Top 5 Best VR Headsets: Buying Guide 2017

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As of this year, virtual reality has officially taken on the gaming world, and VR headsets are on the radar for gamers and media enthusiasts alike. Despite the fact that there are only a few headsets that are developed enough to consider, it can still be difficult deciding which headset is right for your needs.

Sure, the basic specs are easy enough to put side-by-side, and Amazon’s already done just that with a handy chart comparing each headset’s platform, display specs, weight, fit, and included accessories, but nobody is picking which headset they want based on these figures.

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That’s why we’ve put together this VR headset buying guide, which covers the most important factors in picking the right virtual reality headset, including what you’ll really need to set each one up, what kind of games each headset is best for, and what each headset has in store for the future.

Of course, we’ll also go more in-depth on specs and performance, to ensure you are picking a headset that will truly impress. Read on below to have all of your questions answered.

1. HTC Vive

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The Vive headset is the lovechild of HTC and Valve, and will be the go-to choice for power-gamers who use the Steam gaming platform.

This headset comes with two tracking cameras that you set up around the perimeter of your gaming space to enable room-scale dimensional tracking, and two ski pole-like controllers that can be tracked in addition to the headset.

These numerous accessories make for a somewhat difficult setup, but the user is rewarded with a rich 3D environment that he/she can actually walk around in. The controllers have triggers, a track pad that acts like a fusion of a mouse and control stick, and even a grip that can detect squeezes.

The headset is the heaviest one available, and it is wired to a control station with a 5 meter cable, but it is still comfortable and movable. You might feel silly wearing a VR helmet, but you certainly won’t feel encumbered.

What are the HTC Vive’s hardware requirements?

To get started with the Vive, you will need a couple of things, including a fairly robust PC with a modern GPU. The full are spec requirements are as follows:

Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 / AMD Radeon 290 equivalent or greater
CPU: Intel i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 equivalent or greater
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video Output: HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
USB Port: 1x USB 2.0 or greater port
OS: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

If you aren’t sure how your machine stacks up, you can run this compatibility checking softwareon the PC in question.

Once your hardware is in order, you will also need a Steam account, which any gamer should already have, as it is the most popular PC gaming platform out there. It offers access to a huge library of free games, and some unbeatable sales around the holiday times.

Finally, you will need plenty of physical space to play. The Vive requires a minimum space of 5 ft. x 6 ft., and some games require even more. This space will have to be free of obstacles too, which might mean moving a couch or a coffee table.

What are the HTC Vive’s specs and price?

Under the hood, the Vive offers top graphical performance, setting the bar for future VR headsets to come. It sports a solid 1200×1080 resolution per each of its two AMOLED displays. It comes out with a total resolution of 2400×1080, and a realistic field of view of about 110°.

The headset offers a max refresh rate of 90 Hz, which allows for the smoothest motion and the deepest immersion. While this first-gen product does include a microphone, you must use provide your own headphones to add spatialized audio to the experience.

With an $800 price tag ($200 more than the Rift), the Vive will be a stretch for casual gamers, but for those willing to make the investment, this device is well worth it.

Consider that the Vive comes with two motion controllers and enough sensors for roomscale VR, while its competitor, the Oculus Rift, ships with an Xbox One controller and is saving roomscale capabilities for a future upgrade.

Even with its hefty price tag, the HTC Vive remains to be one of the most worthwhile and exciting gaming experiences you will have for years to come.

Pros:

  • Beautiful 2400×1080 resolution and 110° FOV
  • Room-scale positional tracking for enhanced movement
  • Steam VR promises to be a major game platform

Cons:

  • Most expensive VR unit
  • Two positional trackers require a large space
  • Requires a PC with a high-end GPU

2. Oculus Rift

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Oculus is the most well-known name in virtual reality, and their Rift headset is synonymous with this decade’s VR boom. Deservedly so, at that, as the Rift is one of the best VR experiences out there.

The headset is comfortable and easy to wear. It comes with a motion sensor and a wireless Xbox One controller for out of the box gaming. This control setup can be upgraded with the Oculus Touch controllers, but the Rift functions fine without it.

The headset completes the immersion experience with a microphone and integrated headphones that provide spatialized HRTF audio.

What are the Oculus Rift’s hardware requirements?

To deliver its powerhouse graphics, the Rift does need to be connected to a fairly powerful PC, with a solid GPU to match. The requirements are as follows:

Video Card: NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
CPU: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
Memory: 8GB+ RAM
Video Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
USB Ports: 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 portoculuis
OS: Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

If you are willing to run games at 45 Hz with motion-interpolation to display 90 Hz, you can utilize Oculus’ new Asynchronous Spacewarp technology to run the Rift at lower graphics settings, opening up the VR ecosystem to those with older rigs. The requirements for Asynchronous Spacewarp are:

Video Card: NVIDIA GTX 960 / AMD Radeon RX 470 equivalent or greater
CPU: Intel i3-6100 / AMD FX 4350 equivalent or greater
Memory: 8GB+ RAM
Video Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
USB Ports: 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
OS: Windows 8 or newer

Pros:

  • 2160×1200 resolution and 110° FOV
  • Positional tracking for enhanced movement
  • Offers a massive game library

Cons:

  • Extra degrees of motion can cause motion sickness
  • Oculus Touch controllers not yet released
  • Requires a PC with a high-end GPU

3. Playstation VR

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Sony’s Playstation VR is the newest addition to the VR arena. This headset stands apart from other positional tracking devices because it does not require a high-end gaming PC to deliver a realistic virtual reality experience.

Instead, it relies on a Playstation 4 or 4 Pro system, either of which provides enough power to drive a high-quality VR experience (with the help of an included external processor unit).

Its headset is one of the most comfortable you’ll wear, despite being the heaviest. It rests snugly on the crown of your head, and is recognized as being one of the easiest to use while wearing glasses.

The sleek headset has a cluster of blue LEDs, which can be tracked by a Playstation Camera accessory for motion tracking. The tracking for the headset works quite well, though the tracking for its Move controllers are not as precise as the tracking for the Rift or Vive controllers.

The button layout is a little tricky, but considering how much more accessible the Playstation VR is, this is an easy flaw to overlook.

Pros:

  • 120 Hz refresh rate and <18ms latency
  • Ergonomic and stylish design
  • Easily enables local or online multiplayer

Cons:

  • PlayStation Camera and Move controllers not included
  • PS4 hardware limits resolution and FOV
  • Awkward button placement on Move controllers

3. Samsung Gear VR

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If you are looking to join the VR world without any viable gaming hardware to use, the Samsung Gear VR presents the convenient opportunity to use a Samsung smartphone as your display and graphical processor.

This low-cost headset is a collaboration between Oculus and Samsung, and despite not accommodating the complex positional tracking function of the Rift, it still provides an immersive VR experience, putting the viewer inside of a 360° picture.

The newest Gear VR has a modular USB connector, allowing you to use it with newer USB-C connections and traditional Micro USB adapters. The headset also has an auxiliary USB-C port to keep your device charged while you play as well.

The headset is lightweight and free of pressure spots. It has plenty of cushioning, and is made up of breathable material that prevents your lenses from fogging up.

New to the 2016 model of the Gear VR is an improved smooth touch pad, which works great for navigating through menus. This version now has a handy home button in addition to a back button and volume rocker.

Pros:

  • 2560×1440 resolution and 101° FOV
  • Onboard controls for easy menu navigation
  • Low price tag

Cons:

  • Only works with Samsung Galaxy S6 or later
  • Lacks positional tracking
  • Does not include a game pad

5. Google Daydream

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After testing the waters with its Cardboard project, Google has determined the viability of mobile VR, and now looks to find the sweet spot between free headset made of paper and $1,000 head-mounted display.

The end result is the Daydream, a high-end version of the Cardboard VR experience that is re-imagined in a lightweight fabric form, aimed to provide comfort during longer gaming sessions.

Like the Samsung Gear VR, the Daydream uses a smartphone as its graphical processor and screen, but this (slightly) more inclusive platform gives non-Samsung phone owners a chance to join in on the fun.

The headset comes with a small motion-tracked controller that is about the size of an Apple TV remote, and can stow inside the headset when not in use. Its main purpose is for gaming, but may yet have other interesting functions. The actual headset doesn’t come out until November 10, so we will update our review then with any new information.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and comfortable headset
  • Included gesture controller with trackpad
  • Low price tag

Cons:

  • Light bleeds into the screen some
  • Limited game library (as of now)

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