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.
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.
If you want to know more about what other options on the horizon that may be worth waiting for, you can browse our list of this year’s Top 10 Virtual Reality Headsets here, or you can browse more virtual reality headsets and accessories on Amazon here.
1. HTC Vive
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 software on 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 games does the HTC Vive offer?
The HTC Vive taps you into Steam VR, an impressive game library that promises to grow as more developers shift their focus towards VR.
There are already many noteworthy releases, one of which being a free tech demo called The Lab which takes place within the Portal universe.
Another exciting game out there is Hover Junkers, a gunfight game that allows you to build your own hovercraft based on the size of your room and then physically man the deck, ducking and dodging through ship-on-ship combat.
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.
- Beautiful 2400×1080 resolution and 110° FOV
- Room-scale positional tracking for enhanced movement
- Steam VR promises to be a major game platform
- Most expensive VR unit
- Two positional trackers require a large space
- Requires a PC with a high-end GPU
2. Oculus Rift
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
If you would prefer to just let some software figure out your machine’s readiness for you, you can download Oculus’ official compatibility check tool here.
What games does the Oculus Rift offer?
So far, the Rift has drawn the most excitement from developers out of any of the existent VR headsets. The Oculus Store offers a variety of “experiences” with applications wider than just gaming. There are virtual desktops, anatomical modems,movies, and more.
Games still take the center stage though, as the selection of Rift-ready games extends well-beyond the Oculus Store. There are hundreds of Rift-compatible games on Steam, plus an impressive selection from independent developers.
There are a number of free titles to ease you into the world of VR, and first gen kits of the Rift come with a copy of Lucky’s Tale, a platformer adventure game to get you started.
One of the most popular blockbuster titles available is EVE Valkyrie, a well-known cockpit simulator game that pits you into an addictive world of designing space ships and sending them into dogfights against fleets of other players.
Another popular title soon to hit the Rift is Minecraft, which currently has a free beta in the Oculus Store. In the meantime, adventurers will have to settle for The Climb, which is a climbing simulator that will you have you praying for your life halfway atop a craggy mountain face.
Most of the Rift’s game library is currently open to third-party headset owners, but there will certainly be some Rift-exclusive titles that will be hard for some to pass on.
What are the Oculus Rift’s specs and price?
Visually speaking, the Rift’s specs are identical to that of its close competitor, the Vive, meaning that both headsets sit at the top of the totem pole of graphical complexity.
This Rift offers a stunning resolution of 1080×1200 in both of its OLED screens (2160×1200 total), and its FOV of 110° adds realism and immersion to your experience.
Using the Rift is indescribably fun, but for some, the experience won’t feel complete without the Oculus Touch controllers, which tack an extra $200 on top of the Rift’s $600 price tag.
But even if you purchase the Touch controllers, you are getting a great value out of the full Rift package. Do note that you may have to spend a little more for the Rift’s eventual roomscale upgrade, but as the missing piece of the Rift’s current functionality, it too will be well worth it.
- 2160×1200 resolution and 110° FOV
- Positional tracking for enhanced movement
- Offers a massive game library
- 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
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.
What are the Playstation VR hardware requirements?
As you already may have guessed, the Playstation VR is powered by a Playstation 4 or 4 Pro system, and therefore requires you to have one.
The headset requires a Playstation Camera accessory to track head motion, and, of course, some form of controller.
The Playstation VR software will track a regular Dualshock controller, but many will prefer to use two Move controllers, even though most games work with both.
The headset ships by itself, or in a bundle with the Playstation Camera and two Move controllers. The bundle saves a coiuple bucks for those who need the accessories, and either one is a nice deal.
What games does the Playstation VR offer?
Because of its established relationship with certain game developers, the PSVR has already seen more exclusive titles than other platforms. That’s good news for those who have one, and bad news for those who don’t.
One exclusive title is Playstation VR Worlds, a collection of games which takes you through a gritty heist, an ocean dive, a downhill luge race, and an alien exploration voyage to show off the many uses of the headset.
Fans of the Dreamcast cult-classic Rez and first-timers alike will love Rez Infinite, a kaleidoscopic rail shooter that enhances the abstract visual flair of its predecessor.
The PSVR has plenty more titles to offer than just these few too. You can browse the Playstation VR game library here, and see trailers for upcoming games.
What are the Playstation VR specs and price?
In terms of performance, even the PS4 Pro can’t compete with a PC graphics card. But despite this, the PSVR provides a beautiful and fluid image that works well enough.
Its 1080P OLED 5.7 inch single screen display is 3D stereoscopic and sports a modest resolution of 960×1080 per eye for 1920×1080 total. It has an FOV of 100°, which enough to experience lifelike panoramas, even if these specs fall a little short of most PC-driven headsets.
The best quality of the PSVR’s visual output is its high refresh rate of 120 Hz and a latency of less than 18 ms, making for one of the most fluid VR experiences out there.
The headset offers 3D audio on all its software, but you will need to plug your own headphones in via an aux jack.
The price of the headset alone is $399, but you will need to spring an extra $100 for the bundle if you don’t already have two Move controllers and a Playstation Camera, all of which are necessary for the full VR experience.
- 120 Hz refresh rate and <18ms latency
- Ergonomic and stylish design
- Easily enables local or online multiplayer
- PlayStation Camera and Move controllers not included
- PS4 hardware limits resolution and FOV
- Awkward button placement on Move controllers
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3. Samsung Gear VR
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.
What are the Samsung Gear VR hardware requirements?
Currently, the Gear VR supports the Samsung Galaxy Note7, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy Note5, Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge. These phones have been selected to deliver top visual performance, but they do limit this headset to only those with the newest Samsung smart phones.
You will also need an Android-compatible Bluetooth controller like the GameSir G3 for some games. For other games, however, you will be able to get by with simple head tracking and the touch pad, so it is not a necessity.
What games does the Samsung Gear VR offer?
There is a wide variety of games and apps available for the Gear VR via both the Oculus Store, including head tracking games, 360° videos, gamepad games, tech demos, and more.
What are the Samsung Gear VR specs and price?
Because the Gear VR only works with the newest Samsung phones, you are guaranteed to have at least a 2560×1440 resolution on a Super AMOLED screen, plus a high-powered processor to match.
The Gear VR’s FOV is a bit smaller than the Rift’s at 101°, but the display still feels highly immersive. Again, keep in mind that the Gear VR does not yet employ positional tracking though, so there are some unique differences in the feel of using one of these headsets versus using a full-on VR system.
Considering the stark price difference, the Gear VR is a worthwhile foray into the VR world. It helps gaming enthusiasts gauge their interest in the medium, and get to play all of the hot new titles people are talking about.
For an even better value, there is also last year’s Gear VR model, which offers all of the same features, minus the USB-C connection and improved touchscreen controls.
Price: $95.25 (5 percent off MSRP)
- 2560×1440 resolution and 101° FOV
- Onboard controls for easy menu navigation
- Low price tag
- Only works with Samsung Galaxy S6 or later
- Lacks positional tracking
- Does not include a game pad
5. Google Daydream
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.
What are the Google Daydream hardware requirements?
Even though the Daydream only requires a smartphone to function, Google has set particularly high standards for their newest headset.
They have yet to describe the set of standards that makes a phone “Daydream-ready,” but whatever they are, Google has only revealed three such phones: the Google Pixel, the ZTE Axon 7, and the Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe.
Other current-gen phones may lack the low latency sensors and low persistence display requested by Google, but will still perform most of the intended functions. So don’t worry about not having a Daydream-ready phone, as if you have a current smartphone, it will probably still be Daydream-compatible.
What games does the Google Daydream offer?
In terms of games, a lot of what the Daydream has to offer still looms on the horizon. There are at least fifty exclusive titles in development at the moment, and Google has already has apps from media moguls like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and Jaunt.
As for games, Google has teased us with previews of carnival game arcade Wonderglade, Harry Potter-inspired game Fantastic Beasts, and a new high-octane Need for Speed title. You will also be able to play any Cardboard games on the Google Play Store
What are the Google Daydream specs and price?
Unlike the Samsung Gear VR, which achieves a specific set of visual specs by heavily limiting your phone choices, the Daydream will be compatible with a large number of Android phones, meaning that the display resolution and refresh rate will vary based on your hardware.
Its optical lens field of view is 90°, which helps it work with different phone screens, but makes for a slightly more narrow viewing area. But most next-gen smartphones will deliver an absolutely beautiful picture, so you can expect high visual performance overall.
Now that Google has stepped up its smartphone-based VR to the next level, the company threatens to give Samsung’s VR ecosystem a run for its money with a more inclusive platform. But only time will tell on this one.
- Lightweight and comfortable headset
- Included gesture controller with trackpad
- Low price tag
- Light bleeds into the screen some
- Limited game library (as of now)
Still looking for more VR info? You can browse our guide to the best virtual reality headsets or you can browse more virtual reality headsets and accessories on Amazon here.