The Complete VR Headset Buyer’s Guide

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“Should I buy a VR headset?”

If you are reading this article right now, then you have expressed some interest or fascination in experiencing a virtual reality for yourself.

Who can blame you…

VR is cool and even though it’s been around for years, It has just recently come available to people like you and me to buy.

With the cheapest VR headset starting at $5, there’s not much standing in your way from your first VR purchase.

This small amount of money is well worth it when it comes to owning a piece of what many high-powered tech companies believe will play a vital role in our futures.

So, maybe you’re still on the fence about whether or not to buy a VR headset, or you might just not know which one is the best for you.

The “best” headset depends upon what you want to get out of virtual reality.

Whether you’re a hardcore gamer, a business owner who wants to incorporate VR or you just simply want to try it out, there is a headset that will accommodate your needs.

So let’s get into it!

BASIC VIRTUAL REALITY TERMS

Immersion: The perception of being physically present in a virtual world.

Field of view (FOV): The field of view refers to how much your eyes can see while looking straight forward. The average human field of view is about 200 degrees. VR headsets have a minimum of 90-110 degrees. The higher the FOV, the more of your environment you will be able to see, creating a more immersive experience.

Room scale: Room scale VR uses 360-degree tracking to allow users to move freely in a dedicated play area.

CHEAPEST $

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What do you get when you combine everyday cardboard, a pair of plastic lenses, a few magnets, and your smartphone? A VR headset for as little as $5 with a field of view of about 90 degrees. 

Crazy!

You’ve probably heard people refer to this as, “Google Cardboard.” This idea has been around for some time, but Google has just recently decided to brand it and put it on the market.

This is an incredibly clever way to get VR in the hands of those who are interested without breaking the bank.

The exciting news about Cardboard VR is that even though the price is freakishly low, you’re still going to get an amazing VR experience. 

If you’re worried about getting your Google Cardboard headset wet and ruining it… Don’t. Plastic and aluminum headsets are available at a low price that works with all Google Cardboard apps. 

PRICE

With a little research in your area, it’s entirely possible to get a Google Cardboard for free. Many companies have been partnering with Google to create branded headsets. These companies more often than not will give them away for free during a promotional event.

You can also go the Google Play store, download a free template and make your own. It might make more sense just to buy one though because even the DIY version requires that you already have magnets, plastic lenses, cardboard, a rubber band, and velcro.

Cardboard VR headsets can be as cheap as $5-$20. Even at this low price, you’re getting a headset that’s compatible with all apps in the Google Play store and IOS/Android smartphones.

A sturdier headset with features like a comfortable foam eyepiece and adjustable lenses will cost about $15-$30. These are often made from plastic or aluminum. The quality of the gaming experience won’t be dramatically different, but the added comfort and higher durability of the headset make it worth the extra few dollars. 

HIDDEN COSTS: The vast majority of Americans today own a smartphone. However, If you don’t currently have one, you’ll need either an iPhone or Andriod to use this product. 

SETUP

Setting up a Google Cardboard headset requires a simple assembly process. The cardboard comes flat with the lenses already in place. The instructions provided with the headset will walk you through the quick and easy construction.

Some cardboard headsets like the Insignia Virtual Reality Viewer come preassembled and are ready out of the box to start using.

Lastly, head on over to the app store and download the free Google Cardboard app. This app will take you through demos and teach you about the basic functions of the viewer.

ACCESSORIES

Controllers: There a few different ways to go about controlling your game. The simplest way is by looking at objects for long enough to select them or moving your head in a particular direction.

If the headset is Google Cardboard verified, it would have either a button or trigger on the side that you will use as well.

There are Bluetooth controllers that you can pick up for under $10 to help make selections easier. This isn’t, however, a necessary accessory to play games.

MODERATE $$

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Mobile VR headsets like Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR, take it up a notch from Google Cardboard. There’s plenty of headsets to choose from in this price range. Most will offer an 80-101 degree field of view.

So, what makes these headsets better than Google Cardboard?

Mid-range headsets are designed to be worn for longer periods of time. They’ll come with a head strap and a padded eyepiece, making it more comfortable. Some options even allow you to adjust your lens focus so you can get it set up to match your eyes and your vision.

These also might have additional tracking sensors, enabling the game to understand where you’re looking and how you’re interacting much better.

PRICE

If you’re wanting a headset that you can use for longer periods of time with a wider selection of apps to choose from, expect to pay around $50-$100. 

You’ll be getting a higher resolution, greater field of view, a head strap, more controls, a greater selection of apps, additional tracking sensors and focus adjustments. 

HIDDEN COSTS: Keep in mind that certain mobile headsets require a particular phone to work properly.

Google Daydream works with: Axon 7, Google Pixel/Pixel XL, Moto Z, Z-Droid, Z Force Droid.

Samsung Gear VR works with: Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note5, S6 edge+, S6, S6 edge.

iPhone compatible VR headsets:

Homido V2 Virtual Reality Headset 
FreeFly Mobile VR Headset
Ziess VR One 

SETUP

The exact setup process will vary depending upon which headset you end up getting. However, most headsets in this price range will be quick and easy to setup. 

You’ll want to make sure the head strap is adjusted to fit your head properly and isn’t too tight. The instructions given to you will prompt you to download the correct software and apps needed to use the device. 

ACCESSORIES 

The cheaper VR options are great but lack true interactivity during the gaming experience. The Google Daydream and the Gear VR improve this by introducing hand-held and touchpad controls.

Both the Daydream and the Gear VR have controllers that are specifically made for them. You can also use a Bluetooth gaming remote like this one if your headset didn’t come with one. 

Unlike Google Cardboard, these headsets aren’t $10. You might want to invest in a carrying case to ensure your headset doesn’t get damaged. The Haixiang 3D VR Case was made specifically for the Samsung Gear VR. 

Nothing is more annoying than cables getting in the way of your game. While the headsets themselves in this price range are cable free, your headphones may become an annoyance while you’re immersed in VR. Bluetooth headphones like the Ghostek Wireless Headphones will allow you to play completely cable free!

HIGH-END

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Okay, now it’s time to talk about the big players in VR. The top three names I’m sure you’ve heard thrown around are the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and the PlayStation VR.

Higher end headsets are known for being clunky and often have a long cable coming out the back of it. However, they also offer the very best and most immersive VR experience you can find right now.

Let’s have a rundown of what makes these headsets the best.

  • Field of view up to 110-degrees
  • Resolution up to 2160 x 1200
  • Total immersion
  • Wide variety of apps in the Oculus share and Steam store
  • Room-scale capability
  • More advanced controllers
  • Less likely to get motion sickness while playing VR games 

PRICE

These headsets are by no means cheap; the Oculus Rift is $600 for the headset plus touch controllers bundle.

The HTC Vive is $800 for their complete virtual reality system which includes the headset, controllers, and base stations for room-scaling.

The least expensive of the three is the PlayStaion VR, at the price of $400 for just the headset and an additional $40 for the PlayStation 4 Camera that is used for motion tracking. You can buy motion controllers for $100, or you can just use the regular PlayStation controllers.

HIDDEN COSTS: The best VR experiences need more power to work than a mobile phone, or most computers can handle. 

You’ll need a high powered gaming PC that meets the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift requirements. These can easily cost around $700 -$1,500.

Before you start freaking out, there are apps that will work with computers that don’t meet the minimum requirements. So, you won’t need to pay that right away to get started. 

You will need the gaming PC to have the absolute best experience and to take advantage of everything that the headsets have to offer. 

Playstation VR doesn’t need a PC to run. It’s powered through the PlayStation gaming console. So, if you already own one, it may make more sense to go with the PlayStation VR.

SETUP

Setting up the Oculus Rift is as simple as downloading their software and following the steps. You won’t need a lot of space because most of the games can be played sitting down or staying in one place.

Setting up the HTC Vive is a much more involved process. You will need to put the two base stations in opposing corners. They come with wall brackets, or you can use a tripod if you don’t want to mount them to your walls. 

Bear in mind that each base stations requires it’s own power source and your play area should around 13 x 10 feet.

You can then download their software and just like the Oculus Rift, follow the steps. The instructions provided are excellent at walking you through the process and making sure your setup is done correctly. 

Setting up the PlayStation VR will require juggling a lot of different cables. The cables and inputs are labeled with corresponding numbers so you don’t get confused. Once everything is hooked up, you simply turn it on. 

ACCESSORIES 

gadgetflex Author