The new age of virtual reality seems to be upon us. Unlike what The Lawnmower Man predicted, the VR market is more interested in amusing apps than expanding minds. At least for now. With so much new hardware available, no doubt many consumers must be asking “Which VR headset is right for me?”
This helpful beginners guide will take you through the four most popular headsets on the market. Is PlayStation VR, Vive, Rift, or Gear the right machine for you? Or should you just save your money and wait for something better? Let's take a deeper look at each offering going case by case on the hardware.
What is it? This headset is the first on the console market, and Sony has gotten behind it in a big way. Take a closer look at our PSVR launch guide to see all the best day one games and features. Short version: This PlayStation 4 add-on is the favorite new kid on the block.
Pros: First off, the PSVR is one of the cheapest options on the market -- provided you already own a PS4 console of course. The PSVR is also one of the most comfortable headsets out there, no doubt thanks to Sony's decades of experience with attractive consumer electronics. Then there's the software line-up for the next six months. Not only are there great launch exclusives like Rez Infinite and Batman: Arkham VR, many of the biggest VR hits so far are getting ported over. A pretty strong showing for such a new machine.
Cons: The price isn't as affordable as it seems. The headset by itself is $399, but you need the additional tech that comes bundled in the $500 package to make it complete. That price only goes up if you don't own a PS4 console already. PSVR also lacks features of its pricier competition, like the HTC's room scale or Rift's more precise controllers. Lastly, PSVR is a wired machine, so even with a long cable that's easy to plug in, it's still a tethered device that can turn off some consumers.
What is it? The HTC Vive is one of the most advanced pieces of tech that the VR market has seen to date. It boasts exclusive tech that can expertly track movement, as well as a list of games and a partnership with Valve and it's popular Steam platform. But all that comes with a steep price tag.
Pros: The HTC Vive has a real tech advantage over the rest of the VR headsets. In particular, its "room scale" can make any adequately spaced area part of the game. Even without room scale, standard Vive gaming is top-of-the-line graphically, and its proprietary controllers work great with existing games. Speaking of games, Vive's partnership with Steam is quite promising. As the VR market struggles to get great software, HTC is teaming up with the biggest online retailer of PC games around.
Cons: All that technology comes with a steep price. The standard Vive setup is $800, which is more than any of the other competitors out of the box. Also, using room scale depends on you having the needed space in your home to accommodate it. Not to mention that to play most of the best VR games, you'll need a good-to-great gaming PC. If your rig isn't up to snuff, get ready to spend even more moolah to get it there. That con is the same for Vive's closest competition.
What is it? The Oculus was a pioneer in today's modern VR, and its Rift is still one of the top machines. After being purchased by Facebook in 2014, the Rift was a hugely hyped machine when it officially launched in early 2016. But is it still the top name in the VR game?
Pros: There's certainly name recognition and the fact that one of the biggest companies in tech is supporting it. Also, the Rift has been around long enough to have a substantial library of games already available. The new Oculus Touch controllers are just about as good as the Vive's, and Rift's also got an impressive collection of non-gaming apps, with more on the way. Lastly, the starting price of the headset, $600, is on the cheap side for PC dedicated devices.
Cons: That price tag is even more deceptive than Vive's. If you're paying $600 for the headset, you better throw in the extra $200 for the Touch controllers. Rift also demands an even more powerful PC than Vive, so get ready to budget hundreds of dollars to get your inadequate PC up to system requirements. Then there's the fact that many of Rift's best exclusives are now appearing on PSVR and Vive, making it much less unique as time goes on.
What is it? Want to take an easy first step into VR? Own a Samsung smartphone? Then the Gear VR is an affordable alternative to all the pricey hardware currently filling the VR market.
Pros: Simplicity and price are Gear VR's biggest positives. No wires or complex set up like on the previous three entries. So long as you already own a compatible smartphone, most Gear VR models will cost between $60 and $100. You can also invest in a dedicated controller for a few dollars more to connect to the games. Its current list of compelling software is small, but its growing every day.
Cons: If you don't own a Samsung phone already, then the price is the same as a Rift headset. Ignoring that, the phone's camera and movement tracking really can't compare to the accuracy and nuance of the previous entries. Gear VR also has the weakest software library of anything on this list. The Gear VR is a pleasant first taste of virtual reality's potential, but it's hardly the main course.
First, try any of these out on their own before buying. Not everyone can take the VR experience, so be sure that playing games in VR won't make you sick. If your stomach can handle VR fun, then our current recommendation is to take the cheaper options until the technology has evened out some. That makes PSVR currently the best middle ground.
In both the Vive and Rift, you've got pricey tech that requires you to have powerful PCs and lots of space to set up. Meanwhile, if you already own a PS4, the PSVR is preferable for your introduction to VR. It's cheaper, has a relatively robust software library at launch and the promise of Sony supporting it into the immediate future. Sure, if you're looking for the bare minimum VR experience for cost, smartphone setups like Gear VR are worth testing out. However, ultimately the PSVR offers the best all over option when taking price, software, experience, and value into consideration. (For now, anyway.)