Top 10 Best Virtual Reality Headsets
For the longest time, virtual reality or VR has remained in the realm of science fiction. In the 90s, companies made a stab at making entertainment VR headsets for gaming. But these were bulky, impractical, and can cost up to a whopping $70,000 and above for a multi-pod system.
It was not until the 2010s that technology for more affordable VR headsets became available. They’ve been used in various fields, including education, history and archaeology, design, media and as training simulators. That aside, a VR headset is a must have for avid gamers as it completes the gaming experience, offering close-to-reality visual and hearing stimuli, the ability to react to a game’s surroundings, and more. Before taking the plunge and getting a set, we recommend you look out for these features:
Types of VR Headsets – all you need to know
There are two types of VR headsets: tethered, and wireless (mobile). Tethered types have an integrated display and are hooked up to a computer or game systems through cables. Large and heavy, they feature more advanced capabilities compared to their mobile counterparts; such as external cameras to track head movements, as well as dedicated motion sensors. They also work with physical controls such as keyboards, joysticks and gamepads.
Mobile VR headsets work with smartphones and are much cheaper. Compact and affordable, they are essentially visors with a compartment in front of the headset where users can put their phone into. Any games or apps running on the phone will then be turned into a VR experience when viewed through their built-in lenses. They are portable and free from bothersome cables, but do not offer as high-end of an experience as tethered VR headsets hooked up to a powerful computer.
Although both offer a VR experience, they are vastly different, so choose the one best suited for your needs and budget.
Design and Display
The simplest mobile VRs are typically made from simple materials such as cardboard, plastic and aluminum, and have limited interactivity. Not meant to be worn for long periods of time, they don’t come with straps, so must be held up to the eyes. They are suitable for watching simple displays, such as 360 degree videos. Although inexpensive, these can be uncomfortable to use.
Higher end mobile VRs are powered by phones, and some carry tracking sensors and built-in controls. They don’t always deliver the best quality, since the lenses tend to be flat. There is little to no curvature to create any real depth, and they also do not handle distortion well. Tethered VRs deliver the best quality, providing high quality graphics on high-resolution screens, are more comfortable and less likely to cause motion sickness. However, they are more expensive and must be connected to a gaming system in order to run.
Purpose of Use
Mobile VRs are sufficient for those who want a taste of virtual reality, introducing users to sample 360 degree videos, virtual showrooms or historical tours. Higher end, tethered VRs are primarily used for gaming and often come with control pads, enabling users to interact with their virtual surroundings in real-time. They have less delay between the user’s movements or visuals and how they appear in the VR world. At this stage, only tethered VRs keep lag to a minimum, which is why users experience less nausea and motion sickness.
10 Best Virtual Reality (VR) Headsets
|1. HTC Vive||2160 x 1200 combined resolution||$$$$||3.8|
|2. Oculus Rift||advanced display technology and low-latency constellation tracking system||$$$||3.8|
|3. Samsung Gear VR||Upgraded Version with L2/R2 button||$||3.8|
|4. HooToo 3D VR Headset||wider FOV reaching 102°||$||3.8|
|5. Zeiss One VR||Leading-edge optical design||$$$||3.5|
|6. ImmersiON-Vrelia Go HMD VR Headset||wide field-of-view 3D Stereoscopic Head Mounted Displays||$$||3.5|
|7. HomidoVR headset||100 FOV and clarity with minimal distortion||$$||3.4|
|8. Freefly VR headset||highest Field of View (120°)||$$||3.3|
|9. Anpow VR Headset||Adjustable pupil distance and focal distance||$$||3.3|
|10. Google Cardboard||biconvex lenses of 37mm in diameter and focal length of 45mm||$$||3.3|
1) HTC Vive
When it comes to a truly immersive experience, the HTC Vive best virtual reality headsets trumps its competitors. Most VR headsets only allow users to view and hear their ‘surroundings’, but the Vive goes one step further; giving users the freedom to move around and explore their virtual environment. Offering ‘room-scale VR’, the Vive combines state-of-the-art video, audio and precise motion tracking. The set comes with two base stations, and through sensors mounted on its walls, are able to map the user’s location in a physical space and combine it into the virtual reality world.
Meanwhile, the user’s movements are synced with two wireless controllers equipped with HD haptic feedback, multi-function trackpads and dual-stage triggers. The Chaperone guidance system tells the user when they are approaching the limit of their play space, while a front-facing camera blends physical elements into the virtual world. Visual-wise, the headset gives users a 110 degree viewing field, similar to our normal field of vision. The Vive delivers detailed graphics, thanks to a high resolution 2160 x 1200 display. The 90Hz refresh rate emulates lifelike motions for smooth game play, mirroring the user’s gestures and hand movements with minimal lag in between.
The material around the edges is made from a soft, memory-foam like material which is comfortable for long hours of wear, and can be switched out with Velcro. The headset also has wide and thin fits for different shaped faces.
The Vive has its downsides. Aside from the tricky setup (sensors have to be placed in the correct positions, and some drilling might be required to mount the base), users will need a lot of space and a very powerful computer for the full VR experience to kick in. And while users have praised its one-of-a-kind movement-based system, others have lamented the lack of content and replayability with games compatible with the Vive platform. Unless you’re willing to pay a premium, it might be best to wait until all the kinks have been ironed out – but if you can’t wait, then this is the most immersive VR experience on the market, hands down.
2) Oculus Rift
Building up on years of demos and previews, the Oculus Rift promised to be a headset to revolutionise VR as we know it – if they hadn’t waited so long to release it. Developed as a Kickstarter project before being bought over by Facebook, early Oculus demos allowed users to skydive from a plane, ride on virtual roller coasters, and play first person horror and action games. Since then, however, the Rift’s top spot as VR king has been taken over by models such as the HTC Vive.
Function-wise, the Rift delivers an excellent VR experience – provided you’re running them on hardware that meets the recommended specs. With a 90-frames-per-second refresh rate, there is little to no lag, and visuals run smoothly. The only drawback is that you’ll have to run it on a very powerful computer.
The headset comes with a pair of integrated 3D audio earphones, which can be removed if gamers prefer using their own headphones. They are effective at blocking out external sound and can be quickly removed if needed. Also built in the Rift is a microphone, handy for in-game communication. With conventional gaming,users looked through a small screen into the game world. With the Rift, the experience is all around you – making it particularly immersive for first person games, such as when flying a fighter jet from the cockpit of a plane.
Design-wise, the smooth and sleek black headset is made of rubber on the front, with cloth sides and lenses enclosed in lycra. The side straps are adjustable for comfort.
The Rift’s biggest flaw (during its release) is its lack of hand-tracking motion controllers. Instead, it relies on traditional gaming controls like the gamepad or joystick – hampering its own potential to deliver a truly immersive experience. While Oculus has announced that they will be releasing the Oculus Touch controllers as an add-on, their failure to include this in the initial release has booted them off the top of the list of best gaming VR headsets.
Also dubbed Oculus Rift ‘Lite’, the Samsung Gear VR is a collaboration between smartphone giant Samsung and Oculus VR; minus the hefty price tag. The only drawback is that you have to run it with compatible Samsung devices, such as the Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6 Edge+, S6 Edge and S6.
The Gear VR utilises the smartphone as its processor and display, with a slot at the front of the headset to slide the phone in and into a connecting Micro USB dock. The phone’s Super AMOLED display acts as the user’s screen. Users simply have to pop the headset on, and they’re ready for their VR experience.
One of the Gear’s strongest points is that there is so much content made available. Enter Milk VR, a virtual marketplace of downloadable apps, videos, games and more. Users can view thousands of 360 panoramic photos, experience tours all around the world, as well as musical performances, movies and documentaries. The Gear VR also allows users to stream over 1mil short films and videos from Vimeo, watch hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV Shows on Oculus Cinema, as well as 2D trailers, clips and movie files from Oculus Video.
Visuals can be a bit grainy, but we’re talking about a mid-range VR experience here so don’t expect the same quality as the ones hooked up to PCs and computers.
The headset is lightweight at just 11 ounces, and comes with an easy to use touch pad. Precise-head tracking helps to lower latency, minimizing lag and motion sickness. The design has an improved fit so fret not if you have glasses – you can wear them under the headset.
Cheap but functional best describes the HooToo 3D VR Headset which seems poised to clinch top spot on the list of entry level mobile VR headsets, based on numerous glowing reviews. Most commented that it was a good and affordable alternative to the Google Cardboard.
As with most other headsets of its kind, the HooToo has a slot for users to slide their smartphone in, and works with different models of up to 6.8” max. An acrylic ‘door’ easily flips open for users to insert their smartphone.
While some of the cheaper VR headsets do not come with any controls, requiring users to purchase a separate Bluetooth controller , the HooToo is equipped with a magnetic trigger, allowing users to do more with the apps or play trigger-based games. It runs with most apps from Google Play and the Apple App store, so users can experience stunning 360 degree photos and videos, have virtual tour walkthroughs and watch 3D films.
The optical glass lenses give viewers a 102 degree field of view with minimal distortion. The headset comes with adjustable lenses with focal and object distance setting, and will help provide clearer focus to users with nearsightedness of up to 500 degrees.
A common complaint about mobile VR headsets is that the phones tend to become overheated after long use. Not so with the HooToo. It is made from a sturdy but lightweight plastic body for better heat distribution, preventing the device from overheating. The balanced design helps to distribute weight evenly, reducing pressure in the nose and eyes, while the soft sponge casing gives room for the face to breathe while effectively blocking out distracting light.
5) Zeiss One VR
Like the Samsung Gear VR, the Zeiss One VR’s hardware is powered by a smartphone. But unlike the Gear which only runs with Samsung devices, the Zeiss One is compatible with both iOS and Android phones, as long as they measure between 4.7 and 5.2 inches. This includes the Samsung Galaxy S4-S6, Nexus 5, LG-G3 and the iPhone 6. An innovative sliding mechanism allows the smartphone tray to be positioned exactly over the slot, keeping it in place. Trays are purchased separately, according to the user’s smartphone specs.
Content wise, the Zeiss One runs with many apps designed for mobile VR headsets, which can be downloaded for free from the Google Play or Apple App store. The headset also has an inbuilt media player for pictures and Youtube video, as well as its own AR app for augmented experiences. There is a VR cinema app which allows users to view videos from their phone’s camera roll.
The precision lenses provide for pretty, immersive visuals and great optics with clear images. The headset design is roomy and comfortable, with top straps that go easily over the head and lots of space even for users with glasses.
One negative point of the Zeiss One is that it does not have buttons or a scroll wheel, so users will not be able to adjust the position and clarity, which can be an issue when running certain games and Youtube 360 videos. You’ll have to purchase a Bluetooth controller for the phone, which, along with the tray, adds to the cost.
While the current software functions are limited, the Zeiss One runs on an open source code – the Unity 3D SDK – so users can expect plenty of upgrades and improvements to come.
Winner of 2015’s Best of CES award, the ImmersiON-Vrelia Go HMD VR Headset works with just about any kind of smartphone, whether iPhone or Android. Removable brackets with two large openings in the front of the headset allow for devices up to 6 inches to fit in.
Meanwhile, custom mounting parts ensure that the device is always secure and centered properly. There are unique bracket designs for different phone models, including parts for the iPhone as well as the Samsung S and Note series. Users with 3D printers can even opt to go DIY, by making their mounting pieces from a 3D printer, with ImmersiON-VRelia supplying the STL files needed.
One of the GO’s clear advantages is the advanced optics correction. The headset is equipped with patented IPD and diopter adjustment mechanisms, which claim to allow users with myopia or long sightedness to be able to see clearly – without having to wear eyeglasses. When worn, the VR visuals provide a wide degree field of vision.
Wireless and lightweight, the headset has a size adjusting band on the top and sides to fit thin or wide faces, making it comfortable for prolonged use.
The headset comes with a lithium-ion powered Bluetooth gamepad from Viaplay, with typical control buttons and dual analog sticks for gaming. With the company developing its own software development kit on an open platform, more updates and improvements should be expected from the GO – but in the meantime, it makes for a quality mobile VR experience at an affordable price.
For those moving ‘up’ the VR headset chain from Google Cardboard, the Homido provides a more substantial experience without breaking the bank. Highly versatile, the headset works with any iPhone or Android smartphone measuring between 4” to 6”. There is a slot on the front to slide the phone in, and users can simply strap the headset on to view the desired VR content.
There are over 300 Google Play or Apple App store apps to choose from, offering 360 degree panoramic photos and games, videos and movies.
The custom designed wide angle VR lenses are 70% larger than the Google Cardboard’s, providing better clarity with minimal distortion, whilst allowing users to see up to 100 degrees in their virtual environment. For those with eyesight problems, the Homido has optical adjustments on each side of the lens, which helps users fine-tune the focus for farsightedness, nearsightedness as well as interpapillary distance (IPD). While a thoughtful addition to its features, users have commented that only the IPD seemed to function well.
Its ergonomic and well ventilated design is comfortable for extended wear, and can even be worn by people with glasses.While the plastic exterior is sturdy, the foam padding is soft and comfy on the face. It would have been better if there was a pleather cover over the exposed padding, as we can imagine the padding coming out after a few months of use.
As it is untethered and does not run on batteries, users can enjoy complete freedom of movement. You can still stream games with the best virtual reality headsets from the PC to your smartphones and view it on the Homido.
Depending on your tastes, the Freefly VR might seem like a design nightmare or a geeky dream. The unconventional wing-shaped sides help during the smartphone insertion and removal process, as the spring-loaded wings will automatically center the device and keep it securely in place. The headset can adapt to different smartphone shapes and sizes, as long as the screen is between 4.7” to 6.1”. This includes devices such as the iPhone 6 and 6Plus, Samsung S3-S6, Sony Xperia Z1 – Z3, and the LG G2 and G3.
One of the Freefly’s best features is their 42mm lenses, which provide a whopping 120 degree field of vision for an immersive viewing experience. It tracks head movements using the phone’s accelerometer. Unlike most standalone VR headsets where users have to purchase separate controllers, the Freefly comes with one of its own called a Glide, so you save on the cost of getting an add on.
The Freefly is compatible with over 200 Google Cardboard apps, as well as music videos, games and movies downloadable from Google Play and the Apple App store.
Looks and function aside, the Freefly is very comfortable. Lightweight and lined with soft faux leather, it blocks out external light effectively and the material makes it suitable for long periods of wear, although it can get hot and sticky in humid weather. The anti fog lens coating ensures that no fogging occurs on the glass lenses, but they can be easily cleaned with an included lens cloth.
The Freefly is not for everyone. While the headset works with most people, it may be out of focus for some, and the lack of a lens adjustment feature means that they’ll be seeing everything out of focus. If you’re wearing glasses, the Freefly will also not be a good choice due to its tight fit over the face.
Another entry level option, the Anpow functions well as a virtual reality viewer, introducing users to the world of VR: from 3D movies, games, 360 degree virtual tours, photos and videos.
It turns any smartphone into a visual VR simulator, as long as it does not exceed 6”. They work best with devices between 5” to 5.5” for a wide field of vision.
The front facing flip compartment makes inserting and removing the smartphone easy. The headset works with more than 300 iOS and Android apps from the Google Play and Apple App store.
Lightweight at 380g, the Anpow is made from durable ABS plastic, while the soft padding allows the headset to sit comfortably on the users hit for long hours, while the adjustable head straps are flexible enough to accommodate different head sizes. Comfy eye and nose pads further reduce pressure on the face.
The Anpow features optical resin lenses, developed with eight layer nano coating and five times polishing to minimise glare and optical deformities in the display, reducing motion sickness. Users can adjust pupil and focal distance on the lenses by twisting knobs at the sides of the headset. The fitting is tight, so they are not recommended for wear with glasses, but are safe enough for contact lense users.
Each set includes a Bluetooth controller and Blue-Ray glasses for 3D movies.
10) Google Cardboard
We kick things off with the most basic of all VR headsets – the Google Cardboard. Like its namesake, the Google Cardboard is, quite literally, a foldable cardboard container with a slot where users can place their smartphones and view the screens through magnifying lenses. If you’re new to VR headsets, these offer a cheap taste of the endless possibilities to come – sort of like a small appetiser at a multi-course buffet. They work with different smartphone models, and are best used to sample simple VR content.
Driven by apps found on Google Play or Apple’s App store, they are best used for viewing videos or displays of 360-degree environments, such as Google Map’s Street View, or compatible Youtube videos. Users can experience travelling through space, conquering a new planet and enjoying a luxury car ride. Apps such as Google Expeditions are also great for educational purposes, as teachers can use them as a tool to bring their children on VR field trips to the Grand Canyon, Paris, and more. The best thing about getting the Google Cardboard is that there are no additional costs to buying software, as there are loads of downloadable free apps.
The device is large enough to accommodate phones up to six inches, and folds into a compact shape for easy portability. However, as the Google Cardboard functions very much like a cardboard viewer, there are little to no navigation controls, unlike in larger VR systems.
A simple trigger mechanism allows users to click and tap without having to remove the phone, but that’s about it.
Another downside is that it is used like a handheld device: which means that users will have to hold it up to see into the Cardboard. It is best viewed in a darker environment as light can filter through, distorting images. As the hardware can take some time to focus on the phone’s display, users have reported experiencing lag and nausea. However, for those new to VR, the Cardboard is a safe, cheap and less intimidating way to get acquainted to this technology.