Best VR Headsets, Glasses and Gear 2018
Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, controllers and other equipment from Oculus, HTC, Samsung, Playstation, Dell and others are now starting from $125 to under $400, with some less than $200. Augmented Reality (AR) Hololens glass from Microsoft, and the new Magic Leap developer kits are pushing the technology to new places. Coupling the VR googles / glasses with internal / external cameras and Bluetooth tactile controllers will give an amazing experience you’ll want to go back to again and again.
Searching Amazon for “VR Headset” will turn up thousands of results, with hundreds of very similar products. This review covers “tethered” systems that connect by wire to a Windows PC, Playstation PS4 gaming console or other powerful computer; In Part-2 of this series, we review “mobile” headsets which use a smartphone or tablet for the view screen and processing power: Part-3 will feature the Augmented Reality / Mixed Reality (AR/MR) technology from Microsoft (Hololens) and Magic Leap.
With a tethered system you get much higher video resolution, audio effects and immersive interaction. You’ll also pay more for this VR equipment, and will need to have a robust host system to plug into.
Alternatively, with a mobile headset, you get mobility and ease of use. Just snap your smartphone in to the headset and you’re ready.
These are great for watching YouTube videos, Netflix / Amazon streaming, and for playing any of 1000’s of apps / games. These are also inexpensive and highly portable.
The best VR equipment for you will depend on your budget, what equipment you already have and how you want to experience Virtual Reality. This buyers guide and review includes Amazon links and spot-pricing for reference.
Please keep in mind that these types of products can change in price (up or down) for any number of reasons, so please use the links to click to get the current price / availability. And of course to order!
The Oculus Rift + Touch Virtual Reality System ($399.00) includes the Headset, a pair of touch Controller and two tracking sensors. To get started with the VR experience, you also get 6 free titles (Robo Recall, Luckyʼs Tale, Quill, Medium, Dead and Buried, and Toybox).
The Rift was one of the first VR systems to the market, and after the Facebook acquisition they have continually advanced their technology. Particularly important is that they have significantly reduce the latency in the tracking and controlling, for a vivid life-like VR immersion. Let’s explore more of each of the components that makes up the Oculus Rift Bundle.
The most important piece of equipment, since you’ll be wearing this for long periods of time while gaming or exploring new realities. Fortunately, the Rift headset is very comfortable. Made of high quality materials, it is both lightweight and sturdy, while not being bulky.. The headset is fully adjustable so you can get a good fit, and customize to your comfort. It also has a good look for when everyone is watching you play!
The headset can be worn over most glasses; It has individual adjustments for each eye, as well as adjustments for lens distance from eye and interpupilliary distance.
Built into the headset is the viewscreen / display, audio and sensors. Rift has one of the highest resolution screens at 2160×1200, which is split as 1080×1200 resolution per eye. The 90 Hz refresh rate and 110° field of view are comparable to the other leading headsets.
The display is a Pentile “OLED” (Organic LED) technology, which doesn’t generate a lot of heat and won’t cause eye strain. “Pentile” is a mash-up of “penta-” (meaning 5) and “tile” for a grid-design. In this case, the layout consists of a quincunx comprising two red subpixels, two green subpixels, and one central blue subpixel in each unit cell. Researchers have determined that this orientation / configuration more closely mimics the human eye, and is better for representing images.
Also, Oculus has a “low persistence” image, with each frame of the game / experience showing for a very brief 2 milliseconds.
Combining the 90 HZ refresh rate with the 2 ms frame display and implementing a global refresh (e.g., the entire scene, rather than just the portions that changed) gives a great user experience that is free from motion blurring. This reduces any in-game motion sickness, and allows for true immersive experience.
Audio is provided through left and right cushioned over-the-ear cans. These are adjustable and comfortable. The cushion provides enough sound blocking to keep the outside world from intruding on the VR experience. Oculus has done an excellent job with creating an integrated 360° spatial audio immersion to go along with the video.
You also get a built-in microphone for communicating with other players in VR.
The last components in the headset are the sensors. The high-end headsets all use a mix of accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers. These sensors provide feed-back to the system to indicate head-tilt and player movement through the virtual space.
VR wouldn’t be as interesting if you couldn’t interact with the new environment. Oculus calls their motion controller system the “Oculus Touch”. It’s comprised of two Bluetooth wireless units, one for each hand.
On the hand-held unit are 3 buttons, an joystick-type analog controller and two triggers. The configuration is similar to that of most game controllers, except that you get one for each hand. The triggers are usually configured as one for “shooting” and the other for “grabbing”.
Embedded in the controllers are additional position sensors so that hand positions are tracked, and accurately mapped into the virtual environment.
An added feature is detecting / tracking finger gestures when using the controllers; This gives users a more natural way to interact with the VR world.
Overall, the Touch controllers are one of the best on the markets. You’ll get the feeling that the virtual hands you are seeing in the VR world are actually your own, especially with the intuitive gesturing and very low lag / latency from actual movements to VR movements.
For the most accurate mapping of your physical presence into the virtual environment, external sensors are used. Oculus uses IR (infrared) LED sensors, similar to what you would find in a motion detector, but much more sophisticated. The other technology, used by some other systems, has cameras to track positions.
Oculus calls their positional tracking system “Constellation”. It consists of either 2 sensors (for a 5×5 foot tracking area) or 3 sensors (for 8×8). The IR sensors can be permanently wall mounted, or on movable / collapsible stands. In both cases, they are powered and communicated through a USB base station.
Using IR light emitted from LEDs in the headset, Constellation can precisely orient your position with six degrees of freedom into the virtual environment. The high-powered computing engine, along with the optimizations for low-latency give users a feeling of actually being immersed in the VR world.
The other benefit, and critical feature, of the sensor network is the ability to provide users with a virtual boundary for safety purposes. In VR, you quickly lose sense of the actual physical world. And without any sight into your physical surroundings, it would be all too easy to trip over a couch / chair, or to literally run into a wall.
Oculus has “Guardian” to help protect you from accidents. In the VR world, you’ll see a translucent grid near the edge of your physical safe space in the real world. These grid lines only appear when you get close to an edge of the play space, so you only see them when needed.
Oculus is including “Oculus Cinema” as a free application, which allows the Rift to be used to view conventional movies and videos from inside a virtual cinema environment, giving the user the perception of viewing the content on a cinema sized screen. Now you can bring the movie theater to you!
System Requirements – Minimum (Recommended)
- Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti / AMD Radeon RX 470 (NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD Radeon RX 480 or greater)
- Alternative Graphics Card: NVIDIA GTX 960 / AMD Radeon R9 290 (NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater)
- CPU: Intel i3-6100 / AMD Ryzen 3 1200, FX4350 (Intel i5-4590 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater)
- Memory: 8GB+ RAM (8GB+ RAM)
- Video Output: Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output (Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output)
- USB Ports: 1x USB 3.0 port, plus 2x USB 2.0 ports (3x USB 3.0 ports, plus 1x USB 2.0 port)
- OS: Windows 8.1 or newer (Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer)
Get started in VR with the Oculus Rift + Touch Virtual Reality System ($399.00) including Headset, a pair of Touch Controller, 2 Constellation tracking sensors and 6 titles.
From Fovitec, the Lighthouse Mount Stand Kit ($45.95) is great for temporary or permanent gaming set-ups. It inlcudes 2 tri-pod base stands with adjustable ball heads for easy orientation of the sensors. The stands extend to 7-feet 6-inches, and can be quickly folded down for carrying in the included bag. (Photographers can also get double-duty out of these as the universal screw mounts are designed to fit DSLRs and other photography and lighting equipment).
The HTC VIVE Virtual Reality System ($499.00) is priced a $100 above the Oculus, and you’ll probably need to spend another $100 to upgrade the audio from ear-buds to padded ear-cups. So figure on spending closer to $700 for an all-in Vive set-up.
Many people find that the game and experience options are better with HTC as a result of their partnership with SteamVR. The controllers with haptic feedback are also best in class.
There are currently over 2500 games for SteamVR, plus everything you love about Steam, including new releases, automatic game updates and millions of your closest friends, in VR (Fallout 4 is one of the most popular subscription VR games).
We’ll go through the same critique as we did for the Oculus.
The Vive is heavier compared to the Oculus, but makes up for that with a higher number (37) of sensors on the front, designed to connect to wireless cameras within the tracking space.
It will fit over most glasses, but has a limited number of individualizations when compared with the Rift. You only have Iinterpupilliary distance adjustment.
The HTC Vive has dual “AMOLED” (Active Matrix Organic LED) displays, each measuring 3.6’’ diagonal. These are the same specs as the Oculus – 2160 x 1200 resolution (1080×1200 per eye), 90 Hz refrehs rate and 110-degree field of view. The pixel matrix design is the same “Pentile” as the Oculus. The visuals are pretty much the same for both devices, although some users report some issues with very bright objects in both the Oculus and the Vive.
The Vive has earbuds for their 360 surrond sound. Some users feel these give a better experience due to their near total noise blocking, which eliminates nearly all external stimuli while in VR. Others find that the earbuds cause some discomfort after long times with the unit. And there is also the general “ick” factor when sharing the headseet wtih friends and family, requiring a liberal alcholol swabbing between users.
HTC has an upgraded to what we think is the superior audio solution, and one which more closely matches the Oculus – The Deluxe Audio Strap ($95.95). It is dsigned with adjustable padded ear-cups, allowing you to enjoy the 360-degree realistic sound in even more comfort and convenience. Features interior padding for extra contentment. An adjustment dial allows for just the right fit. You can place the cable path at a side position to enjoy an even more immersive experience.
As with the Oculus, there is a built-in microphone for in-VR communications.
In addition to the 37 IR sensors, HTC includes similar magnetometers, gyroscopes, and accelerometers built directly into the headsets to handle tilt tracking and movements.
This is where we find a distinct difference between the Vive and the Oculus. The Vive controllers are more like a futuristic wand for use in VR. Instead of the thumb-controlled joystick, it has a touch-sensitive, circular pad under your thumb. It does have two trigger buttons and another pair of “grip” buttons on the sides for VR environment grasping mechanics. The controller is like a melding of Nintendo and Steam Controller to get the Vive handset.
On the face of the controller, above and below the track-pad, are a “System” button and a “Menu” button.
Like the headset, Vive is big on the number count for sensors. Each of two handheld controllers has 24 sensors for position / motion tracking. This provides excellent spatial orientation.
The controllers also have excellent player feedback with multi-speed haptic vibrations. It’s great for when you are blasting away at monsters, driving a race-car or playing sports. Vive has some of the more realistic feeling in the VR controllers.
With just two of the “lighthouse” sensors, players are tracked in a 15 x 15 feet play area. This is a true “roomscale” environment, and is big increase over Oculus 2-sensor 5×5 and 3-sensor 8×8. What makes this possible are the 70 sensors in the headset and two controllers, along with the lighthouse using a combination of pulsed and sweep beams. For a large play space, this is what makes the added cost and the heavier headset worth it.
Like the “Guardian” for Oculus, Vive has “Chaperone” to alert you when you are approaching an edge of the physical world so you don’t run into walls, tables and furniture.
The HTC Vive is a product from collaboration with Valve, pioneering game platform. This headset works on Valve’s original software platform Stream, giving you access to even more content.
System Requirements – Minimum
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480, equivalent or better
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350, equivalent or better
- RAM: 4 GB or more
- Output: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 or newer
- USB: 1x USB 2.0 or better port
- OS: Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1 or later
Is your current computer ready for virtual reality? Use the SteamVR Performance Test to check whether your system can handle the requirements of VR, and if not, whether its capabilities are bound by graphics card, CPU or both.
Experience VR and order the HTC VIVE Virtual Reality System on Amazon for $499.00.
For the HTC Vive, you may also want to consider these accessories to up the experience.
- The HTC Vive 3-in-1 Cable ($39.99) connects HDMI, USB and Power from the link box to the HTC Vive headset. It combines the 3 cords for HDMI, USB, and Power into 1 cord, for a cleaner and more manageable cable system.
- From Fovitec, the Lighthouse Mount Stand Kit ($45.95) is great for temporary or permanent gaming set-ups. It inlcudes 2 tri-pod base stands with adjustable ball heads for easy orientation of the sensors. The stands extend to 7-feet 6-inches, and can be quickly folded down for carrying in the included bag. (Photographers can also get double-duty out of these as the universal screw mounts are designed to fit DSLRs and other photography and lighting equipment).
- The Virtual Reality System Tracker ($99.99) lets you bring physical objects into your virtual world, like a pair of gloves to play musical instruments, or rock climb. For full-body tracking experiences, you’ll want to add a second Tracker. This expands your options beyond the standard controller.
- Some users feel the weight on the headset gets uncomfortable after long VR sessions. One way to help with this is the Deluxe Audio Strap ($95.95). It is dsigned with adjustable earphones, allowing you to enjoy the 360-degree realistic sound in even more comfort and convenience. Features interior padding for extra contentment. An adjustment dial allows for just the right fit. You can place the cable path at a side position to enjoy an even more immersive experience.
- Additional headset modifications for comfort can be had with the Replacement Nose Rest ($12.95 for set of 3). The Vive comes standard with a “narrow” nose pad, and you can purchase the “wide” if you need a little better fit. HTC recommends if you notice light coming in while wearing the Vive headset, try using the wide nose rest.
- Similarly, you may want to opt for the “narrow” Face Cushion ($24.95 for 2) instead of the “wide” which comes with the unit. HTC recommends if you notice light coming in while wearing the Vive headset, try using the narrow face cushion.
An add-on to your existing gaming station, the Playstation VR ($199.99) is an excellent value. Designed for gamers, by gamers, this VR solution delivers a new world of unexpected gaming experiences.
The headset package includes: Processor unit, VR headset, VR headset connection cable, HDMI cable, USB cable, Stereo headphones, AC power cord, AC adaptor, and VR Demo Disc.
There are some bundle packages available, usually with the latest game release. We found the cost of purchasing evertyhing separately was comparable to the bundle, except when it’s a hard to get new game release. When you use the links above to Amazon, you can see if any better deals are available with a game bundle.
Just as the Oculus and Vive require a Windows PC, the Playstation VR needs a PlayStation 4 system.
This wlil fit over most glasses, and you get adjustments for lens distance from eyes and Iinterpupilliary distance.
Seamless visuals keep you connected to the virtual world through an expansive 5.7” OLED 1080p (1280 x 800) display running at 60 frames per second. Depending on the game or experience, you can expect video frame rates of:
- 1280×800 pixel @ 60fps
- 640×400 pixel @ 120fps
- 320×192 pixel @ 240fps
The Field-of-View is 85 degrees, considerably less than the 110 degrees found in the Oculus and Vive.
Sony delivers their “3D Audio” technology which is very nice, and allows you to pinpoint sounds above, below, and all around you.
Interestingly, Sony put alot of features into the microphone, with a 4 channel array so that other gamers can very clearly hear you, and is great for voice commands and for future voice activated features.
The two Move Motion Controllers ($99.99) have immersive vibration feedback (e.g., “haptic”) to help with game play and athe VR experience. The ends of the wands have lighted spheres, and along with the embedded accelerometers / motion sensors, this allows the PlayStation Camera to track both fast and subtle movements with astounding precision.
An ergonomic design makes wielding everything from ancient swords to cooking spatulas easy and intuitive.
The Playstation 4 Camera ($39.49) uses visual information and 3D depth-sensing technology which accurately tracks your body as well as your controllers. This makes for some innovative gameplay possibilities.
Easy system navigation – Facial recognition automatically logs you in, and voice commands let you navigate your PS4 hands-free.
If you are just getting started, and think the Playstation VR is for you, then here are the two most popular configurations for the PlayStation 4 Console needed to power the VR system:
The PlayStation 4 Pro 1TB Console ($399.00) has “4K” video resolution for streaming videos (withsubscriptions from Netflix, Amazon, etc.), watching “4k” DVDs or TV; Of course you can play video games in stunning “4K” as well. Of course, you’ll need a “4K” capable TV or monitor take advantage of this (see our recent article for recommendations).
- 4K TV Gaming: PS4 Pro outputs gameplay to your 4K TV. Many games, like Call of Duty: WWII, Gran Turismo Sport, and more, are optimized to look stunningly sharp and detailed when played on a 4K TV with PS4 Pro.
- More HD Power – Turn on Boost Mode to give PS4 games access to the increased power of PS4 Pro. For HD TV Enhanced games, players can benefit from increased image clarity, faster frame rates, or more.
HDR Technology – With an HDR TV, compatible PS4 games display an unbelievably vibrant and lifelike range of colors.
- 4K Entertainment – Stream 4K videos, movies, and shows to your PS4 Pro.*
If you aren’t ready yet for “4K”, you can save some money with the PlayStation 4 Slim 1TB Console ($298.99), and still get started with VR as well as enjoy all the other Playstation features of gaming, streaming and live-view all in Full High Definition.
The Dell Visor Virtual Reality Headset and Controllers ($245.92) provides Full HD (1440 x 1440) resolution per eye using two 2.89″ LCD panel displays. Refresh rate is 90 Hz, and field of vision is 110 degrees. The software is part of the “Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR”, so what you would expect to find on the HTC Vive you would have on the Dell Vison.
The system uses “inside out tracking” where the dual black-and-white VGA cameras and positioning sensors are built into the headset. It has the advantage of not needing external sensors or cameras, but has the drawback that controllers sometimes lose tracking from time to time when they leave your headset’s line of site.
Similar to the other headsets, this has embedded Gyroscope, Accelerometer and Magnetomer to track your position, head tilt and sight lines. While it’s a little bith heavy, it comes a flip-up visor that raises 90-degrees for fast transitions between the virtual world and reality.
You’ll need to supply your own audio – both headpones and microphone. There is a 3.5mm audio plug to connect on the headset.
The controller are responsive, easy to use and have haptic feedback. Buttons include a thumb stick, touchpad, trigger button, grab button, windows button, menu button, pairing button.The controllers communicate over wireless Bluetooth, and require 2 AA batteries each.
Dell has a list of recommended, compatible computers, and we also have the minimum specs to evaluate against your existing hardware.
- Inspiron 5000 15/17
- Inspiron 15
- Inspiron 27 All-in-one
- Inspiron 24 All-in-one
- Inspiron Gaming Tower
- Inspiron Tower
- XPS Tower VMAX
- XPS 27
Minimum System Requirements
- CPU: Intel Mobile Core i5 (6th generation) / AMD FX-4350 4.2Ghz, 4 or more physical cores
- GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 (GT2) / NVidia GTX 965M/AMD RX 460 – DX12 API Capable GPU
- RAM: 8GB+
- HDMI: HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 for 60Hz head-mounted displays
- HDMI: HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.2 for 90Hz head-mounted displays
- USB: USB 3.0 Type-A or USB 3.1 Type-C Port with DisplayPort Alternate Mode
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
For under $250, the Dell Visor Virtual Reality Headset and Controllers is an easy, inexpensive way to get started with VR if you already have a Windows 10 computer that can power the environment.
HP calls their VR set-up the Mixed Reality Headset and Controllers ($209.99). It’s new for 2018, is nearly identical to the Dell, and about $40 less.
Other than the price, the biggest difference is the Dell is white, and the HP is black. These come with the same controllers, and use identical tech inside the headsets.
HP does recommend 16GB of RAM rather than 8GB, but this is more to make sure the experience doesn’t run into any rendering lags.
The third of these nearly identical headsets is the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset ($244.95) which is priced similar to Dell, and above the HP. Acer claims they were first to market with this VR system, but now more than 2 years later the only real difference is the Royal Blue of the headset.
The specs, and the controllers, are the same as Dell and HP.
Our final color choice, Iron Grey, is courtesy of Lenovo’s Explorer Bundle for Windows Mixed Reality ($269.00). This also has the highest spot-price of these four nearly identical VR headsets.
You may find this closer to $200 with promotions, and sometimes heavily discounted as part of a desktop/laptop bundle. Otherwise, we recommend just doing with the lower priced HP.
One benefit to all of the Microsoft’s headsets is the ability to use voice commands. You can summon Microsofts AI, Cortana, to perform a number of tasks, such as selecting objects in the VR space, resizing browsers and objects, and launching apps.
Now that you have the list, what’s keeping you from entering the world of Virtual Reality? If you still need more choces, continue to Part-2 for best wireles VR including Samsung, Google, Pansonite, etc. or Part-3 for best AR/VR from Microsoft and Magic Leap. There is something for everyone and every budget, so there is no excuse not to get started today!