VR Headset Buying Guide: Which One Is Right for You?

VR headset

With a growing number of high-quality options to choose from, which VR headset is right for you?

Virtual reality has grown from the stuff of science fiction to a tangible reality. Over the past few years, virtual reality headsets have started to flood the market, giving techies and gamers a myriad of options to choose from. If you’re interested in the burgeoning technology, which VR headset should you spend your hard-earned dollars on?

That’s what we’ll explore in this VR headset buying guide. And the answer varies depending on your interests and current devices.

A word of caution: Chances are if you’ve walked through the electronics section of a department store recently, you’ve seen VR headsets from companies you’ve never heard of, often for bargain-basement prices. Here’s the thing, though. Spending money on a knockoff VR headset is not worth it, no matter how low the price. Virtual reality is a sophisticated technology. That means if you want to experience true, quality VR, you need to avoid the imitations and pick up a headset from a company that has dedicated years to developing its products.

Any of the following options will do just that, to varying degrees. Which one is right for you? Below are the strengths and weaknesses of each headset, descriptions of what you need in order to use it, what to expect as far as performance, and whether you should take the plunge.

1. Oculus Go

Strengths: Price, wireless (no additional device needed), large library of apps.

Weaknesses: Lacking six degrees of freedom, performance, resolution.

While I won’t crown any of these VR headsets the clear winner, the Oculus Go is definitely the best for those who simply want to dip their toes into the technology. The Facebook-owned headset launched in May 2018 to rave reviews thanks to its extreme accessibility. Besides setting up the headset with a smartphone, you don’t need an external device — all the computing hardware is right there in the headset. At $200, it’s one of the cheaper options.

That said, you won’t get high-fidelity visuals on par with console/PC games, as it uses a mobile processing chipset. It comes with a small remote control for navigation and using apps. The Oculus Store already has over 1,000 apps and games with promises of enticing video streaming options to come. The biggest downside, though, is that it doesn’t have six degrees of freedom, which means it’s a stationary headset, not room-scale VR that allows you to walk through virtual worlds. What it has is three degrees of freedom, the norm for smartphone-quality VR, that registers head movements.

2. Google Daydream View

Strengths: Price.

Weaknesses: Same as Oculus Go + tethered to smartphone, smaller library.

Considering the strengths and weaknesses above, you may be wondering why the Google Daydream View is even on this list. After all, the Oculus Go does everything the Daydream does, but without a smartphone cradled in the visor. The Daydream’s competitive edge is all about price. At $100 it’s the cheapest quality option you can find and still offers solid VR similar to the Oculus Go. The main hitch is the need for a Daydream-compatible smartphone (check the list here). If you already have a compatible phone, the Daydream is a good option at half the price of the Oculus Go. It’s worth noting that the Oculus Go’s app library dwarfs the Daydream’s at this point. If cost is the deciding factor, the Daydream won’t disappoint. Otherwise, the Oculus Go is the way to go.

3. Samsung Gear VR

Strengths: Price, app library.

Weaknesses: Same as Oculus Go + tethered to smartphone.

Samsung’s Gear VR is very similar to the Oculus Go, but it’s been around much longer and gone through several iterations. Gear VR also uses the Oculus Store for its apps. As such, it has many of the same apps, but more considering its much longer lifespan at this point. In terms of performance, it depends on your smartphone. Gear VR, like the Daydream, requires a smartphone for its processing power. The difference here is that only Samsung phones work. If you have a newer Samsung smartphone already, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re a dedicated Apple user, this requirement is likely a nonstarter. The Oculus Go not needing your smartphone’s power gives it the edge, even though Gear VR retails for $130 and is often on sale for less than $100.

4. Lenovo Mirage Solo

Strengths: Six degrees of freedom without an external device.

Weaknesses: Bulky, price, limited library.

Another brand-new competitor, the Lenovo Mirage Solo offers something that its other mobile competitors do not — six degrees of freedom for a more immersive room-scale VR experience. In the same vein as the Oculus Go, it doesn’t require an external device to operate. It’s still mobile-quality VR with a mobile processor, but the added range of movement brings it closer to console/PC VR. However, it has several downsides. It retails for $400, much more than any other mobile headset, and the headset is weighty. Its biggest problem is that it relies on Google Daydream’s OS and games, of which there simply aren’t many compared to the Oculus Go or Samsung VR. The Lenovo Mirage Solo is the highest-quality mobile headset available today, but prospective buyers would be wise to use a wait-and-see approach. The app library doesn’t match the price tag right now.

5. HTC Vive and Vive Pro 

Strengths: Performance, game library, room-scale VR.

Weaknesses: Price, requires gaming PC.

For serious gamers interested in high-quality VR, HTC has a couple of options: HTC Vive and Vive Pro. Both VR headsets will give you high-fidelity room-scale VR with great resolution and games that have a wider scope than mobile VR games. The Vive and Vive Pro are for regular gamers, those who enjoy the hobby enough to have an expensive gaming PC. A gaming PC is a requirement for either VR headset, and both use SteamVR and its wide library of games. The downside? Beyond needing a gaming PC, you also have to drop $500 to get a Vive and two tracking controllers. The Vive Pro comes in at $800. It’s safe to say that if you’re delving into VR for the first time, the Vive Pro is probably a stretch. 

6. Oculus Rift

Strengths: Performance, game library, room-scale VR.

Weaknesses: Price, requires gaming PC.

The direct competitor of the Vive headsets, Facebook’s Oculus Rift offers similar functionality, with an expansive game library on the Oculus Store. Like the Vive, it produces startling room-scale VR and requires a gaming PC. From the outside looking in, the Vive and Oculus Rift aren’t too different from one another. But even though the Rift costs $100 less than the standard Vive, we would caution choosing it for your PC VR enjoyment. Make no mistake, it’s a great VR headset capable of offering lavish virtual reality experiences, but it’s also going to be replaced by the wireless Oculus Santa Cruz soon. It’s probably a bit too late to get started with the standard Rift.

7. PlayStation VR

Strengths: Performance, console VR, room-scale VR, price.

Weaknesses: Game library, unclear future.

Out of the three major high-quality VR headsets, the PlayStation VR is probably the most accessible to the average gamer. While you need a PlayStation 4, PS4s aren’t nearly as expensive as gaming PCs ($300 for a PS4 slim, $400 for a PSR Pro). The headset itself costs $200, while the required PlayStation camera costs $60. That’s enough to get you up and running with room-scale VR that, while slightly less impressive than the Rift and Vive, remains a breathtaking experience. If you have a PS4 already, the PSVR is the best combination of price and quality you can get from a VR headset. The caveat: The game library has some gems, but it’s by no means robust. Additionally, one has to worry about the looming PlayStation 5 and whether or not Sony will release a better headset to accompany its next-generation system. end


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