Today’s VR headsets count as being in either one of three categories: tethered, mobile, or standalone. Here we explore the advantages and disadvantages of all three, along with our pick for the best on the market in each category.
Mobile headsets come in the form of shells with lenses. You place your smartphone in the lenses, which divide the screen into two separate images for your eyes. This enables your smartphone to act as a VR device. Mobile headsets such as the Google Daydream View and the Samsung gear VR are on the lower end of the price spectrum at around the $100 mark. As the processing takes place on your phone, there’s no need for any wires to be connected to the headset. Mobile headsets aren’t known for accurate position tracking. Most employ three degrees of freedom motion tracking, which essentially means that they have the ability to follow the direction that you’re facing with accuracy, but are unable to recognize which way you’re moving. For this, you’ll need a headset with six degrees of freedom motion tracking. Every tethered headset has this thanks to an outward-facing camera or extreme sensor.
Tethered headsets, such as the PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and the Oculus Rift are physically connected to PCs (or a PlayStation 4 for the PS VR). They’re a bit on the unwieldy side due to the cable, but as all the video processing occurs in a box, there’s no need to directly strap the headset on to your face, which enables a more advanced VR experience. Head tracking and image fidelity are both vastly improved thanks to an external camera, built-in motion sensors, and the headset’s dedicated display replacing your smartphone. Tethered headsets are more expensive, with the least costly device priced at around $400. That’s before the processing issue is addressed. The Vive and the Rift each need a powerful OPC to run, with the PS VR requiring a PlayStation 4.
Standalone VR headsets are the newest on the market and provide a more convenient option than tethered and phone-based headsets, as no additional hardware is necessary. They’re essentially VR headsets with built-in displays and Android smartphones. The Oculus Go runs off a platform not unlike the Oculus’ Gear VR store, and the Lenovo Mirage Solo is based on Google Daydream. These headsets provide a similar level of performance to Gear VR or Daydream VR.
As VR experiences are becoming increasingly popular, it can only lead to more VR headsets on the market. While VR lends itself to numerous fields, such as education, it appears to be converging more and more with the gaming industry. There’s Disney’s Star Wars experience, Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, which has been available at various locations, mainly in the US, and has taken VR to whole new levels. It isn’t just new games, either. A number of classic games have been given the VR treatment. Marble Mountain (2016), for example, is a VR reimagining of the classic Atari title Marble Madness (1984). In the face of advancing technology, a number of classic games remain popular, and it’s only a matter of time before we’ll be seeing them in VR-tinted spectacles. Everything from online bingo to Risk (1996) could soon be getting the VR treatment. There’s good reason that these games are already popular, too. Sites like Oddschecker feature lists of online bingo operators that offer no deposits, and with up to £3,000 free bingo in the first week alone – it’s not hard to imagine VR bingo going mainstream. The video game Risk, based on the 1988 board game, already had a huge fan base to tap into and it could soon take that next step into VR. Two completely different games providing very different reasons for playing. How already popular games such as these will be heightened by VR makes for an exciting virtual future.
Best mobile headset: Google Daydream View
The concept behind Google Daydream is not all that dissimilar to Cardboard. Your phone sits in a costly headset (the Daydream View, priced at $99), and it acts as your display, thanks to a number of lenses that split the screen into two separate images. You hold a remote control to control the action. It’s an impressive headset when you manage to find apps compatible with it. An SDK update that enables simultaneous Daydream and Cardboard support is helping to grow the platform’s library.
Best tethered headset: HTC Vive/SteamVR
This comprehensive package includes two base stations, two motion controllers, and a headset. Technically, it’s impressive, able to track motion in a ten-foot cube. It also features motion controllers that are technically superior to that of the PlayStation Move. Such PC-tethered systems as the Vive require plenty of power, however. HTC recommends a minimum GeForce GTX 970 GPU and Intel i5-4590 CPU.
The Vive Pro, a more powerful option, offers outward-facing cameras, a higher-resolution display, and a number of additional enhanced features. However, it’s $300 more than the regular Vive, and less compelling at that. It also lacks the motion controllers and base stations, both of which are needed to operate. So essentially, you need to own a Vive already, or be forced to spend more on set-up costs.
Best standalone headset: Oculus Go
This device provides the most inexpensive way to enter the world of VR. With a $200 price tag, it may be costlier than mobile VR options. However, unlike the mobile route, a standalone headset doesn’t require a compatible (as well as typically costly) flagship smartphone in order to use it. The $200 enables you to step into a VR experience much like that offered by the Gear VR, with an intuitive controller, to boot. Its friendly price tag does make a number of compromises, such as motion tracking limited to 3DOF and a dated Snapdragon 821 processor. However, it’s still good enough to try the VR version of Settlers of Catan or watch Netflix on a virtual theatre screen.
Each headset features its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Without being informed of what these strengths and weaknesses are, it could result in a very costly mistake. Of course, that’s why we’ve created this guide for you in the first place.