2017 was arguably the year of virtual reality, with VR headsets from the likes of Oculus, HTC and Sony finally achieving mainstream success and recognition. That being said, there are many other VR headsets available to buy in the UK. Here, we list a few of the best virtual reality headsets on the market at the moment, from high-end gear for serious gaming to budget sets for your smartphone.
Google Cardboard is, essentially, a virtual reality starter kit for those that are unsure of VR and want to experience it without having to fork out a lot of money. In fact, you don’t really have to part with any money to get a Google Cardboard as, as the name suggests, it’s made from Cardboard and Google has provided instructions on how to build it yourself, at home.
It uses your existing smartphone as the display and brains of the VR system, allowing the company to cut the cost and enable users to use existing VR apps available for iOS and Android.
If building the Google Cardboard seems like an effort to you, then you can buy one for around £10-15. It should fit any smartphone up to 6in, so if you’re interested in VR on a budget, it’s an ideal option.
Valve, arguably one of the biggest names in PC gaming (creators of Half-Life, Portal & DOTA 2 and operators of Steam, the online marketplace) paired up with HTC to create two products; console-esque boxes that run PC games, along with the HTC Vive, a fully fledged virtual reality headset that lets you do more than any other headset in this roundup.
The Vive separates itself because it comes with two trackers that monitor your position within your physical space, and recreates this movement in-game. Simply put, it allows you to walk around and interact with the virtual world, in the same way you would in real life.
The headset features two 1080x1200 screens, the highest quality of any VR display at the moment, along with two touch-and-button enabled controllers that can simulate anything from a gun to a paintbrush. Unfortunately, all this comes at a price, and the HTC Vive is also the most expensive VR headset in our roundup.
Read about our experience with the HTC Vive here: HTC Vive review
Of course, the most popular virtual reality headset at the moment is the Oculus Rift, a headset that has spent years in development and even got bought by Facebook for $2bn (which shows that VR is for more than just gaming). Oculus worked directly with Microsoft during development and offers plug-and-play support for Windows 10 users, something no other headset can offer. It connects to your computer via DVI and USB ports, and features built-in headphones, although these can be removed if you’d prefer to use your own.
Oculus is developing controllers for its Rift headset, although these won’t be available until the end of 2016. To combat this issue, Oculus provides everyone that buys a headset with an Xbox One controller to use with it, providing you with a (rather mundane) way to interact with the virtual world around you in-game. It’s not as intuitive as we’d like, but we imagine the experience will be improved once the official controllers are released.
Interestingly, the PlayStation VR headset is the only VR headset for console gamers – Microsoft offers a way for gamers to play Xbox One games through the Oculus Rift, but it isn’t VR-enabled (for now anyway). Sony’s virtual reality offering launched in October 2016, and features a 5.7in OLED display that’ll provide gamers with low persistence and, consequently, less motion blur when being used.
It also boasts ultra-low latency (18ms) and a 120Hz refresh rate, which is better than the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive's 90Hz offering. It means that, theoretically, beautiful 120fps gameplay is possible, although we’re not sure the PS4 could handle it.
It seems that Sony had the same thought, and will provide an additional box (smaller than the PS4) that’ll handle the brunt of the graphics processing. It’ll track the position of your head, and can also be used with Sony’s (failed) Move controllers, giving the old controllers a new lease of life.
Google Daydream View
Daydream is a platform rather than a specific headset, though there is an official Daydream headset from Google too.
You'll need to buy a Daydream Ready Android phone, headset (not necessarily Google's) and controller. Daydream has only just been released alongside the Google Pixel and Daydream Viewer, so there aren't many Daydream enabled phones available right now.
The good news is that it's not just a fancy update to the Google Cardboard: this is a high-quality VR experience that's affordable to most people, rather than the expensive Oculus and HTC options.
Find out more about Daydream.
Samsung’s Gear VR is another smartphone-powered VR headset, although this one is slightly different. For one, it features Oculus Rift technology for a great overall VR experience, although this comes at a cost – it can only be used with specific Samsung Galaxy handsets (namely the Note 4, S6 and S6 Edge).
Simply slot the Galaxy smartphone into the slot in the side of the headset, and plug in the supplied MicroUSB cable. Then you’ll be using a 2560 x 1440 Super AMOLED display as your VR screen – not too bad for the price (although this relies on you already having an AMOLED display-powered smartphone).
Samsung also boasts a marketplace of VR-ready content named Milk VR including apps and 360-degree videos, ready for users once they take the plunge and buy the Gear VR.
The Homido virtual reality headset aims to bring Virtual Reality to your smartphone while offering something a little more premium than Google’s Cardboard VR headset.
The Homido VR headset boasts some pretty interesting features including custom-made VR lenses that offer a 100-degree Field of View and an adjustable IPD (distance between the lenses) as the gap between the eyes isn’t the same for everyone and can affect the overall experience.
You also have the option of buying a Bluetooth controller along with the headset to bring true VR gaming to your iPhone, as touch-based games won’t work in Homido as you can’t tap the display while it's being used in the headset.
Carl Zeiss VR One
The Carl Zeiss VR One headset is another VR headset that utilises the technology in your smartphone to provide you with a virtual experience.
The headset comes with a tray that you slot your phone into, and that slots into the headset itself – you can choose from either the iPhone 6, Galaxy S5 or S6 phone tray when ordering, with the company providing CAD files for you to design and 3D print your own for use with other phones. The headset includes vents that stop the lenses from fogging up and provides an FOV of around 100 degrees.
The VR One also features a see-through front shield, allowing the use of smartphone cameras in augmented reality (AR) apps available for iOS and Android. The performance and graphics vary depending on the power and resolution of your smartphone, so take that into consideration before handing over your money.
Read our review of the Carl Zeiss VR One headset here.
Moggles VR Headset
The Moggles headset might seem like a pretty standard smartphone VR headset, but it comes with one smart distinguishing factor: it folds neatly into itself to form a neat carry case, making it super portable - ideal for VR on the go, or if you just want to show something off to your friends.
How much you actually want to travel with a VR headset - even a smartphone one - might vary of course (we can't really imagine doing it much). But at least beyond that the Moggles headset has an attractive, slim design - a rarity at the low end of the market.
Less unusual is its comfort. Like most cheap sets, you probably don't want to be wearing this for too long at a time before it starts to dig in, but that's really true of most comparable budget VR sets.