Nerd Gadgets

Best VR headsets on the 2016 market

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Image: Oculus

Image: Oculus

While it doesn’t resemble anything that Tron or The Matrix led us to believe it would, virtual reality has itself become a reality. What was once the stuff of sci-fi lore and nothing more has now become a stocking stuffer found at Best Buy, Amazon, and Target. Every tech manufacturer has debuted some version of VR tech in the first six months of 2016, and while they all vary in price, it can be hard to gauge which VR headsets are worth their price tag. Some headsets – like the $800 HTC Vive – spare no expense when it comes to an all-inclusive, encapsulation VR experience, while other headsets – Google Cardboard – are simply Macgyver-esque that place little to no strain ($20-$30) on your budget. So whatever your VR headset budget is, here’s everything you need to know about the VR headsets currently available and those slated for release in 2016.

Google Cardboard

This is the most basic of base level models. Google’s VR “headset” is hardly a headset, in fact, its just a piece of cardboard with magnifying glasses in the eye holes, so that when you place your smart phone in the corresponding slot, the headset simply magnifies the image. The initial cost is a simple $15, but if you’d like to customize your Google Cardboard or get one made of more durable materials, then you’re looking at a $20-$30 total investment. Overall, the Google Cardboard is the best avenue to ease your way into VR technology, as it’s the most economical, widely available, and most portable (take your phone out and fold the cardboard) VR headset on the market.

Gear VR

The Samsung Gear VR has been around for a little while now – and has already leveraged Samsung partnerships like the NBA and soon to be the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics – and it’s probably the one most-suited for eventual mass acceptance. It’s a highly sophisticated model that is a class or two above the Google Cardboard and other similarly modeled headsets (the French Homido or Zeiss VR One), and the software is by far the most remarkable of the mid-range cost sets. Samsung has even begun to include the Gear VR in new phone purchases, which can certainly help gain some ground in the phone market as well. The tech on the Gear VR is exceptional, as you can direct movement and screen orientation with a tracking pad on the side of the headset.

Playstation VR

The first of the three high-end headsets that will truly signify whether or not VR sales will go the way of video game consoles or Apple Watches (reference point – video game console = good, Apple Watch = bad). Sony’s dog in the fight, the Playstation VR, relies on external camera tracking to orient the VR headset screen and directional focus, but the truly intriguing aspect of the Playstation VR is that the headset features a box on the headset that helps process video; so if I had to guess, Sony is going for graphics gold with its first run of VR headsets. Another interesting feature of the currently unpriced Playstation VR is the fact that as opposed to its competitors, the Playstation VR does not require a VR compatible PC to function properly, instead, all it needs is – you guessed it – a Playstation 4. So therein lies the problem, if you don’t have a Playstation 4 and/or don’t plan on purchasing one any time soon, then the Playstation VR is likely not going to be the best option for you.

Oculus Rift

Here we go. Whether or not the lovechild of Mark Zuckerberg and Palmer Luckey will be a massive success remains to be seen – especially because that price tag is still a little too high for most casual consumers ($600) – but backing from two stalwarts of the Social Media Age won’t hurt. The Rift – much like its competitors – features high resolution screens, relatively fast processing speeds, and excellent graphics. The Rift also minimizes the likelihood of motion sickness during use. The tracking system for the Rift is interesting, because it can allow you to move a few feet in any direction, as long as you have all cameras oriented precisely on your location. Oculus Rifts will be shipped with an Xbox One controller, so that probably means that if you don’t have an Xbox One, you better get good at setting up the tracking cameras. As referenced earlier, the Oculus Rift will also require a proper gaming PC that can fully support the high processing load that will undoubtedly coincide with a VR game. The Oculus Rift stands to benefit as being one of the earliest VR adopters, so the headset was already backordered before its initial shipment date at the end of March, so if you desperately want to buy Zuckerberg and Luckey’s baby, if you buy it today, you likely wouldn’t get your headset until July. Realistically, if you’re all about VR, the Oculus Rift is your go to VR headset.

HTC Vive

The HTC Vive is going to go down as the Fisker/Karma Motors of the VR industry. This headset comes in at a whopping $1,449.00, but it supposedly has unparalleled gameplay and software function. Compound that with the fact that video game developer Valve is working hand in hand with HTC to create the Vive, and once can’t help but think VR Counter Strike, Left for Dead, and Half Life 3 (fingers crossed) are just around the corner. The motion tracking for HTC is oriented off laser monitors, and use of the Vive is best recommended for a 15’ x 15’ room, along with the accompaniment of a “chaperone,” because you never know when VR gaming becomes too much. Here’s one of the major hang ups with the HTC Vive, keeping the 15’ x 15’ room rule in mind, the Vive requires a PC gaming computer much like the Oculus Rift does, so when you have your barren 15’ x 15’ room set up, you’ll still have to install your computer in the same room, and pray that you don’t get sucked into the VR world to the point you crush your computer. The HTC Vive is arguably the best (Oculus Rift is right there with it) as indicated by price, and it has almost a dozen Valve gaming titles lined up for release on the Vive platform, so if you consider yourself to be the earliest of early adopters who care nothing more than brand recognition, the HTC Vive is your number one choice.

Sean considers himself a poor man's polymath and finds solipsism amusing. Feel free to follow him on Twitter at @mchugh_sean, or not. That's fine.

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