As consumers we’ve enjoyed immersive video for a while, but until recently it wasn’t possible to interact with those virtual environments. Academia and medical industries have long benefited from using virtual reality applications as training tools, but only now are these fully interactive experiences becoming affordable for the rest of us. Come with us as we look at the market’s best virtual reality headsets.
Using this complete reference guide will help you find the best virtual reality headset available on today’s market. We’ll review important aspects to consider before your purchase, supply several appropriate options, and analyze the top three choices in detail. You’ll have no problem finding a new favorite entertainment device.
Take This into Consideration
- What Is Virtual Reality. The term ‘virtual reality’ is a really hot marketing buzzword right now. Many products use it for commercial purposes but true virtual reality, or VR, headsets allow you to interact with your environment.
Products such as Flickr VR, GoPro Surf, and Ski VR perform phenomenally; but they are personal viewers not VR headsets, as their name implies. They offer a similar experience as VR because you have a wide field of vision that you explore by zooming in and out of whatever interests you.
With those, your environment is limited to only what the camera has recorded. You can’t travel through the pictures, or interact with anything you find.
But you CAN when using the VR headsets we’ll look at here.
- How Does It Work. The VR experience requires these three things: a device to run your program, a headset, and a controller.
Virtual reality games and apps can be installed on PC, smartphones, and specialized consoles. The programs will tell you where they are intended to be used.
The headset is your video screen. Some headsets use your phone as the display, others are stand-alone units. More capabilities, such as sensors to track your head movement, are continually being added to the headsets as technology progresses.
A controller is used to interact within the game. This could be in the form of joysticks, trackpads, specialized controllers, or your regular gaming controller. Companies continue to make moving throughout the virtual environment more intuitive, fluid, and natural.
Virtual reality systems, like gaming systems, require all equipment to be compatible with each other. Always read your manufacturer’s label to make sure your new headset works with other equipment.
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Samsung’s experimented with VR headsets in the past but this version of Gear is their first consumer-ready version. It’s the best virtual reality headset currently available.
The unit itself is a large plastic mask held in place by two adjustable straps. One elastic Velcro strap stretches around your head behind your ears and the other reaches over the top of your head. You don’t have to secure the top one but doing so makes the unit feel more secure. Foam padding around the eyes and bridge of the nose keeps the seemingly bulky device comfortable.
Gear uses a touchpad located on its right side to control most action. But it works with your phone’s sensors so that you’re able to move throughout your environment by turning your head and even spinning around.
The keypad is easy to find and use. There’s virtually no lag between your action and the on-screen action. The field of view is awesome, especially on larger phones. We had full range of motion within the environment.
Gear can be used mobile or tethered. This is especially convenient for long or involved gaming sessions that tend to drain battery power. Samsung tucked the micro-USB port out of the way, under the right edge of the headset.
Audio comes from your phone’s speakers but doesn’t lend itself to an immersive experience at all. Headphones are a must for maximum enjoyment.
The Samsung Gear leads the pack of virtual reality headsets for its easy use and connectivity.
Though Google was one of the first companies to offer consumers virtual reality its Cardboard doesn’t have near the functionality of Gear. But it’s great if you’re new to the VR experience.
As the name suggests, Cardboard really is just a cardboard holder and a pair of lenses. There is no headband to keep it in place unless you create one. And you assemble it yourself.
It works with just about any Android or iOS smartphone. A tutorial shows you how to use the controls. We did find that devices with higher-resolution displays and faster processors do better. Higher resolution gives you a better picture, and a faster processor creates those images quickly.
We like Google’s Cardboard because it’s inexpensive and easily available.
Mattel may be known for its toys but this updated View-Master is appropriate for kids and adults.
It’s similar to Google Cardboard in that all you have to do is lock your smartphone into an apparatus. But Mattel’s version doesn’t require assembly, and is made of plastic. There’s also a wrist strap that comes in pretty handy to prevent dropping everything.
View-Master Virtual works with both Android and iPhones. It had its own apps but also works with Cardboard products. The best VR experience happens when using a fast processor combined with a high-resolution display.
Unfortunately View-Master is an entirely closed system. You can’t use it with headphones, nor can you adjust the volume once your phone is latched inside. This is a great way for parents to limit childrens’ use, but not great for adults.
Mattel worked the traditional reels into View-Master Virtual although they’re largely unnecessary. They act as augmented reality to bring up menus and small images, but you don’t have to have them to download and use apps.
If you’re a fan of nostalgia or have kids you’ll appreciate Mattel’s View-Master Virtual.