VR technology for personal use is still in the pretty early stages of existence but quickly shifting and growing to become a reckoning force in gaming (and elsewhere) as the market demands increase. While the experience as a whole isn’t quite up to snuff with the sophistication of say, a television viewing experience or looking at a photo on your phone, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun when you take the time to choose which headset fits your specific needs and budget.
We looked at several on the market, read the user reviews, and checked out several expert videos to find out what’s worth it, what’s not, and for whom it’s the best choice right now. Oculus units are, across the board, the top pick for anyone looking for a standalone headset at a reasonably affordable price that offers tiers and options to those still searching. There’s also a higher-end choice thrown in for buyers who want to invest in a full system or slowly build one using top-quality components, as well as a super cheap option for those who aren’t quite sure what they’re getting into but have the curiosity and 40 bucks to do so. Read on to discover a bit about each option and see what folks think of their purchases, then give one a shot to discover what the exciting world of VR headsets has to offer you.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Already a little on the “older” side since it was released just over two years ago, the Oculus go is best for people who just want to watch VR videos rather than play immersive games due to it’s fairly average video quality and limited degrees of freedom (DoF, on which there is a great guide available here). However, it is a fully self-contained meaning you don’t need to hook it up to a phone or PC, so if you’re looking to spend minimal money on a starter headset, this could be your best bet. As one reviewer writes, “This is the casual VR, but don't let that fool you, it is still a completely incredible and fun experience!”
With the big bump in price comes a product more formulated for the needs of a serious gamer who wants an immersive experience through six DoF and, according to several reviewers, a fantastic speaker system that enhances the gameplay experience while allowing you to maintain spatial awareness outside of your virtual experience. The downsides seen throughout the reviews are relatively tame, with most noting that all the “really cool” games will still have to be purchased after plunking down more than 500 bucks, and the battery life only gives you about two hours of play time with more demanding games using even more battery.
If Oculus seems to be a recurring theme thus far, it’s because they are consistently at the top of the game when it comes to VR headsets compared to other companies trying to keep up. The Rift S, despite initial claims from some users that it wasn’t ready for the market, has since undergone a few updates that left many buyers thrilled with its performance. There are also improvements to the machine’s overall design. “This headset is waaaaaaaaay more comfortable than the original rift,” one reviewer notes of their experience. “The knob to tighten/loosen the strap is much easier to use, and I'm even able to fit my glasses without them scratching the lenses, which I didn’t have the room to do so in my old rift.”
Improved controllers are also a bonus, as the company explains: “Your slashes, throws and grab appear in VR with intuitive, realistic Precision, transporting your hands and gestures right into the game.”
This model is for the less-invested consumer, as the low cost and lesser-known status would indicate, but it still manages to rake in the positive reviews on Amazon where it is a best seller. While not a standalone model, the BNext is compatible with smartphones containing gyro sensors (that's many of them) and “comfortable, extended wear design” makes it easy to get lost in your viewing or gaming experience without any nagging pains.
“I wasn't expecting much in the way of VR, but I was pleasantly surprised,” one happy user says of the product, “I've found there are all sorts of VR out there. VR 1.0 is more like 3D and all you see is a 3D image that doesn't move when you move your head. VR 2.0, as I call it, is 180 degrees (or close to it) field of view. You can look around and in games control your environment to some extent. VR 3.0 as I call it, is full 360 degrees of video. You can stand up and look around in a full circle. These goggles work for all three kinds of virtual reality.”
As a top-of-the-line model, this kit has everything you need including well-reviewed, intuitive controllers, beautiful design, and no need for modifications means you can play it straight away after unboxing. The only downsides to be found throughout reviews (such as in this one) are that the unit needs to be used in conjunction with a PC for the regular refreshes happening in the games, and the thousand-dollar price tag makes it less accessible for gamers without much disposable income. If you can’t afford the full setup though, it’s possible to buy the sleek controllers or headset separately and build from there.
This model was created to be used along with your PlayStation console, so setup is a seamless and easy “plug in and play” experience that works just fine with a standard PS4, but will provide cleaner visuals for those with the pro version of the console.
Sony’s biggest selling point on this model is “Games Come First,” so every thought that went into creating the headset started from the perspective of a gamer and followed through in a way that prioritizes that over viewing VR content. User reviews are generally very positive despite the newness of the technology used to create it, as one says of the product, “This is very much a first generation product, but Sony is off to a great start... If you want to know what it's like to plug in to the Matrix, face off against a shark, fly high above like Superman, stand tall with the powers of a god - this is the easiest way to get a taste of that.”