Virtual Reality Headsets

The Headset Is The Key Piece Of The Virtual Reality Puzzle - No Headset - No VR
Find out which headsets are the leaders, and which work with smartphones,
PCs, games consoles or run under their own power

Smartphone Headsets


The most cost effective solution does not always come at the price of quality. Smartphone powered headsets can give great VR results at an affordable price.

First off the block, they'll always have a place in delivery of VR experiences.

PC Powered Headsets


If you want a headset that's powered by a PC, you're moving into high end VR. You'll get the quality if you choose wisely, but at a price.

Still, they're very much worth considering for the guarantee of a powerful virtual reality experience.

Console Headsets


With pricing unknown, and only Sony with definite intentions to release a model, it's early days to be considering console devices.

But with millions of Playstation 4's in homes across the world, the Playstation VR is sure to make its mark.

Untethered VR Headsets


Arguably not yet deserving a place in our list of headset types, untethered models may be the future. At time of writing, none exist.

When they arrive they'll offer the ability to enter VR worlds from anywhere, with the technology fully built into the headset itself.


Oculus Rift

OCULUS RIFT

Samsung Gear VR

SAMSUNG GEAR VR

HTC Vive

HTC VIVE

Playstation VR

PLAYSTATION VR

Headsets

 

There’s little doubt that getting the best out of the VR entertainment options is going to rest heavily on the ability of the headset. Fortunately some big name developers are going all out to get their devices to market, and they mean business.

If you’re ready to dive into the world of virtual reality entertainment, you’re going to need to know what the headset options are:

Which VR headset models are available, what to watch for in the designs, which smartphones or alternative devices the headsets work with, and where to find the best deals on displays and games……..

 

Top Four Headsets

Experience Requirements

Headset Differences

Price Comparison

 

The Top Four

In these early days of VR development, first mover advantage is a strong marker for success. This means the top four are those that have already made significant impact, even if only as a promise of what’s to come.

You’ll already know the names if you’ve arrived here from other pages on VirtualReality101 – the Oculus Rift, Sony’s Playstation VR, the HTC Vive, and Samsung’s Gear VR.

Out of these, it’s interesting that the cheaper models – those that work in combination with smartphones – have gained some serious early interest. We should also note they could soon be joined by AMD’s new headset, the Sulon-Q.

Each one will offer benefits and some drawbacks. Each will no doubt go through various stages of developments over the coming years. Each may face challenges from other headset manufacturers. But there’s a fair chance each will take prime place in any future list of the best VR headset devices.

It’s worth a mention here of what could be considered the forerunner of the new devices – Sony’s HMZ series headsets.

This device marked a change in the quality of head mounted displays – being possibly the first in delivering a true movie-quality, personal experience in the comfort of your own home.

Making its debut in January at CES, the HMZ-T1 was introduced for sale first in Japan in November 2011. It underwent some subsequent iterations resulting in the HMZ-T2 and T3 models. At the time the innovative technology behind the device was seen as cutting-edge. A Head Mounted Display is the perfect medium to enjoy a movie-theater experience at home, and the HMZ models proved it.

But the HMZ is history. So let’s take a look at what are going to be the important factors that keep any of the current VR headset manufacturers on top of the pile……

 

What Is Important In a VR Headset? The Requirements For The Best Experience

HMD’s are all about immersion. Being present in a virtual world that goes beyond the realm of reality and allows us to interact with or in an experience that’s not real. With powerful technology now at our fingertips, there are many options starting to emerge in we can get these virtual experiences.

So to get the best out of the experience, what do actually need the headset to do?

 

Image

While there are some headsets that use a single display for the user to look through, most typical devices available today are using two small displays, usually OLEDs or LCDs, for each eye of the wearer. This allows viewing of an image with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 per eye. While the usual set-up will allow for a 720p image, you will be able to receive 1080p content.

There are also HMDS that utilize Virtual Retinal Display technology that uses millions of microscopic mirrors to relay an image directly to your retina. With the price of this type of HMD being quite high, they are being marketed towards industries such as automotive, aerospace, and entertainment.

But what does this mean for us?

The bottom line is that a clear, crisp, and richly colored image is what we all look for in the perfect headset. Once again, with the latest breakthrough technology at our fingertips, we are seeing many HMDs coming into the market that offer a great immersive viewing experience for the everyday consumer. From being immersed in your favorite video game to watching your favorite movie in vivid 3-D, the options are definitely there and getting better all the time.

Sound

As for sound expectations, most of the VR displays that are on the market offer some amazing sound in the form of 5.1 or even 7.1 Surround Sound. As any home theatre enthusiast knows, Surround Sound is the only way to go in terms of enjoying audio content.

So with the combination of having a 150-inch virtual image and the waves that only Surround Sound can give, two of the most important aspects of HMDs are covered.

 

Comfort

The basic essence of using an headset is having a piece of electronic equipment strapped to your head. Sometimes a fairly bulky unit. With that said, we obviously want comfort in the form of weight and fit.

Some of the older versions are a bit on the heavy side and use a series of straps to adjust for a better fit, they also tend to tire your neck after a few hours of use. Now, there are some recent more streamlined offerings that operate more like oversized sunglasses rather than helmets. This helps in getting rid of most of those extra frustrating straps and reduces the weight significantly.

You may think that weight is the most important factor in determining a comfortable headset, but this isn’t necessarily so. The general design, type of and positioning of holding straps, and even the shape of the wearers head can all play a part in the comfort factor.

As some examples of weights, the Gear VR weighs in at 12 ounces and Google cardboard type devices can range from an ounce up to about 17 or 18.

 

Immersion

Being immersed in the viewing experience can not be understated either. While no HMD has yet to give complete immersion, due to light from the outside world creeping in from the edges, there are some HMDS that come close.

Field of view is the aspect to focus on here, in other words the size of the images you’ll see on a headset screen.

The wider the field, the more immersive feeling it delivers.

It’s this element that gives a perfect illustration of the quality differences between PC powered and smartphone powered headsets, with the Rift and Vive models both delivering 110 degrees and the Gear VR 96 degrees. If you want a balance of low cost and wide field of view, try the Freefly VR with a figure of 120 degrees and priced at around $80.

 

With the use of rubber shields that attach to the headset, or advances in shaping the actual headset, HMDS are continuously working towards transporting us into a truly private and immersive experience.

So when looking for a headset, the top four things that should be important to us are the Image, the Sound, the Comfort, the Immersive capabilities.

We should make some mention though of the ability of headsets to cater for glasses wearers, a sizeable section of potential users. The big three –  Oculus, Vive, and PlayStation VR – all reportedly will work with glasses, while the Gear definitely does.

Moving outside of these though makes the situation a little unclear, and the best advice if you wear glasses is to try out some models to see what works best.

 

What’s The Difference Between Headset Models?

The top four we’ve already mentioned are dissimilar in a number of ways, although each looks set to deliver a high quality experience within the boundaries of its own design and operating requirements.

Essentially the main difference is in which other devices the headsets will work with, though clearly other differences will be seen in image resolution, refresh rate, quality of images delivered, and the range or type of content that’s supported.

It’s also worth noting that there are differences between headsets made for home use, and those made for public places like theme parks or the new breed of virtual reality centres. The latter of course need to be more durable, easy to clean, and may need enhanced design elements if they need to interact with specialised sensor equipment or body tracking systems.

 

Phone Headsets vs PC headsets vs Untethered headsets

Headset models that work with phones have some advantages. Simplicity, cost, and ease of transport among them. The phone provides the power, the headset delivers the imaging. The images are not perfect, but essentially still surprisingly immersive.

The more powerful devices from the likes of Oculus, HTC, and Sony all need to be either connected to a PC or a games console. They’ll give better graphics and sound quality, and also lend themselves better to whole body or head movements. With motion controllers added, a PC or console connected headset is likely to offer the most realistic virtual reality experience.

The first untethered headset – the AMD Sulon-Q – is destined to match these attributes through ease of transport, although most certainly won’t beat them on price.

But even though the Sulon Q will be more expensive, there definitely does look to be a strong future for the untethered models.

One company looking to find an alternative – HP – has developed a hybrid model which can be classed as untethered because the PC that powers it is carried around on your back!

That’s right. The HP Omen ‘backtop’ is a 10 pounds weight PC that’s designed to be worn on your back

 

 

Headset Price Comparison

It’s a little early to begin making price comparisons of any real meaning, at least until the pricing of the Oculus Rift and Playstation VR are known and have settled into standard costs. But still we can make a start at looking how costs compare across different model types.

Clearly the headsets which work with smartphones offer the cheapest entry option. The Gear VR retails for around $100, and the only other cost being for a Samsung smartphone. The Gear VR will only work with certain models, but we’d have to suspect that if you’re buying the device you’ve either already got a suitable phone or have factored that cost in.

There’s plenty of free content available for the Gear VR, but some of the better games and videos will cost extra.

When we get into higher end device territory, the costs start ramping up.

To buy an Oculus Rift is going to cost around $400, although that’s not confirmed at time of writing. The problem is that may not be the end of it. Reckon on around $1000 to buy a VR Ready PC with high enough specifications to run VR properly, or at a minimum you may need to fork out $400 upwards on a high powered graphics card assuming your PC meets the other requirements already.

The Playstation VR may well end up being the most cost effective solution. But only if you already own a Playstation 4, otherwise you’re probably looking at a combined $600-$700 at a guess.

Over the first few months of 2016 we can expect to see some better info here on actual price comparisons as the newer devices hit the market.