Best VR headset: How to choose the best VR headset for you

Virtual reality is proving a riveting and stalwart new way to play games, enjoy experiences, and mess about with friends.

However much naysayers may have claimed it’d be little more than a flash in a pan, VR headsets are capturing imaginations around the world. They’re no 3D TV-style disappointment, but a fun way to spend some time, with newer innovations coming in the field all the time.

Not only has Sony’s PlayStation VR far surpassed its sales expectations, but both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have been holding their own in the fierce field of high-end VR market devices. Low-end and mobile VR devices like the Google Daydream View or Samsung Gear VR have down supremely well too, convincing wider audiences that VR has a lot of potential.

But this surprising proliferation of VR has one drawback  there’s a lot of it to getyour head around. So what should you be looking for if you’re wanting to purchase a VR headset?

Depending on your needs for a VR headset, and what you’d be using it for, there are different answers especially if you’re on a budget. In order to simplify the process, Alphr has put together a quick guide on buying the best VR set to meet your needs. It compares the three major headsets on the market: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

Best VR headset: how to buy

What is the cheapest way to experience VR?

Smartphone-based VR is generally the cheapest way to jump into VR. Phone-based headsets, such as the Google Daydream View or Samsung Gear VR cost significantly less than a full PC-based solution. If you don’t want to factor the cost of a compatible phone into the mix, the Oculus Go is an excellent standalone headset that’s only a fraction more than the Gear VR’s headset unit sans mobile. For PC-based experiences, you’re best looking towards the Windows MR set of devices from Asus, Lenovo and Dell, but they aren’t really made for gaming. If it’s PC-gaming you’re after, Oculus Rift is really the only viable option for the cost-conscious.

How much does a VR headset cost?

VR headset prices vary greatly depending on what you’re looking for. Google Cardboard will set you back no more than £15, while its Daydream headset clocks in at around £70. Oculus Go sits in the middle ground at £200 and premium devices like the HTC Vive Pro cost £800 without sensors and controllers. However, the £260 PlayStation VR gets you a PC-like VR experience for your PS4 at a very attractive price.

How much space do I need for VR?

Mobile VR experiences can be used anywhere and only require you to find a place to sit or an area to stand that’s reasonably clear. Seated experiences like Oculus Rift with a controller or PlayStation VR need a little more room. The real kicker comes when using Rift’s Oculus Touch controllers, PlayStation VR with PlayStation Move or HTC Vive VR’s room-scale setup. In these instances, you’ll need at least 2 x 2m of space for Rift and Move, and a minimum of 4 x 4m for Vive VR (although we did fine with 2.5 x 3m).

Of course, this means setting up the Vive VR and Oculus Rift will take a lot more work and finesse than the PlayStation VR, which just requires you to plug in a few things.

What is room-scale VR?

Room-scale VR setups allow for complete six-directional free movement within a designated space. This allows you to interact with your virtual environment using hand-tracking controllers so you really feel like you’re in the space. You’ll need a fairly big room to create a room-scale setup, though, and you’ll need to make sure that the area is clear of potential hazards.

Do you need a PC for VR?

Not necessarily, no. Mobile VR headsets just require a smartphone while Playstation VR only needs a PS4. Both Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive require PCs to run – as do lesser-known headsets like Razer’s OSVR and Windows MR devices. The best of the bunch is Oculus Go, which is entirely standalone and requires little more than the inclination to put it on.

Best VR headset: Oculus Rift vs HTC Vive vs PlayStation VR:

Sony’s PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive all sit together in the tethered, mid- to high-end space. These headsets are really the devices many think of when they talk about VR, and they’re also the most comparable of the major devices on the market.

Best VR headset: Design

Aesthetics shouldn’t really be high on your list when it comes to buying a VR headset but, if how you look in a VR headset – or how it looks in your home – is important to you, all three devices actually look quite futuristic.

Oculus Rift’s fabric-wrapped appearance definitely makes it look like the sleekest of the three devices, perfect for modernists out there. Sony’s bulky PlayStation VR looks like something out of Star Trek and, despite its larger footprint due to a fixed plastic headband over a fabric one, is perfect for those who want something of a talking point in their home. Of the three, it’s arguable that the HTC Vive VR is the biggest design statement due to its two lighthouse beacons and then the wand-like Vive controllers alongside the bulbous, pock-marked headset.

oculus_rift_vs_htc_vive_vs_playstation_vr_main_image

Best VR headset: Specifications

Of the three headsets, the PlayStation VR is definitely the one with the lowest specifications. Thankfully, as the PS4 is a focused gaming machine, the difference isn’t overly noticeable in terms of how games feel to play. It’s certainly no Oculus Rift or HTC Vive in terms of quality, but for those who can’t afford such devices, the PlayStation VR is a brilliant balance of affordability and specifications.

Here’s a chart for you to compare and contrast yourself.

Oculus Rift

HTC Vive VR

HTC Vive Pro

PlayStation VR

Display (in pixels)

2,160 x 1,200  (1,200 x 1,080 per eye)

2,160 x 1,200 (1,200 x 1,080 per eye)

2,880 x 1,600 (1,440 x 1,600 per eye)

1,920 x 1080 (1,080 x 960 per eye)

Field of view

110 degrees

110 degrees

110 degrees

100 degrees

Refresh rate

90Hz

90Hz

90Hz

120Hz

Weight

470g

555g

N/A

N/A

Tracking area

5 x 11ft

15 x 15ft

Up to 33 x 33 ft (with 4 base stations)

Unknown

Controllers

Xbox One pad / Oculus Touch

2 x Vive baton controller / Steam Controller / Any PC-enabled controller

Support for Vive VR controllers/ Steam controller/ Any PC-enabled controller

DualShock 4 / PlayStation Move

Audio

Integrated headphones

Headphone jack, integrated audio with Deluxe Audio Strap

Hi-res audio integrated headphones

N/A

Connectivity

HDMI 1.3

USB 3

USB 2

HDMI 1.4

USB 2

USB C

DisplayPort 1.2

Bluetooth

HDMI and USB to VR breakout box

OS

Windows

Windows

Windows

PlayStation 4

Best VR headset: Minimum specifications

Running one of these three headsets requires you to have a computer – or PlayStation 4 – that meets its minimum requirements. Currently, PlayStation VR doesn’t run on anything other than the PS4 and PS4 Pro, despite rumours Sony is thinking about taking it to PC. Therefore the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR are the only two headsets you need to concern yourself with PC specs wise.

To make matters more complicated, Oculus Rift can actually run on lower-end machines than the HTC Vive VR thanks to something called Asynchronous Spacewarp. Those on lower-end machines won’t have the same experience as those playing on recommended, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.

Oculus Rift (Minimum)Oculus Rift (Recommended)HTC Vive
SpecificationsIntel i3-6100 / AMD FX4350

Nvidia GTX 960 / Radeon R9 290

8GB RAM

HDMI 1.3

2x USB 2

1x USB 3

Windows 8.1 or newer

Intel Core i5-4590

Nvidia GTX 970 / AMD 290 or greater

8GB RAM

HDMI 1.3

2 x USB 2

1x USB 3

Windows 8.1 or newer

Intel Core i5-4590

Nvidia GTX 970 / Radeon R9 290 or greater

4GB RAM

HDMI 3.1

1 x USB 2

Best VR headset: Games

What’s the point of owning a VR headset if there’s nothing to use it for? Thankfully there are plenty of VR games and experiences out there to make owning a headset worth it. All three headsets are reasonably evenly matched when it comes to compelling VR gaming experiences but, because of the know-how and prowess of developing and publishing games, Sony’s PlayStation VR definitely takes the lead in regards to instantly playable and appealing games. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at our pick of the best PlayStation VR games.

That’s not to say Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR aren’t worth it on the games front – far from it. Not only does Valve’s Steam client provide you with plenty of VR games to enjoy, Oculus has also put together a lovely list of Oculus-supported games for you to delve into.

oculus_rift_eve_valkyrie_bundled_in

Best VR headset: Applications

If games aren’t your thing, and you’d rather use your VR headset for other applications, there’s a wealth of fun content to enjoy. Sony’s PlayStation VR is pretty much entirely game focused but there are a handful of apps offering up narrative-driven semi-interactive experiences. It also supports YouTube 360, so you can watch some lovely 360 videos now and again.

Both Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive VR offer up more compelling non-gaming applications. You can watch 360 videos with them, take part in online social spaces, watch VR-enabled movies (of which there are still very few) and partake in creative experiences like Google’s Tilt Brush Studio. The HTC Vive VR has also been used for many exhibition purposes too, showing that it’s rather good for impressing your friends and family too.

Best VR headset: Price

Ah, now we come onto the sticky subject of price. Here there’s one clear winner and a close runner-up. Things aren’t quite as black and white as they appear, however, as Sony’s cheaper headset doesn’t come with everything you’ll need right out of the box for a truly “full” PlayStation VR experience.

The same used to be the case with Oculus Rift, but Oculus has now begun to include Oculus Touch with every Rift. Still, both headsets are completely usable without motion controllers, so you’ll need to weigh up the situation for yourself and work out what it is you really want to be using.

Oculus Rift

HTC Vive

HTC Vive Pro

PlayStation VR

Price

£399

£499

£1,050 (£800 headset only)

£290

What’s included

Oculus Rift Headset

Xbox One controller

Oculus Touch

Sensor x 2

Oculus Remote

Cables

HTC Vive Headset

Controller x 2

Base Station x 2

Link Box

Cables

Mounting Kit

Headset only:

HTC Vive Pro Headset

Link Box

Cables

Enterprise edition contains:

Vive Pro Headset

2018 Controller x 2

2018 Base Station x 2

Link Box

Cables

Mounting Kit

Starter Pack contains:

PlayStation VR headset

Processing box

PlayStation Camera

In-ear headphones

Cables

PlayStation VR Worlds

Optional Extras

Oculus Touch (£99)

Oculus Sensor (£59)

Oculus Earphones (£49)

Deluxe Audio Strap (£100)

Vive Tracker (£100)

Vive Wireless Adapter (TBC)

Vive Tracker (£100)

Vive Wireless Adapter (TBC)

PlayStation Camera (£40)

PlayStation Move (£70)

Best VR headset: Availability

Initially getting hold of any of the three VR headsets was massively tricky, thankfully that’s no longer the case. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR have very short shipping times of around 1-2 days, and PlayStation VR now seems to be reasonably available most of the year.

Best VR headset: Verdict

oculus_rift_vs_playstation_vr_vs_htc_vive_price_-_whats_in_the_box

Asking what the “best” VR headset is is a lot like asking what the “best” car is it all depends on your needs, and each device offers up an experience that makes it distinct. The rule of thumb is, however, that if you want to play games, don’t have a gaming-level PC and don’t want to break the bank, PlayStation VR is the best point of entry.

However if you do have a computer that’s powerful enough to work a VR headset, it’s probably better to buy the HTC Vive VR as opposed to the Oculus Rift. The flexibility of seated or room-scaled VR, at a price that’s cheaper than Oculus Rift’s room-scale set up, is definitely worth it. That being said, if you’ll only use your VR headset while seated, Rift does so for a cheaper price than the Vive VR.

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