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9 Best VR headsets you can buy right now

Consumer VR officially arrived two years ago, but now the immersive tech is officially worth a look.

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Topic: AR & VR
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1 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Google Daydream View

You can think of the Daydream View as a very worthy update to Google Cardboard, which was many people's introduction to the promise (if not quite the fulfillment) of VR. The advantage of Daydream over other mobile VR headsets like the Samsung Gear is it works on any supported device running Android. (The Gear requires one of Samsung's flagship phones.) It's also more comfortable than the competition. If you have a supported phone, and if you're not ready for a standalone headset like the Oculus Go, the Daydream is a good low-cost option to have some fun with VR.

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2 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

HTC Vive

The HTC Vive is a fan favorite, and in the shootout with the Oculus Rift, it's also the headset that more game developers seem to be putting their bets on. Pricier than the Rift, the HTC Vive was recently lowered to $499 following the introduction of a Pro model. That includes the base station and motion controllers, but you'll need a capable computer with a great GPU like the GeForce GTX 970.

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3 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Samsung GearVR

At about a hundred bucks, it's hard to fault the Samsung Gear. Just the same ... here are some sticking points. First, you need a Samsung phone. The Gear also isn't the most comfortable mobile headset (the Daydream is, uh, a dream in when it comes to comfort). The biggest limiting factor is that the Gear is locked into Oculus's mobile VR library. That's probably a necessary concession for a brand-reliant VR system, which would be unlikely to attract a large developer community, but it puts the Gear at a disadvantage compared to the Google Daydream.

All that said, it's cheap and it does deliver a more immersive experience than the Google system, in my opinion. If you have a compatible phone and you want to try out VR without a big investment in a standalone system, it's a nice accessory.

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4 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Lenovo Mirage

A collaboration between Lenovo and Google, the Mirage Solo is the first hardware that combines Google's Daydream VR platform for Android with WorldSense, a tracking system that uses cameras built into the headset to track users around a room. The Mirage Solo is a standalone device with a Snapdragon 835 processor and built-in screen. It improves on the Oculus Go's tracking capabilities. Whereas the Go tracks head rotation, the Mirage Solo uses WorldSense to track movement through a room. But so far the catalog of games that make use of WorldSense tracking do so in a limited capacity, which makes Mirage Solo feel too much like a compromise between a mobile headset and a full-featured tethered headset. It's a good start, though, and if the catalog of games grows, this could be a strong competitor to the Oculus Go.

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5 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Oculus Go

If you're new to VR, some clarification may be in order. Until recently, VR headsets fell into two categories: Tethered headsets, which connect with a PC or gaming device, and mobile units, which require a smartphone. The Oculus Go is something different, an untethered, mobile VR device that doesn't require a smartphone or external PC. There are tradeoffs -- anyone who's used a Rift will notice differences in the responsiveness and will probably be more likely to gripe about light leaks and the heaviness of the headset, which can feel cumbersome after a while. But those are small tradeoffs for a $200 all-in-one package that legitimately brings VR to the masses.

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6 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Oculus Rift

This was the one we'd been waiting for, the VR headset to usher in an era of immersive entertainment. The Oculus, which is already over two years old, mostly delivered on that promise, although early passions cooled somewhat with availability issues.

The Rift is most commonly compared with the HTC Vive, and it has the advantage in price ($399, about $100 cheaper than the Vive). The Vive, however, wins out when it comes to the seamlessness of the immersive experience. Like the Vive, the Rift requires a wired connection to a high end gaming PC. Older Windows users might be disappointed to learn that new games will only run on Windows 10 (Rift will continue to support its previous releases on older versions of Windows). If you have a sweet gaming setup already, the Rift is now the more affordable high-end choice, outperforming the Sony PlaystationVR (which requires a PS4). With Facebook's eagerness to get its hardware into the hands of the masses, it's also a safe bet the Rift will continue to be supported by its corporate overlords and by an active developer community with a string of high-profile successes.

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7 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Sony PlaystationVR

Often billed as "the other" VR headset, this is the darkhorse contender in the rarified world of high-end immersive hardware. Oculus and HTC beat Sony to the VR market, but the PSVR's advantage is price (currently around $200 for the bundle). Because it requires the PS4 console (as opposed to a high end gaming PC, which the other mentioned headsets do), the PSVR has a built-in audience of gamers. The headset uses many of same accessories as the PS4, such as controllers and camera. It's not as good at certain things as the Oculus, like tracking you around the room, but the experience is breathtaking nonetheless and there's a growing catalog of games (about 400 available or slated to come out soon).

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8 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Pansonite 3D VR

This is it, folks, your cheapest (enjoyable) entry into the world of VR. With a sticker price under $50, the Pansonite headset is compatible with a number of smartphones and offers a passable VR experience. It does a good job blocking out light, it's comfortable, and the built-in speakers sound great. It's a great choice if you're just interested in giving VR a try without investing in a more fully-featured system.

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9 of 9 Greg Nichols/ZDNet

Windows Mixed Reality headsets

This isn't a single headset, but rather a grouping of inexpensive headsets in the Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem made by the likes of Lenovo, Acer, Dell, as well as a newer and more expensive Mixed Reality headset made by Samsung. The unique thing about all of these headsets is that they use tracking that's built into the headset and doesn't rely on base stations. Two cameras on the front of the headsets analyze the room, find landmarks (a lamp, for example) and use those to orient itself as you move.

It's a cool concept, and many of these headsets offer higher resolution than the Rift or Vive in a lighter form factor. With SteamVR support earlier this year (previously the headsets were locked into the Windows 10 store), the new HMD Odyssey from Samsung, Mixed Reality finally feels like a mature ecosystem that's worth a look.

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