Virtual reality (VR) offers unique possibilities for educators. Students can explore three-dimensional objects and environments, travel the world—and travel through history—participating in activities either not possible or not practical in real life. With Covid-19 still impacting our daily lives, and hindering the physical return for millions of students to the classroom, VR headsets can provide an alternative way for students to conduct science experiments, or learn about social studies and art.
Here, then, are the top hardware options for schools and families interested in exploring this technology whether they're attending classes in-person this year, or remotely from home.
Google Cardboard: Most Affordable
A Google Cardboard headset is easily one of the most affordable VR options you can buyKnoxlabs
We're going to start with what we consider one of the best, most affordable options for educators and students today — the Google Cardboard platform. These headsets are really just holders, some literally made of cardboard, for a smartphone. All the content actually plays on a phone, typically through an app, and then the headset uses special lenses to make the images look virtual when you hold it up to your eyes.
The platform has more content available than any other, because it's typically free, and can be found on YouTube and other sites. You can find VR tours of animals in the wild or walk through countries as far away as Cambodia.
The headsets, like this one from Knoxlabs, can be picked up for around $10, others are less, and for schools that are continuing with remote learning, this may be an affordable cost for some virtual, or at-home classrooms, as long as students do have access to a smartphone and also an internet connection so they can download the content or the apps. Plus, these work for almost any smartphone, both iOS and Android.
Vive Cosmos: Most Immersive
The Vive Cosmos headset is a high-end virtual reality deviceGearBrain
One of the better known virtual reality headsets on the market are the Vive line, which include the Cosmos Series and the Pro Series. For education, you're going to be just fine with the Cosmos Series. The Vive Cosmos headset and system can be picked up for $649, which also includes a two-month subscription to Viveport, where games, shows and other content can be picked up and watched on the device.
But — that's just the starting price. Vive VR headsets require a PC desktop or laptop to work. The content is stored on the computer, the headset delivers it to your eyes. Because the Vive Cosmos is so robust (and this is one of the most immersive of all the VR headsets available), you're also going to need some serious room to move around, as you're going to feel you're right in the game. Combined with the super-responsive gesture controllers, the virtual reality environments feel as real as you can get without a plug connecting directly into your brain.
Vive is not going to be a light investment, which is why it's ideal for a classroom or school environment. There are some extraordinary programs that Vive can offer including Vive Arts, which partners with institutions including the Louvre and the Museum of Natural History, to bring extremely immersive content, like allowing people to build, bone by bone, a T. rex skeleton. There are also educational titles, many of them free (once you've purchase the headset of course) including a virtual anatomy class, while other can be purchased like a physics program that lets students run light refraction experiments in virtual reality.
HTC VIVE Cosmos
Oculus Quest: Best Untethered
The Oculus Quest headset is one of the few untethered VR devices you can still buy todayOculus
With many of the untethered VR headsets no longer available for sale, like the Lenovo Mirage Solo, Google Daydream and the Samsung Gear VR, there are few options left for really robust virtual reality content that doesn't require a connection to a PC. One of these is the Oculus Quest, a VR headset that doesn't require a computer to push out content and instead relies on your smartphone to host the apps and titles you want to explore and watch. Audio is baked inside the headset (so you don't need headphones connected to your phone), and there's also hand tracking, which in essence turns your hands into controllers.
The headset works with both iOS and Android smartphones, and right now is priced at just $399 (although the $499 version appears to be the only one that can be picked up right now). Also, you can connect the Quest to a PC via a cable and from there access more robust titles from the Rift library, which are then piped right into the headset, which is a nice option to have.
But apps that work directly on the Quest headset include some free ones like Mission: ISS, which let students simulate docking on to the International Space Station and even take a zero-gravity walk. The Oculus Quest was supposed to be updated this year, but that's been delayed now until, likely, 2021.
Oculus Quest All-in-one VR Gaming Headset – 64GB
PlayStation VR works with PlayStation's gaming consolePlayStation
For those who have a PlayStation system at home, the PlayStation VR headset is worth considering, especially if a significant amount of learning is going to be virtual. With PlayStation VR, the PlayStation console is going to host the actual content, which can be played off disks, similar to the ones used for games, or through a digital download. Titles available are basically games, although there is one that lets you compose your own music in a virtual DJ studio called TrackLab. At $349, this is a more affordable option, and but again, you do need to have a PlayStation system to operate this VR headset. You're also getting a couple of games for that price and some controllers, depending on the bundle you select.
Still not sure which VR headsets to buy, check out GearBrain's 11 Best VR Headsets or 11 Questions About Virtual Reality Headsets Before You Buy. Either of these articles will help you find the right vr glasses or headset that meets your virtual reality viewing needs today.