2018 is set to be the year of virtual reality, with VR headsets from the likes of Oculus, HTC and Sony finally achieving mainstream success and recognition. Even the prices have begun to drop, making VR accessible to more people than ever before.

The flip side is that there are now more VR headsets on the market than ever before, making it hard to choose one to buy. Don’t fret; we at Tech Advisor have used all of the popular VR headsets, and here’s where we tell you what to look out for when buying a headset, along with our recommendation of the best VR headsets on the market right now.

VR headset buying advice

So, what kind of things should you consider if you’re on the market for a VR headset?

Mobile, PC or standalone?

The biggest factor to consider when on the market for a VR headset is how you’re planning on powering it. There are three types of VR headset on the market at the moment; smartphone-powered, PC-powered or standalone, with the latter being a relatively new option for prospective VR users.

Mobile VR headsets are shaped like a VR headset, but they require a smartphone for the display, internals, tracking and everything else needed to provide a mobile VR experience. This is generally thought of as a beginner’s VR headset; it gives you access to a budget range of experiences, 360-degree videos and basic games, but doesn’t provide much in the way of actual interaction with virtual environments.

The next step up is to opt for the Gear VR or Google Daydream; these mobile VR headsets only work with certain smartphones, and aim to deliver a higher quality experience than those provided by generic mobile viewers. Both platforms have dedicated app stores full of VR experiences and games, and both come with controllers that allow you to interact with the games and apps you download.  

If mobile VR isn’t your cup of tea, the second option available to you are standalone VR headsets. These have started appearing in 2018, with the Oculus Go being the most popular option on the market at the moment. These are, as the name suggests, standalone VR headsets that don’t require a smartphone or PC for use.

The experience is similar to premium mobile VR headsets like Gear VR and Google Daydream, and come with a dedicated controller for VR interaction. These are slightly more expensive than mobile VR headsets but with upgraded visuals and simplicity of use compared to cheaper options, it’s the ideal for many consumers.

Finally, you have the option to buy a PC-powered VR headset. These headsets are the most capable on the market, providing high-end games and VR experiences with incredibly accurate location-based tracking and advanced controllers for full immersion. The catch? The headsets are also the most expensive available at around £400+, and require a £500+ PC to be able to power the experiences.

Cables

Another factor to consider: cables. All high-end VR headsets require a console or PC to work, and thus, most have cables that run from the headset to the PC. While this may not sound like much of an issue on the surface, you may feel that it becomes restrictive when trying to walk around, crouch and generally explore VR worlds. It’s something that most VR players can get used to over time, but it doesn’t offer the same level of freedom as a completely wireless headset.

Mobile and standalone VR headsets don’t suffer from this issue, so if it’s a deal-breaker for you, opt for a one of those.

Controllers

Though it may not sound like it, controllers are a very important area when it comes to picking a VR headset. That’s because the controllers vary depending on the system, with some offering true 1:1 positional tracking while others don’t. Controllers are your gateway into the virtual world, allowing you to reach out and interact with the environment, so you want them to be as accurate and comfortable as possible.

Generally speaking, the high-end VR headsets like the Vive and Rift offer great controllers with true 1:1 positional tracking. PlayStation’s VR headset offers positional tracking, but it’s not quite as accurate as Oculus’ and HTC’s options.

Standalone VR controllers are okay, offering the same kind of quality that you get from premium mobile VR headsets, but they don’t offer the same kind of tracking as high-end controllers – usually limited to 3 Degrees of Freedom (can track rotation, but not movement in the physical space).

Tracking

Speaking of controller tracking, tracking, in general, is another important area to consider in the world of virtual reality. Mobile VR headsets and the majority of standalone VR headsets only offer 3DoF, compared to 6DoF on offer by more premium headsets. 3DoF means that you’ll be able to stand in place, look around, up and down, but any movement forwards, backwards, up or down won’t be tracked.

6DoF, on the other hand, has the ability to track your location within the physical space. The space can vary – the HTC Vive offers the largest tracking area, followed by the Rift (with the use of an optional third sensor) and the PlayStation VR. This really improves immersion as you’re able to physically walk around virtual worlds, bend down and retrieve items from the floor.

Resolution, refresh rate and FOV

It’s a good idea to check out the resolution and refresh rate of any VR headset before buying, as both are integral to a decent VR experience. The resolution is fairly self-explanatory: the higher the resolution, the better quality the images produced by the display will be. It’ll mean crisper edges and easy-to-read text, and a generally more premium VR experience.

But, the resolution doesn’t matter if the refresh rate is terrible. There were a lot of tests undertaken in the early days of VR to work out the ideal refresh rate to combat motion sickness experienced by early VR users. The general consensus is that 90Hz is the minimum requirement for fast-paced VR, although you can get away with 70Hz if the app or game isn’t particularly intense.

Anything lower than 60Hz, though, and you’ll start to notice motion sickness when using VR as the display takes a little too long to refresh when you move, causing lag. Thankfully, most mainstream VR headsets offer at least 70Hz, so you shouldn’t have to worry, but it’s something to consider if you’re looking at non-branded VR headsets.

Lastly, field of view – or FOV as its commonly referred to – essentially gives you an idea of how immersive the VR headset is. Generally speaking, you should aim for a VR headset that provides a FOV of between 100- and 110-degrees, which seems to be the market cap (for the moment anyway!). For reference, human eyes have a FOV of around 220 degrees.  

Now you know a little more about what to look out for when on the market for a VR headset, take a look at our recommendations of the best.

Best VR headsets of 2018

HTC Vive

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift

PlayStation VR

PlayStation VR

Google Daydream View

Google Daydream View

Gear VR

Gear VR

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

Homido VR

Homido VR

Carl Zeiss VR One

Carl Zeiss VR One

Moggles VR Headset

Moggles VR Headset



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