Virtual reality technology has made several attempts to break into the mainstream, but until 2016 all attempts were unsuccessful. It took a year to become a viable consumer product because that’s when mobile computing solved many of the problems that have always plagued VR headsets.
Four years later, modern virtual reality has made remarkable strides. The few bumps left over when headsets like the Oculus Rift were first launched have been largely smoothed out. However, finding the best VR headset today can be a minefield of unfamiliar technical terms and designs. That’s why we think now is the time to release a simple and sane VR Buyer’s Guide.
What you will find in this guide
To help you find the information you’re looking for faster, here’s a detailed description of what to expect in this guide:
- The three main types of VR headsets.
- Important Specifications
- VR Controllers
- VR Headset Recommendations
If all you want to know are the best VR headsets we recommend, feel free to skip to the last section of the article. However, if you want to make your own informed buying decision, the entire guide is bound to be of great help to you.
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The three main types of VR headsets
VR headsets come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but there are three categories that we consider to be the most important from a consumer perspective. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, only two of these types of headsets are still relevant today.
Cases for VR headsets for smartphones
As premium VR started out as a product that few could afford, other options soon emerged. The most successful example is Google Cardboard It is a simple cardboard case that you slide your smartphone into. VR smartphone apps then split the screen into two separate images and you view them through inexpensive lenses.
Soon, other companies began to develop the idea of ??Cardboard, which led to the creation of premium smartphone solutions like Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream Unfortunately, this approach to VR involves many trade-offs and doesn’t make much sense anymore in a world where standalone mobile VR headsets are available.
Ironically, the most relevant form of VR case for smartphones is still the original Cardboard. This allows businesses and educational institutions to easily share basic mobile VR or multimedia experiences such as panoramic videos at a relatively low cost. It’s also inexpensive for individual users, but it’s new now.
Standalone VR headsets
Standalone VR headsets are a relatively new category of VR headsets. They combine smartphone technology with premium VR headset design to offer an affordable mainstream VR solution. These headsets do not need a phone, computer, or other device to work. Comparable to a smartphone or game console. The device connects to the Internet directly, you download apps to its internal memory, and you can connect to VR anywhere as long as the battery is charged.
While these headsets don’t deliver the same VR class as premium tethered VR headsets, they are significantly better than smartphone-based VR. Why? While these headsets may have modest specs compared to some flagship smartphones, they are only for one purpose.
This means that the embedded hardware does not have to function as a telephone. Built-in displays are also tuned for VR and have a much higher thermal headroom than razor-thin phones, which means that mobile processors can be used much more complexly. The end result is spectacular virtual reality at a very reasonable price.
Tied VR headsets
When it comes to the best virtual reality headsets, the top is the ones that plug into your computer. Because gaming laptops and desktops can be so powerful in processing power, these headsets have access to the very best processors and GPUs money can buy. That is, if you have a computer with such characteristics.
This also means that you can keep the same headset for several computer update cycles. This way, you benefit from every leap in power across generations. Tethered VR headsets also have better optics and ergonomics as they do not contain any of the hardware, batteries, or other components that you find in a standalone model.
However, these headsets are the most expensive way to get into VR as you will need a relatively high-end computer complete with an expensive premium headset. Connecting to a computer with a long cable also limits your mobility in VR, but there are already tethered headsets on the market that use a wireless connection. Of course, for the price.
Important technical specifications
Now that we’ve covered the main types of VR headset design, it’s time to move on to the most important entries in any VR headset specification. Of course, there are always more considerations than we could list, but they are the most universal.
IPD – Interpupillary Distance
If you want to immerse yourself in virtual reality, then the interpupillary distance (IPD) is what you’ll hear a lot . Basically, this is the distance between your pupils when looking straight ahead.
This matters because every lens in a VR headset has a specific focus point where the screen is correctly focused. Since we all have different IPDs, lenses must move to find the perfect focus. The VR headset will display a list of supported IPDs.
If your IPD is outside this range, you will not get a clear image. There are various guides on the Internet that show you how you can measure IPD, but any optometrist can quickly give you the correct number.
Field of view (horizontal)
VR headset field of view is a number (i degrees) that indicates how much of your field of view the headset fills. This can be the difference between feeling like you’re standing in a large open area or wearing horse blinders. Usually, when this specification is specified, it refers to the horizontal field of view.
In the average person, peripheral vision extends just over 180 degrees. If you don’t have eyes on the back of your head, that’s pretty much all it takes for a VR headset.
While there are virtual reality headsets that approach the full range of human vision, consumer virtual reality headsets still have a long way to go. The general rule of thumb is that 90 degrees is the absolute minimum field of view that is still acceptable for diving. The gold standard for the best VR headsets is 110 degrees or more.
Display Panel Specifications
One of the most important components of a VR headset is the display. After all, this is the part you constantly look at when using the device. If you are already familiar with LCD or OLED display technology, these numbers will sound familiar to you.
Permission is the first thing to look out for. Each eye has its own resolution, which means that you can see two numbers. One for the entire display panel and one for each eye. Some headsets may use two panels instead of splitting one into two, so read the numbers accordingly.
What’s a good resolution? The first generation of premium VR headsets offered 1080 x 1200 per eye resolution. We recommend using this as a working minimum.
Refresh rate is also very important to the visual fluidity that VR requires, but that’s not all. If you’re looking at a headset that uses an LCD display, then 90Hz should be the minimum standard for VR. However, if it is an OLED panel, its low persistence nature means that a lower refresh rate will do the same. 80Hz or 72Hz OLED panels can be found in some of the best virtual reality headsets on the market.
Internal or external tracking?
Head tracking is a key aspect of how VR works. Tracking must be very accurate with no noticeable lag. If your head movements do not match what is displayed on the screen, this is a sure way to motion sickness.
VR headsets use different ways to track your movement, but there are two important main types of tracking that have a big impact on your VR experience. VR headsets that use external trackers can only work in the area they see. It also means you have to lug your external security cameras with you wherever you go. This tracking method is only available on older VR headsets. Outside tracking is quickly being replaced by so-called inside-out tracking.
This internal tracking system uses cameras installed outside the headset to look at the room around you. Then, using sophisticated machine vision technology, it determines the movement of your head based on how it sees the room moving around you. This means you can move around freely and only need to bring your headset (and possibly a computer) with you if you want to move your VR settings to another location.
These two tracking systems allow tracking of “six degrees of freedom”. In other words, it can track the movement of your head in the X, Y and Z axes. Virtual reality systems for smartphones and some entry-level standalone headsets don’t offer the full six degrees of freedom. They only track basic rotation of your head. While this is fine for a basic VR experience, it is very limited in terms of immersion.
While a VR headset brings your eyes, ears, and head into the virtual world, what about the rest of your body? While there are full-fledged VR bodysuits out there, they’re not meant for consumers just yet. The controllers for mass VR are a little more modest, but they get more impressive every day.
The simplest virtual reality controller is a regular old console gamepad. Most VR games support the use of a standard controller. While it may not be the most exciting control system, it is still very functional, and most likely you already have it.
The best modern solution is a pair of motion controllers. They can only work with specific headsets, or they can be universal. Some VR headsets come with a pair in a box or offer them as add-ons.
These controllers not only provide you with a set of traditional gamepad controls, but also track your hand movements. They can also have a pressure-sensitive â€œgripâ€ function that allows you to grab VR objects and manipulate them in a more natural way.
VR headset recommendations
With the key specs and design features that you should be aware of, let’s take a look at specific guidelines for choosing the best VR headsets that suit different budgets and needs. Most people in the VR headset market should be completely happy with one of these excellent models below.
Best Everyday VR Headset: Oculus Go (Over $ 230)
Oculus Go is the first truly engaging standalone mobile VR headset. While it lacks premium VR features like full location tracking, it far surpasses the quality of mobile VR that you get from flagship smartphones that cost many times the price.
Go is ideal for guided seated VR activities as well as mobile VR applications. It includes both core VR games and VR utilities such as group meeting apps. As always, it’s all about the apps. If Go runs the apps you like, this is the best everyday headset money can buy.
Most Versatile VR Headset – Oculus Quest (Over $ 600)
When the Oculus Quest first launched, it completely wiped the floor with every other standalone headset on the market. Marketed as the VR equivalent of a standalone gaming console, it had flagship specs at launch, as well as resolutions, sensors, controllers, and optics that surpass even premium headsets. It uses inside out tracking and can work with either the included motion controllers or manual scanning with a camera.
The real defining argument is the recent introduction of Oculus Link. By connecting the Quest to your computer, you can play the full library of Oculus Rift and Steam VR games. This means the Quest is the most versatile headset ever. If you only have a budget for one headset, this is the best VR headset and will do whatever you want with a few compromises.
Best Premium VR Headset: Valve Index (Complete $ 2,400 +, Headset Only $ 999 +)
If money doesn’t matter and you just want the best all-round premium VR experience, then look no further than the Valve Index. The complete kit we linked above includes Valve’s Advanced Motion Controllers and Wall Sensors that enable room-scale VR experiences.
The Valve Index contains many advanced features. For example, its LCD panels can reach 144Hz refresh rates and a phenomenal 130-degree field of view.
While Index complete kits represent the pinnacle of consumer VR right now, if you already own hardware from an HTC Vive or Vive Pro, such as controllers or base stations, they will work with Index. This provides a slight relief when it comes to the attractive price of the complete kit. However, Index is the epitome of today’s second generation consumer virtual reality. If you have the budget for this, then this is as good as possible.
Best Console VR Headset: Playstation VR ($ 399)
Sony PSVR is the best default VR console headset as it is actually the only VR console headset on the market. The good news is, despite this, things are actually very good. If you own a Playstation 4 or (preferably) a Playstation 4 Pro, then PSVR offers a very affordable way to enter the world of premium virtual reality experiences.
While the PS4 pales in comparison to a typical gaming PC, it still far outstrips the graphics power of smartphone chips. Sony and various PSVR game developers have also found ways to squeeze as much power out of this popular console as possible.
Even if you don’t have a PS4, the total cost of the PSVR and the console itself is still less than a typical PC VR system. PSVR also boasts an impressive library of games. The main drawback here is that games are the only type of application that you can run on this system.
The best time to buy a VR headset is now
Now is the time to dive into virtual reality. While there are many exciting innovations looming on the horizon, the main products on the market today are excellent in their own right. The developers have solved the most important problems that have held VR back until now. So, if you were on the brink of success, it’s time to step into the virtual world you’ve always dreamed of.