Gaming in virtual reality can be fantastic. The monsters tower over you. The snakes and spiders will trigger your phobias—as will heights, and small, enclosed spaces. Scares are scarier. When you get hit or shot, it feels a lot more personal.
In general, the more expensive the headset, the better the experience. But there are some nice headsets in the lower price ranges as well. Here are GearBrain's top picks.
(Image courtesy HTC Vive.)
HTC Vive: Most immersive
The HTC Vive is the closest we can get right now to a Star Trek-style holodeck. But woah, this headset is expensive. The HTC Vive starts at around $800, plus at least another $1,000 for a high-end computer since your current desktop probably won't do the job.
Also, you're going to need a lot of room to move around in, since one of the big selling point of the Vive is the room-scale VR. What that means is you'll 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.
I had a chance to try this headset out. I was a bit jaded going in, since I had previously tried the Oculus Rift and many other headsets. Still, the Vive blew me away. If you really love games, and you have the money, and you absolutely have to have the best platform, get the Vive.
Check out the videos on the SteamVR page to get an idea of what playing with the Vive headset is like.
Vive HTC currently has two standout features. First, if you have room to set up the equipment, you can actually walk around your room as you walk around inside the game. It will pick up your motion. Being able to move around naturally is a fantastic way to really become part of the game universe.
There's built-in functionality to keep you from bumping into walls, but you might still trip over pets, though. And you're probably not going to be able to walk very far, both because of the size of the room, the distance from the sensors, and, of course, the cable connecting you to your computer.
The other great feature is the Vive's hand-held controllers. Oculus Rift has the Touch controller, but it won't be available for purchase until some time later on this year. If you want gesture control now, get the Vive, or you can wait until the second or third generation, when it will be even better, and the prices will be lower.
Oculus Rift. (Image courtesy Oculus VR.)
Oculus Rift: The big name in VR
Oculus jump-started the current wave of VR interest with its successful crowdfunding campaign, the $2 billion purchase by Facebook, and its plucky, appealing then-teenaged inventor, Palmer Luckey.
The Oculus Rift headset also costs a little less than the Vive headset—around $600—but you still need an expensive, high-end computer.
With a big name like Facebook behind it, Oculus has been able to get some high-profile developers on board to create games. Unfortunately, the best games require the Oculus Touch motion controllers, which are not going to be available until later on this year.
With the right combination of peripherals, you can set it up for room-scale games, but it's not as easy as it is with the Vive. Most games are designed for seated playing.
To find out whether your computer is capable of powering the Oculus Rift, scroll down to the "Recommended PC Specification" section on this page.
People have also been converting existing games. Here is a video where you can watch Grand Theft Auto V being played with an Oculus Rift, a gun controller, and the Virtuix Omni virtual reality treadmill.
Buy the headset for $600 from the company itself, or buy it bundled together with a PC from Best Buy to save some money. Oculus has finally worked through its backlog, and you should be able to receive your headset relatively quickly.
(Image courtesy Sony.)
PlayStation VR: The VR headset you're most likely to get
This is the only headset on this list that I haven't personally tried, but early reviews are that it's pretty good—but still not as good as the Vive. On the other hand, PlayStation VT also costs half as much as the other two leading VR headsets in the sapec.
The games aren't available for sale yet (so we can't link to any below.) But expect them to start coming out when the headset is released.
Sony says that there will be 50 games on release date, including Resident Evil and a new game in the Batman: Arkham series. Other games include Gran Turismo Sport, Moto Racer 4, TrackMania Turbo, Project CARS, World of Diving, and the open-world skiing game Snow.
If you already have a PlayStation 4, consider getting the $500 PlayStation VR bundle, which comes with the camera, and the controllers. The bundle also includes the PlayStation VR Worlds game.
Samsung Gear VR. (Image courtesy Samsung.)
Gear VR: The best mobile-based headset
If you have a late-model Samsung phone, save your money and get a virtual reality experience almost as good as that of the desktop and console-based headsets with the $99 Gear VR.
In addition to its reasonable price, the Gear VR is very easy to use. Download the app, take the front cover off the headset, and snap in your phone. Then put on your headset and use the built-in trackpad and buttons to navigate around your home menu.
Samsung partnered up with Oculus to get games and experiences for the platform, which you can see here.
You generally play the Gear VR while seated. I, personally, prefer a swivel office chair. The best part about the Gear VR is that it's completely wireless, so you can spin around as much as you like. The worst part is that it drains your phone's battery and causes overheating.
The games are simpler and less interactive than on the Rift or Vive, but still plenty of fun. Plus, in addition to games, there are also apps like Netflix and Hulu that you can't get anywhere else right now.
BoboVR Z4. (Photograph by Maria Korolov.)
BoboVR Z4: Best low-cost mobile VR headset
The BoboVR Z4 is the best mobile headset that's not a Gear VR. It has built-in headphones and a control button, and is very easy to use.
The field of view is a very impressive 120 degrees—that's more than the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or the Gear VR. This means that you get the widest view possible on your smartphone. For the best experience, then, you'll want a phone with the largest, highest-resolution screen that you can afford.
The lenses are adjustable, the headset fits over your eyeglasses if you wear them, and the headset is very easy to use—just open the front cover, drop in your phone, and snap the cover closed.
It weighs 15 ounces. That's a little bit more than the Gear VR, which weighs 12 ounces. But a lot of that is due to the headphones. You can also buy 11-ounce versions of this headset without headphones.
You'll find using the button easy to use with the BoboVR Z4, if not hard to find. While most headsets have the button on the top or on the side, with the BoboVR Z4, the button on the bottom of the set, on the right-hand side. But that does make it convenient to press with your thumb while you are holding the headset. If you're right-handed.
In order to use this headset, you will need to install the Google Cardboard app, available for free for both Android and iOS. In the settings menu -- the three buttons at the top right -- there's an option to switch viewers. Tap on that, then point the phone to the headset's QR Code. Read our full review of the headset here which includes QR Codes for you to use if you headset didn't come with one.
View-Master VR: Best headset for children's games
The View-Master VR is a great, fun headset that your kids will love, at a great price. The headset won't fit over your adult-sized glasses, doesn't have adjustable lenses or built-in headphones, and doesn't have straps to hold against your head. But the headset is very cute, very easy to use, and works with both Android and iPhones.
Mattel will try to convince you to buy the expensive "Experience Reels" but you can just ignore them. The View-Master VR will happily run any of the VR apps in the Apple and Android app stores, and will play any videos. Just load up the app, activate the virtual reality functionality and pop your smartphone into the headset once you see the picture switches to a side-by-side view.
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.