Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment; think 80’s and 90’s syfi where you put glasses on and it took you to another world.You’re immersed in a virtual world whether it’s outer space, under the sea, or a far off forest. You’ll see 360-degrees around you.
Ever since the release of virtual reality technology various tech companies have taken huge steps in making VR headsets. All you need is a headset and your smartphone in your pocket; the quality isn’t the same as the Rift or Vive, but they’re still fun experiences.
Today, we are going to go through some of the best VR headsets ranging from price, design, and performance.
Delve into the world of virtual reality with the Google Daydream View which works with more Android phones than any other VR platform and comes at a low price. It was released on the 10th of November this year, costing $79 in the US, £69 in the UK and AU$119 in Australia. The Google Daydream is ridiculously cheap, at least for the one you want to buy in 2016.
Design, Fit, and Feel
It is about the same size and shape as an average mobile headset. Its unique natural fabric layer design gives a new meaning to Google’s ‘Material Design’ and going with it are three different colors, slate, snow white and crimson. The lightweight material it’s made off feels very comfortable, and the single elastic band holds the headset firmly to your head. It’s pretty steady without a strap on top, but its facepad pressing against your upper face may leave red marks after using it for a while. The facepad can be washed with your hands and also fits for people who wear spectacles. You honestly never get a perfect fit because light seeps in from the sides. So, for optimum use, it lights out anytime you want to use it!
Slotting either a Google Pixel or Google Pixel XL between the headset’s front flap and lenses is relatively easy and safe. However, a significant difference between these two is that the 5-inch Google Pixel is limited to a 1080p Full HD display. The screen looks fine for general use, but you can see all the individual pixels when you come up close. On the other hand, the 5.5-inch Google Pixel XL features a quad display and looks much better. But, it still presents one slightly less exaggerated noticeable screen door effect.
Google Daydream comes with a small remote control. Connected via Bluetooth, this remote has two buttons, a clickable top trackpad, and a volume adjuster. It’s also controlled by motion. So, you’ll have to tilt the remote to steer cars or characters during racing or adventure games. When you’re done, you can tuck it away neatly in the headset via an internal strap.
Looking to get a VR headset but not sure which one? There’s one that is readily available and a fun DIY project: Google Cardboard and because all you’re paying for is some cardboard, a few lenses and maybe some tape or Velcro, you won’t notice anything’s left your wallet. Google does not sell kits anymore, but you can find one at $20, £15, AU$25 depending on the vendor. You can also check the Internet for instructions on how to make one yourself!
Design, Fit and Feel
Making your own Google Cardboard will take you about 5 minutes, yup, you read that right. Making this VR viewer only takes about 5 minutes! Well, 5 minutes of folding and following directions of course. Isn’t that great! Pre-creased and labelled with numbers, each piece of the cardboard has a corresponding number, instructing you on exactly where each tab should be fitted. Also, most cardboard come with already intact lenses, Velcro, rubber band and double-stick tape. The rubber band is meant to hold the phone in place but the velcro does a pretty good job doing just that but you might need the extra grip when playing more intense games though. It also comes with a strong magnet with a washer on the side to control the phone, which is limited to using the phone’s magnetometer. But, it is worth mentioning the magnet works with just some phones. If your phone is NFC enabled, one you’ve inserted the headset the Cardboard app should launch automatically. Normally, you can’t have a hands-free experience with the headset but some people customized theirs by attaching Velcro pieces, making the headset stay put on their heads without having to hold it.
Smaller Android phones work better with Google Cardboard. Fully compatible devices include the Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S4, S5, Google Nexus 4,5. The display of Google Cardboard depends on whatever phone you use. Partially compatible phones are the ones that don’t work with the magnet but can still run the apps. The HTC and Moto G are this kind. Also, there are larger Cardboards that fit the Nexus 6, Oneplus One, Samsung Note 2,3 and 4. The Android phones require Jelly Bean 4.1 to get the most out of the experience and thankfully, even though it’s a Google product, it is compatible with iPhones.
Samsung Gear VR
The Samsung Gear VR is a big deal, the first and closest thing to a consumer-ready product to hit the market. ‘Closest’ as signified by its ‘Innovator Edition’ subtitle. So, this still just beta product. You can get the headset for a reasonable price of $99 which is about £80 or AU$130 around the world. But, for all of you pre-ordering the Note 7, Samsung is giving it out for free!
Design, Fit, and Feel
The Gear VR looks like a cross between the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. The plastic body is constructed in the semblance of the familiar ski-goggle headset design, an elastic strap that fits around the top and sides of your head located at the back. For obvious reasons, Samsung has made the device as light as possible with a strap that holds it in place, without feeling like its weighing you down. If you wear glasses, the focus adjuster might need a little tweaking. Regardless, the impressive low latency and high-resolution virtual reality are still at a point where it leaves some people feeling a little bit queasy.
To control the Gear VR, you use a touchpad and back button on the side of the headset or an optional Android controller. You can easily navigate menus and enjoy some of the basic experiences using the touchpad. But you honestly need a controller to get the most out of the experience. The headset itself lacks a display of its own so it uses the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 instead. The 2,560 x 1,400pixel, 5.7inch OLED display, teamed up with a Snapdragon 805 processor generates a sufficiently rich image. The Note 4 display divides into two screens that merge together when viewed through the lenses. In vibrant and colourful worlds, the pixels are still visible, but in less colourful field views like Oculus Cinema, it’s deep blacks are very appreciable. There are also a variety of games you can indulge in while using the VR like Anshar Wars, James Legacy: The Prologue a fantastic game made of beautiful cuboid worlds, RPG Mario Galaxy, Shooting Showdown a simple first-person shooter that pits you against another random online player within a firing range. As far as it goes, Samsung’s swelling marketplace is a promising glimpse of what’s to come.
The Merge VR is another virtual reality viewer on the market right now, but what about it? You might be tempted to write this off as a wannabe of its kind, but don’t be so quick to judge because this headset lets you use virtual reality apps, play games, and videos.
Design, Fit and Feel
First off, most of this purple headset is made of a stiff foam that still has a little squeeze to it. The foam is also antimicrobial so you won’t have to worry about ick growing on it after a while. There are a pair of input buttons which are used to position lenses and bumpers on the sides. The most striking part of the headset is the large polygon-ish cutout which when pulled back reveals your phones camera. The slit directly behind the faceplate is where your phone sits. Asides that. Is the large black and silver Merge logo. There are two openings on the sides to access your smartphone and two holes on top for air to circulate, preventing fogging. The headset has a firm grip on your head, thanks to a pair of long elastic black bands that use Velcro. The headset is okay to wear for prolonged periods. Although, you might feel an immediate pressure along the middle of your forehead. I think a soft cushion lining the interior should be on their list of things to include in upgrade or the next version to make for a more comfortable experience.
The Merge VR’s featured apps are on the Merge Start Website. Going through it, you’ll see 56 programs. Most of the apps, games, experiences, music, and educational fare listed are free but some like Snow Strike VR will cost you $1.99. However, Merge VR can also play apps from Google Cardboard including Street View and Google Cardboard Camera. The headset also supports content from Jaunt VR, VRSE, Discovery VR and YouTube VR. I highly recommend pairing your smartphone with a Bluetooth gamepad because while playing games like Snow Strike, where you throw snowballs at kids and animate snowmen, you’ll use the right input knob on the headset as a trigger button. After a while, your arm may start to get tired of having to raise it every now and then over your head to press the buttons. Graphics are silky smooth on the Gear VR but, there are cases of motion blur with the Merge VR. This is due to the lenses moving out of place and can cause dizziness in extreme cases, but this is immediately rectified by sliding them back in place. Say, it would be nice if they provided a way to make them stay put.
The Merge VR works with Android and iOS phones from the last two years. In regards to size, the headset can fit phones as small as the iPhone 5 or as large as the iPhone 6s Plus. Similar to the Gear VR, the headset uses your phone’s display, processor and battery life.
Priced at an affordable $99, the Merge VR lets you experience the fledgling fun of VR.
The View-Master is a toy-like VR viewer for phones. Very different product from those old stereoscopic toys. It’s not fancy but it works, and it is built to be kid friendly. Like Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and other similar devices, your phone does most of the work regarding screen and processing power. Just saying, the Merge is like a better, more durable version of Google Cardboard that you don’t need to assemble yourself for just $30, £23, or AU$50!
Design, Fit, and Feel
The View-Master has a very toy looking design, towards the back is a black rubber baffle that aims to block out light while giving some seal on your face. You can see through the lenses to view the smartphone housed within.
The View-Master sits rather more on the toy side when it comes to construction and feel, more so than something like Samsung’s Gear VR. It doesn’t have a head strap so – and like some other VR headsets that use a smartphone, such as Google Cardboard – it’s a case of holding it your face to view the content.
For the experience, you buy an Experience Pack as Mattel calls it and download an associated app. So, if you have the Destinations experience pack, you need to download the 200MBplus Destinations app. Launch the app, and this will scan the Pass Card from the experience pack as a sort of evidence of purchase. You can then aim the View-Master at the pack’s plastic reel and get a little augment reality pop-up. It’s a full VR experience once you’re properly in the app, in 360 vision, certain areas will be highlighted, of which you’ll use the orange trigger button on the side to move on to new sights. The trigger might be the only interface option. IT is also compatible with an ever increasing stock of VR, so this honestly is an excellent deal!
These are honestly some of the best VR headset options for anyone looking to get one for themselves or a friend or family member. The headsets are user-friendly, are easy to use, come in great designs, with a range of price ranges that work with a number of phones.
While these headsets are not an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, they still offer an experience that’ll leave you in awe. The best options are the Google Daydream or Gear VR headsets, but those are limited to either the Galaxy or Pixel phone. Google Cardboard enabled devices are compatible with any phone, even an iPhone!
Tell us in the comments below – what mobile VR option have you used, or which one you’re looking at picking up?