2015 is the year of Virtual Reality. Mobile-compatible headsets such as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear VR, Archos VR Glasses and Google Cardboard are available right now, while dedicated headsets such as HTC’s Vive and, hopefully, Oculus Rift are set to appear before the end of the year. These are all the virtual reality headsets that you need to know about, in order of excellence, as selected by our resident expert goggle-wearer.
Availability Holiday 2015 | Price Unknown | Official page
Valve is one of the biggest names in PC gaming: it made Half-Life, Portal and DOTA 2, and operates Steam, the biggest online storefront for PC games. At the end of 2015, it’s set to release two pieces of hardware: Steam machines, which are console-like boxes that run PC games, and the Vive headset, a partnership with Taiwanese hardware manufacturer HTC.
As of right now, Vive offers the best virtual reality we’ve ever experienced. This is thanks to the headset’s two 1080 x 1200 screens, the highest resolution displays out there, and the two sensors that hang on your wall to track movement. The downside is that the Vive is expected to cost more than other headsets, possibly between £200 – £400.
Best game: Portal Demo
Pros: Best overall VR experience, Valve backing, HTC manufacturing
Cons: Likely to be more expensive than competing dedicated VR headsets
Availability: First half of 2016 | Price: Unknown | Official page
There are a growing number of VR headsets out there, but Sony’s probably has the best chance of becoming a commercial success. First of all, while most VR headsets require a decent PC or the latest mobile phone, Sony’s Morpheus just needs a PlayStation 4. Secondly, Sony has some of the best game studios in the world working on games for Morpheus: its London and Tokyo studios have produced some excellent VR demos, and Uncharted developer Naughty Dog could be next.
The hardware itself also stands out: the latest model is the most stylish and comfortable VR headset we’ve used. The internal components are also of a high quality, and special mention has to go to the headset’s 120Hz refresh rate, which really helps to eliminate motion sickness.
Best game: London Heist
Pros: Works with PS4, 120Hz refresh rate, supported by Sony studios
Cons: Only works with PS4
Availability: Q1 2016 | Price: Unknown | Official page
The current VR arms race is all thanks to one man: Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. As a teenager, Luckey collected VR tech and was fascinated with making his own headset in his garage. Numerous prototypes and a $2bn Facebook buyout later, Oculus is still the biggest name in VR, thanks to a partnership with Samsung and its own upcoming headset.
The latest version, codenamed “Crescent Bay”, impresses with its high-resolution screens and 360-degree head tracking LEDs. Oculus has lost some ground in recent months to HTC’s Vive and Sony’s Morpheus, but they’ve has been doing VR for longer than anyone else, so they’re one to keep an eye on.
Best game: Elite: Dangerous
Pros: VR pioneers, Facebook backing, software support
Cons: Falling behind HTC Vive.
Availability: Unknown | Price: Unknown | Official page
Microsoft raised a lot of eyebrows when it showed off Microsoft HoloLens earlier this year, which technically isn’t VR, but rather a holographic computing device.
Instead of immersing the player in an entirely computer-generated world, HoloLens augments reality, adding interactive holograms to the space you already inhabit. Microsoft showed demos of people building Minecraft structures on top of their tables, exploring objects such as a motorbikes, or being able to create video feeds on any surface you like.
It’s impressive technology, but its uniqueness could also be its weakness: while most VR games are being made to work across multiple VR platforms, HoloLens is a very distinct proposition. However, the headset itself looks cool, and the concept provides countless possibilities for games, work and communication.
Best game: Minecraft
Pros: Unique concept, Microsoft backing, Minecraft
Cons: Won’t play “true” VR games
Availability: June 2015 (dev kit) | Price: $199.99 | Official page
OSVR stands for Open Source Virtual Reality, so everything about the platform is open and freely available. You can even download the 3D files and create your own headset, if you like.
However, Razer has done the hard work for you with its own OSVR hardware, the Dev Kit of which is due to launch in June for less than $200. The hardware is pretty impressive given that low price: the 1,080 x 1,920 resolution display is good, while image distortion has been reduced to 13%, which is lower than most headsets.
The OSVR consortium is also backed by some big names, including Leap Motion, who make one of the better motion controllers on the market, and Gearbox Software, developer of the excellent Borderlands series.
Best game: None (as yet)
Pros: Open source, can build your own or buy Razer’s keenly-priced version
Cons: Limited support right now
Samsung Gear VR
Availability: Out now | Price: $199 (£169, AU$249) | Official page
Powered by technology from Oculus, the Samsung Gear VR was effectively the first VR headset on the market. To use it, you simply grab a Samsung phone, download apps and games from the Oculus store, and clip it into the headset.
The original model supported the Note 4, but a new model out this spring is compatible with the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. While the S6 is a smaller phone, it boasts a higher pixel density of 577ppi compared to the Note 4′s 515ppi, which alleviates some of the dreaded “screen door” effect.
The Gear VR headset isn’t the highest-quality VR experience available, but it is one of the easiest to get up and running quickly.
Best game: Gunner
Pros: Oculus store, good build quality, works with a very popular phone
Cons: Expensive compared to other mobile VR offerings
Carl Zeiss VR One
Availability: Out now | Price: $99 (£116, €129) | Official page
Like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the Carl Zeiss VR One uses a mobile phone as its display. However, unlike the Galaxy Gear, it supports both the iPhone 6 and the Galaxy S5, although you need to specify which one when you buy.
Even better news is the price, which at €129 (approximately £93), is half the price of Samsung’s equivalent headset. The downside is that there’s not much content for the device from Zeiss aside from an augmented reality demo and movie app that shows videos from your phone in a virtual cinema. You can thankfully use apps designed for Google Cardboard, though, and more are sure to come down the line.
The VR One isn’t the best example of virtual reality on the market, but it’s a step up from Google Cardboard for those who don’t have a Samsung Galaxy phone.
Best game: Jack White: THIRD-D
Pros: Good build quality, keen pricing, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy option
Cons: Limited Zeiss apps
FOVE Eye Tracking VR
Availability: Unknown | Price: Unknown | Official page
Virtual reality experiences may be new, but you usually interface with them using old controller technology, such as an Xbox 360-style pad, or a motion controller like the Razer Hydra. FOVE believes that the future of VR control is eye-tracking, and its headset uses tiny cameras to track where you’re looking in real-time.
We played a game on the company’s prototype headset where you simply look at alien ships to shoot them down. It’s early days when it comes to the actual headset – it requires calibration to begin with, it occasionally stopped working, and the VR isn’t as good as competing headsets.
However, as we saw with Nintendo’s Wii, nailing a simple control system can unlock a much larger market for gaming. FOVE is being backed by Microsoft Ventures and will be opening for crowdfunding soon.
Best game: Shooting Gallery Demo
Pros: Novel control system
Cons: Requires calibration before playing, low-quality VR experience overall
Archos VR Glasses
Availability: Out now (UK only) | Price: £9.99 | Official page
Archos has been undercutting manufacturers of mobile phones, tablets and portable games consoles for years, so it was only a matter of time before they got into the VR market. £9.99 makes the Archos VR Glasses the cheapest product on the market, unless you build your own Google Cardboard.
Speaking of which, the apps designed for Google Cardboard will work with this device, as will any smartphone up to 6 inches in size, although Archos recommends a phone with at least a 5-inch screen. As you’d expect, it’s not the best VR experience, but it’s well worth checking out at this price.
Best game: War of Words VR
Pros: Brilliant price, works with Google Cardboard apps, supports lots of phones
Cons: Basic build quality and VR experience
Availability: Out now | Price: Free-$85 (depending on model) | Official page
Google Cardboard is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on VR, but it makes a great weekend project if you want to see what the fuss is about. You can either download the instructions and make your own headset, or you can buy a kit from a variety of vendors for around $25 (the most expensive model is an outlier at $85).
Once you’ve bought or constructed your headset, you can download Google Cardboard apps to your iOS or Android phone, drop your device into the headset, and get playing. It’s not the best VR experience out there, but if you have a modern phablet-sized phone with a hi-res screen, it’s actually pretty good.
Best game: Google Cardboard
Pros: Extremely cheap to make, cheap to buy, works across a variety of devices
Cons: Poor quality VR experience overall
Availability: Q3 2015 | Price: $600 | Official page
Major caveat: the Avegant Glyph isn’t technically a virtual reality headset. It’s more like a pair of headphones that you can wear like a visor, Geordi La Forge-style.
The Glyph is compatible with anything that supports external displays, so you can use it with your home consoles or practically any modern mobile phone. You simply slip the band over your eyes, cover your ears with the headphones, and watch or play your content on the retina-quality display.
The benefit (and drawback) Glyph has over true virtual reality is that you can still see things outside the headset, so you can use your hands to take a drink, text message, even go to the toilet. However, it’s a big old headset, expensive, not true VR, and you look like a bit of a berk wearing it.
Best game: Grand Theft Auto V
Pros: Good build quality, great display
Cons: Bulky, not “true” immersive VR