Here we are in 2017, and virtual reality is becoming more and more affordable for the average consumer. However, with that affordability comes more parity. Deciding on the best VR headset for your needs can be a somewhat daunting prospect whether you know where to start or not.
One of the primary things to look for in a virtual reality headset, aside from its processing power, refresh rate, controls, and catalog is whether the headset itself is tethered or mobile. Tethered headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, PSVR, and HTC Vive are capable of providing much more complex virtual reality experiences, but require that the headset is tethered either to a PC or console. Mobile headsets, on the other hand, provide you with more flexibility and range of movement because the processing is typically done on your mobile device, but it comes at the cost of processing power.
But don't worry: we're here to guide you through the virtual reality landscape and help you pinpoint the best headsets currently on the market for your current needs. From budget headsets to top of the line gear, here are the headsets you should be looking at come Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (596 reviews)
Buy it on: Amazon
While we wait for Microsoft to unveil the Xbox One's first virtual reality headset sometime in 2018, console gamers have only one choice when it comes to VR: Sony's PSVR.
Compared to other VR headsets on this list, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the PSVR is one of the most cost-efficient headsets currently on the market. Giving gamers a relatively high-end virtual reality experience, Sony's headset packs on hell of a punch and is, by all accounts, extremely comfortable -- something other VR headsets have trouble achieving at all price points.
Another thing to note is that the PSVR is made specifically with gaming in mind and its plug-and-play ability melds well with the console gaming mindset. You won't find copious cables and motion detectors here. Instead, you'll only need a PS4, a Dualshock 4 or PlayStation Move controllers, and a PlayStation Camera. And although all of those necessary components are typically sold separately from the PSVR, the headset is one of the most affordable on this list, specifically when comparing it to the price points of the high-end PCs needed to power the Oculus or Vive.
Essential reading: PS VR Bundle Review: A Whole New (Virtual) World
The best part about the PSVR is that it has a relatively large catalog of games to choose from. With Resident Evil 7, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Batman: Arkham: VR already out and games like DOOM VFR, The Inpatient, and Skyrim VR set to release in the next several months, the PSVR has some of the best gaming experiences on the market.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (268 reviews)
Buy it on: Amazon
If you've done any research on virtual reality, there's little doubt that you've heard the Oculus name before. As one of the peripherals that led the charge into the new VR frontier in early 2016, the Oculus Rift is one of the best VR headsets you can currently buy. It helps that Oculus VR recently added a touch control bundle -- where you get the headset and its touch controls -- for an astonishing $399, which is practically a steal for such a high-end VR experience.
Currently, the Oculus Rift boasts a catalog of 113 games. And although that catalog hasn't grown considerably since our last VR headset roundup (which is a bit unfortunate), that doesn't mean the games and experiences currently on the platform aren't highly praised and worth your time.
But one of the primary things that sets the Oculus apart from the HTC Vive, its closest competitor, is that it's much easier to set up than the Vive. The Rift doesn't require multiple light towers to track movement and there are fewer cables to hook up to your PC out of the box. Of course, you're comparing room-scale VR in the Vive to a more traditional VR experience in the Rift, but it's still worthy of note.
On top of that, the Oculus is more comfortable than the Vive, provides better sound, and has more ergonomic controls via its recently-released Oculus Touch Controls. If you're not looking for a room-scale VR experience, then the Rift is a solid choice. Just keep in mind that it appears fewer games have been coming to the Oculus as of late, so keep that in mind when making your decision.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5 (855 reviews)
Buy it on: Amazon
The HTC Vive is the creme de la creme of virtual reality headsets. The Vive is arguably the most powerful VR headset there currently is, its game catalog is one of the most robust and fastest growing, and it's the only headset to offer a nearly fully-immersive VR experience.
Of course, all of that comes with a price. At $599, the HTC Vive is also the most expensive VR headset you can buy right now. That doesn't count the price of the high-end gaming PC you're going to need to run this thing, either. At the end of the day, you could be looking at more than $2,000 for a top-of-the-line experience.
But if that doesn't dissuade you from picking up the Vive, you'll find that the headset has the largest hardcore-gaming catalog available. Seeing as the headset was developed via a partnership between Valve and HTC, the Vive has unprecedented access to myriad Valve and Steam games. From Star Trek: Bridge Crew and Subnautica to Ricky and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality and Arizona Sunshine, there's something for everyone on the Vive.
Taking a closer look at the hardware itself shows that the Vive may not be as comfortable as other headsets on this list, such as the Oculus and the PSVR, but it makes up for that in 360-degree, near fully-immersive VR experiences. Although things can be a bit tricky during the Vive's initial setup -- and using it basically requires you dedicate an entire room to VR -- it has a 90hz refresh rate and robust rendering capabilities.
At the end of the day, the Vive is the headset for hardcore VR gamers.
Platforms: Samsung Mobile Phones
Buy it on: Newegg
I can personally say that the Samsung VR is one of the best and most accessible mobile virtual reality experiences currently available. The device is a collaboration between Oculus VR and Samsung that brings a mid-tier VR experience to Samsung mobile phones (currently from the Galaxy S6 to the Galaxy S8).
The headset is wildly comfortable -- even for those of us that wear glasses. The headstrap sits comfortably across the top of the head, producing minimal strain across hours of use. And the headset's inner fabric breathes well. Overall, the headset doesn't get too hot, although it can get somewhat sweaty if you're playing in an already-toasty environment.
Plugging a phone into the Samsung VR is relatively easy -- you just slide the phone into the headset with the screen facing the viewports and lock it into a small clip on the front right-hand side of the headset. In my time with the headset, I never once had issues with the phone moving or dislodging from the VR.
Arresting the Gear to Samsung devices might deter some users from picking up the VR at $130, especially if they don't already have a compatible device. But if you already own a Samsung smartphone, the Gear VR is a nice investment if you want VR on the go or are looking to dip your toes into virtual reality before popping for one of the more expensive, more intensive headsets on this list.
Samsung has also started bundling the Gear VR with new Samsung smartphone purchases, so you could theoretically get your first VR headset for free if you're thinking of switching phones manufacturers.
The only downside is that the Gear VR doesn't have a massive catalog of games and of those games, most of them are indies. So you won't be finding too many big AAA virtual reality experiences here.
Platforms: Daydream-ready phones (see below)
Buy it on: Newegg
Just like the Samsung Gear VR, the Google Daydream View works by setting a phone into the headset. However, the best part about it is that the headset isn't arrested to working just with Samsung mobile phones, but instead works with myriad Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy, the Google Pixel and PIxel 2, the ZenFone AR, and the LG V30, making it a more ubiquitous virtual reality headset.
Like other mobile VR headsets, the Daydream isn't as immersive as the PlayStation VR, the Oculus, or the Vive -- you won't find fully immersive worlds here. But the trade-off is that the Daydream is easy to set up and easy to use. Essentially, it's a mid-tier insert-and-play VR option for relatively cheap.
One of the bigger drawbacks to the Daydream is that its catalog is small when compared to the likes of the Samsung VR. And although that's likely to change with Google focusing on more and more VR content in the future, right now, there aren't a plethora of games and experiences to be had on the Daydream. As of this writing, Daydream users can select from somewhere around 250 apps and games, with a majority of those firmly falling into the apps bucket.
However, if you're looking to start your VR journey and looking for something that's comfortable, affordable, and designed to keep your phone from overheating (an issue other headsets haven't addressed as directly as the Daydream), then this is definitely a VR headset you're going to want to consider this holiday.
Platforms: Android and iOS phones 4 to 6 inches
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (250 reviews)
Buy it on: Amazon
This is hands-down one of the most inexpensive virtual reality headsets you can currently purchase. And while it might be on the cheap side when it comes to your budget, the ETVR headset is arguably one of the most comfortable headsets in its price range. Sporting comfortable foam, plastic, and faux leather construction, the ETVR is a headset that you can wear for marathon VR sessions, whether you're wearing it for gaming or not. And even better, the headset doesn't look cheap, either. Instead, it looks like something you might find in a VR boutique.
Getting down to brass tacks, the ETVR headset provides a clear picture in most scenarios but does have some issues when it comes to consistency, meaning some apps and games look better than others in certain lighting conditions. On top of that, the 85-degree field of view is smaller than other headsets on this list (which isn't a huge deal if you're sitting in one spot or are a casual VR consumer).
There's no onboard audio to speak of with the ETVR, so like the Daydream, you'll have to rely on your smartphone's speakers, which can be hit or miss and typically provide the fidelity of sound that some other VR headsets provide.
And being a device that's compatible with both Android and iOS mobile phones, you'll find a plethora of virtual reality games and experiences when using the ETVR. Of course, most of these experiences don't necessarily live up to other devices' more AAA-quality offerings, but then again, you're not paying to get those experiences with this under $50 headset.
As we get closer to 2018, virtual reality will only become more affordable and more available to both casual and core gamers alike. Whether it's the Oculus Rift or the ETVR, there's something currently in the market for every gamer and every budget.
But if you're someone that's not quite ready to take the virtual reality plunge, the coming months are chock full of exciting VR hardware releases. From the Primax 8K headset to the Oculus Go and the Lenovo Daydream, there will only be more options to choose from, more games to play, and more worlds to explore. Strap in -- VR is about to reinvent gaming's newest frontier.
Which VR headset are you planning on picking up? Do you already have one? Or did we leave one of the list? Let us know in the comments below!