a combination of an augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), but what’s really interesting is that it offers this all while being completely tether-less, meaning it has no wires connecting you to your PC or console

The result is a greatly increased amount of freedom, but the downside is that the Sulon Q has to include a battery pack and processor on its rear to power the headset. With no consumer version released we don’t yet know how long the headset’s battery life with last.

With a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution screen the Sulon Q is actually higher resolution than both the Vive and the Rift, but we’ll have to wait until it’s released to see if it’s onboard processing can compete with the power of a full desktop PC.

Best game: None (as yet)

Pros: Tether-less, AR mixed with VR, Screen resolution

Cons: Having to worry about battery life, mobile processing limitations

Google Daydream

Best VR Headset

Availability: Autumn 2016 | Price: Unknown | Official Page

Google’s Daydream is something of an upgrade to the company’s previous Cardboard VR accessory. It will use compatible phones to provide its display and will include a motion controller to navigate menus and swap between apps.

Daydream will also integrate with Google’s Project Tango to offer a combined VR and AR experience.

It might not be as advanced as the Vive or the Rift, but Daydream looks like it could be a step above the Gear VR and if Project Tango is well integrated it could be a very compelling mobile VR experience.

Best game: None (as yet)

Pros: Project Tango integration, Google backing

Cons: Reliant on phone to function, not as advanced as Vive or Rift

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