Have you ever had a dream where you're a character in our favorite movie, TV show, or video game? Everything feels so real, like you're right there in the middle of the action, shooting a gun or swinging a sword as your favorite fictional character.
Wouldn't it be awesome if that were actually possible? Imagine just how epic it would be to actually BE one of the characters!
The good news is:
That's where virtual reality comes in. Virtual reality glasses and virtual reality goggles are as close as it gets to the fully immersive experience. The virtual reality setup will put you smack dab the middle of your favorite video games, TV shows, or movies.
We've scoured the internet to bring you the very best virtual reality headset options on the market. We've weighed the pros and cons, compared features and capabilities, and tested a few for ourselves.
Check out our list of the best virtual reality units for you.
Sleek, compact, and portable, way cheaper than competing products, and designed for use with most iPhones and Android phones.
Incredibly simplistic; not on par with fully immersive VR headsets.
Google Cardboard looks like nothing more than an odd smartphone case for iPhone or Android. However, once you turn it on and place it on your head, you'll be shocked to see just how awesome it is. It works with a wide range of apps from Apple Apps and Google Play, and it's a low-budget way to get in on the VR hype.
The Cardboard's lenses will adjust your view of the screen so it looks like you're seeing everything in 3D. However, the lenses won't improve the quality of your screen--what you see on your smartphone is what you get.
The cardboard box shell can accommodate smartphones with up to a 6" display (most phones). The shell comes with buttons that allow you to control your smartphone, though it does little more than click to play or pause. Each app has its own navigation features compatible with Google Cardboard, though it may take a bit of practice to get it right.
There is no head strap, so you will have to hold the viewer in place. For the clearest picture, it's better to use the unit in low-light environments.
Considering that you're paying just $15, it's no surprise that the view is incredibly simple. But, as the review says, it's the perfect introduction into the VR world without having to drop a few hundred dollars on a fancier gadget.
A portable theater system that is ideal for watching TV and movies and can be turned into headphones.
Large and attention-grabbing.
Designed to be a personal home theater rather than a gaming system, the Avegant Glyph brings the magic of 3D cinema to life right before your eyes. They look and feel like a pair of Beats headphones, designed to slide over your eyes and ears creating the personal theater experience. The Retinal Imaging Technology reflects LED light onto the screen (using micro-mirrors) in a very high-resolution 720p image. It's like sitting in the theater or watching on your 4K TV, but from a pair of glasses.
The unit is designed to make TV/movie-watching easy, but you can still look around (similar to Google Glass). It's not for use on the streets, but it's perfect for the home, airplane, or office. If you don't want to watch TV, you can simply fold it back into headphone shape to listen to music.
The Avegant Glyph must be connected to a device via HDMI connection, so it's only compatible with laptops and PCs. However, if you get an HDMI adaptor for your smartphone, you can play content right off your iPhone or Android.
The headphones are beautifully comfortable, but the unit doesn't sit quite right on your nose.
At $600, it's a pricey investment! It's ideal for those who want to watch TV or movies on a plane or in the office, but don't mind something a bit larger or bulkier than Google Glass.
Built to be compatible with the PS4, quality display despite lower resolution, high-precision head tracking, and sleek and design.
Clumsy process to get started using the device.
The Playstation VR uses one screen (instead of the normal two), but the 1920 x 1080 OLED panel is crystal clear. The refresh rate of 120 Hz means smoother, sharper graphics compatible with the PS4. Despite a bit of "screen door effect" (pixelation), the unit displays quality images that will immediately draw you into the world of whatever you are watching or playing. The device doesn't come with built-in headphones, forcing you to use third-party headphones. With the Move controller around your wrists, it can be a clumsy process to adjust everything to get started.
Once you start using the device, however, you'll find that it works like a dream. Movement is easy and intuitive, and the extra LED strip on the outside of the headset increases the accuracy of the tracking. The low latency makes it easy to play any game developed for this unit.
The beauty of the PS VR is that there is just one cord to connect it to the console. The single tether allows you greater freedom of movement. The headset is easily adjusted for your comfort and clear view, and it is much easier to focus than the Rift. The fit is comfortable, but be prepared to sweat a lot!
At $550, the PS VR is a fairly high-priced unit. However, for Playstation gamers, it's as good as it gets! Thanks to the reliable head tracking, silky smooth graphics, and sterling display, you'll love every minute spent gaming on this bad boy.
Designed to be self-containing, this standalone unit can be used even with low-end gaming PCs. This is an excellent-quality device with top-shelf operation.
Potentially heavy with limited battery life.
The Sulon Q does something no other VR kit does: all the work! Instead of relying on your PC's or console's processing power, the Sulon Q comes with its very own built-in AMD FX-8800P processor, 8 GB of memory, a 256-GB solid-state drive, and a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel OLED display. Add to that Microsoft Windows 10 and AMD's proprietary LiquidVR, and you have one heck of an epic standalone device.
The built-in Radeon R7 graphics card makes this product amazing. It is designed for both virtual and augmented reality, combining full immersion with awesome functionality. Its 110-degree field of view brings you into a new world, made possible by the latest DirectX technology.
The unit is large and potentially weighty. Imagine a computer (using components like you'd find in a laptop) sitting on your nose, and you have an idea of the Sulon Q's weight. Battery life is also likely to be in issue (device is not yet launched).
Sulon and AMD have not yet released a price for the device. However, if it's as good as the companies promise, many will be willing to pay at least Oculus price ($600) for it!
Designed with Android apps and OS in mind, fully wireless, top-notch head movement tracking, wide field of view, and best of all - affordable.
ONLY compatible with Android phones and users report limited battery life.
If you're an Android-only person, this is the VR unit for you. Designed by Samsung to be compatible with Samsung and other Android devices, the headset offers a fully wireless design that sits comfortably on your head and weighs surprisingly little. While the resolution of the display is not as good as it should be, you'll find that it's wonderful for playing games on your Android device. With an extensive content library, it's one of the most versatile of the headsets.
Graphics are not as good as they should be, and there is the "screen door effect" with a bit of pixelation. However, the wide variety of available content (via the smartphone's game, movie, and TV apps) will take your mind off the iffy resolution. It excels at gaming, and all of the smartphone games feel much more immersive and interactive thanks to this device.
Be warned: take off the unit every 30 to 45 minutes to give your eyes a break and prevent motion sickness.
You can't use it with any other phones, but you'll find that it fits any high-end Samsung smartphone (Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5). Simply insert the phone into the micro USB dock, lock it in place, and you're ready to start watching or gaming. The dock is adjustable to fit larger smartphones. The touchpad on your right temple makes it easy to control the device on your phone, and the controls feel intuitive and responsive.
The VR unit will drain your phone's battery drastically (20% per hour, give or take), so be aware of that when playing. If you leave the phone connected to the VR casing for too long, it can overheat.
At $100, this is one of the best-priced virtual reality kts around. It's only good for Samsung users, but for the price, it does an amazing job of projecting you into another dimension of gaming and movie/TV watching.
Designed to be used with open source software and hardware, comparable in quality to the Oculus at half the cost, DIY design, and surprisingly comfortable.
Not a "plug and play" device; requires regular tweaking.
Instead of a ready-made VR kit, the OSVR Hacker is a DIY kit that can be customized and built to your specifications. If you've put together your own gaming computer, this is the gadget for you!
Designed by Razer, the unit is modular in design, and you build it with your selected components. Thanks to the refined optics and screen-level diffusion, there is no "screen-door effect". You get a sharp, clean picture with a very high refresh rate (120 Hz), low latency, and excellent resolution (960 x 1080 per eye).
The features of the OSVR HDK mirror those of the Oculus Rift, including interchangeable faceplates, Leap Motion gesture and hand tracking, and wireless streaming (there are no strings on this bad boy!). With lower system requirements than the Rift, it's compatible with more high-end gaming PCs and PC games.
The design is simple and comfortable, with a band around and over your head to keep the headset in place. It weighs surprisingly little, and the balance is getting better with each new model released. It looks amazing, fits well, and works like a dream!
At $300, this is a far better-priced option than the Oculus Rift, with more customizability. However, it's definitely not a product for the tech-challenged. If you're not a PC whiz, this may be a bit over your head.
Designed by Valve, compatible with Steam games, top-notch virtual reality experience, and excellent controls.
Most expensive device on the market.
If you've got a high-end gaming PC and want a VR kit to match, the Vive is the device for you! Created by Valve, it's designed to be used with a wide range of Steam games. The unit's motion controls are compatible with the most popular games, and you'll find that the gaming experience is as immersive as it gets. If your PC has the right capacities (read the requirements here), you'll find that it's an amazing way to bring your video games to life.
The headset has two 1200 x 1080 screens (1080p resolution), giving you the highest-quality image for top-notch virtual reality. Two sensors hang on the wall to track your movements, allowing you total control over your games. When you reach the edge of your "reality cage" (the limits of the sensors), the headset alerts you to help you avoid bumping into anything.
The unit requires a few cables to connect to your PC, limiting your movement. However, the two motion controllers and the light-emitting boxes help you to turn your living room into a fully-immersive gaming environment. There are even built-in earbuds!
The Vive can feel a bit clunky and heavy, but it fits fairly comfortably. It fits over glasses, though prepare for some lens fogging. Despite a few software bugs, it is lag-free, seamlessly integrated into Steam games, and offers a vivid VR experience.
At $800, this is the most expensive on our list. However, it's considered by many to be the "best overall VR experience", making it worth the high price!
Full eye-tracking capability makes it ideal for gaming, beautifully immersive, sharper resolution and better screen quality than most competitors, and minimal pixelation.
Bulky and uncomfortable after extended use.
Unlike other VR devices, the Fove understands that the human eyes can't take in all the details at once. If you look at objects in the foreground, the background objects are blurry, and vice versa. This eye tracking makes the Fove one of the best for gamers who want as real-to-life an experience as possible.
Instead of rendering an entire screen at high quality and sucking up processor power, Fove's eye-tracking software ensures that the objects you're looking at are rendered in high quality. The rest of the objects are allowed to blur, just as in real life. This means it won't use up so much processing power, making the device compatible with more PCs.
The Fove has a 2560 x 1440 2K display, ensuring crystal clear images and quality graphics. There is minimal pixelation ("screen door effect"), and you'll love how sharp the picture looks. With its 100-degree field of view, you are fully immersed in the world of your game/movie/TV show.
On the downside, the unit is bulky, protrudes a lot, and pinches/presses on your nose. It's not the most comfortable, so you may not be able to use it for long without a break. It is also only compatible with PC and must be connected via USB (meaning you can't stand or move around too much). Content is limited, but what there is is excellent.
The Fove will run you a whopping $500, making it one of the priciest kits. However, for PC gamers who plan to spend a lot of time playing, it is definitely a worthy option.
Compatible with both PCs and gaming consoles, beautiful and comfortable design, and peerless immersion.
Requires a very powerful computer to run.
Built using the same technology that makes our smartphone displays so crystal clear, the Oculus Rift is the first--and best--of the VR kits. The unit comes with a Xbox One controller and an Oculus Remote, which give you total control over any game you play. Connect the device to your PC or gaming console (via HDMI and USB), and the 4-meter long tether allows you to move around without risk of disconnection.
The product comes with an accelerometer, gyroscope, and two built-in screens of HD 1080p resolution--one for each eye. The image is bright, clear, and crisp, with only a hint of the graininess normal for VR headsets. The peripheral vision is excellent, and there is almost no lag (latency) as you play.
Your gaming experience will be far more immersive and rich thanks to the Oculus Rift, with surprisingly little interference or alterations of the games themselves.
Once you get the device set-up and adjusted to your preferences (it takes a bit of fiddling), you almost forget you're wearing it. It's light and comfortable, yet large enough to wear glasses with. It only comes with one tracking camera, meaning you have less room to move around in. Thankfully, you can install an additional tracking camera (if you pay a bit more) to expand your movement space.
The Oculus price is one of the biggest sticking points of this unit. At $600, it's one of the costliest devices on the market. Still, given its amazing functionality and high quality, it's worth the price!
If you're planning on buying a virtual reality headset, you need to decide if you want something low-budget, mid-priced, or high-end. Not only will this affect the amount you'll pay for the headset, but it will determine the features, specifications, and functions.
Low-Budget – Low budget VR headsets include options like the Google Cardboard or other similar devices. You'll pay anywhere from $10 to $50 for these simple headsets, which are little more than smartphone holders you wear over your eyes. They're foldable, which makes them highly portable, and they rely on your smartphone touchscreen for control options rather than any buttons or inputs.
These low-budget options tend to have limited interactivity, and they're not suitable for long hours of use—they're both uncomfortable and can strain your eyes. However, they do provide 360-degree video. Aside from the classic Google Cardboard, you can find a wide variety or even make your own alternatives. You'll find they're suitable for use not only with your Android smartphone, but even iOS smartphones.
In terms of apps, you'll find there are a pretty broad range of apps compatible with Google Cardboard. While versatility may be limited, it's great for watching YouTube videos in 360-degrees or in a VR simulation of a large-screen TV.
Mid-Priced – Mid-priced VR headsets include options like Samsung's Gear VR, Zeiss VR One, or Homido. These are more than just VR phone cases—they're actually proper headsets powered by your smartphone, offering everything from built-in controls to focus wheels to separate screens.
For your basic mid-priced VR headset, you can expect to pay from $75 to $125. Samsung's Gear VR is the costliest of the mid-priced options, but it's also the best, most versatile, and most reliable. The software is fully optimized, the control system is much more effective than Google Cardboard, and there's a dedicated VR app store. In some cases, you can even get the Gear VR headset with the purchase of a new Samsung phone.
It's important to note that the Gear VR headset only works with the latest-model Samsung phones, and LG's 360 VR headset only works with the latest-model LG phones. They may be compatible with certain iPhone models.
Some users have reported motion sickness with these mid-priced VR headsets, thanks to the highly interactive, fast-moving experience. Tethered headsets are the only option that offer reliable positional tracking.
For those who want more control over their VR headset, these mid-priced options do offer external controllers and a user-friendly gamepad/input system. However, a number of reviewers have called the mid-priced headsets aside from the Samsung Gear VR a "mixed bag" in terms of quality.
High-End – High-end VR headsets include options like the Oculus Rift, Sony PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive. These headsets all run off external systems or consoles, which allows them to offer much more sophisticated features—everything from motion tracking to quality graphics to high-resolution screens—than anything mobile-powered VR headsets could.
These high-end headsets are pricey—the Oculus Rift will run at least $599, while the Vive is a whopping $799. However, in addition to the headsets, you'll also need a computer capable of running the virtual reality software—software that is CPU-intensive.
The average computer just isn't able to keep up with most of the demands of VR software, so you may need to spend as much as $1,000 for a quality computer with enough processing power.
High-end VR headsets also need space to move around—anywhere from 4 to 8 feet in every direction. The headsets use positional tracking to move you through the space in your virtual world, but that means you need free space in your gaming room.
The headsets are integrated with physical controllers (the Xbox One controller for the Oculus Rift, and the PlayStation 4 controller for the Playstation VR), but they have motion controllers built into the headsets that allow you to control your world hands-free. There are also external Touch motion controllers available for these high-end headsets (see the section "What are Virtual Reality Controllers?" below).
So you've gone and bought a virtual reality headset—be it the Samsung Gear, Google Cardboard, or the Oculus Rift. Before you insert your smartphone or connect the headset to your PC for some virtual gaming, here are a few tips to help you maximize your VR experience:
Keep it clean – You know how gross it is to use a console controller after someone with greasy, sweaty hands, right? Well, your VR headset isn't much different—it comes in contact with the skin of your (and your friend's) face.
Our faces produce a lot more skin oil than other parts of our bodies, meaning the headset is more likely to get grease on it. You can use a VR cover (like a pillowcase for your headset) to keep it free of skin oils, but you should still wipe down the controller between uses.
If you're the type of user who wants to clean the headset regularly, invest in compressed air, a dust cloth, and some lens cleaner. It will take a few seconds to wipe down, dust, and air-clean your headset after every use. Regular cleaning will expand the device's lifespan!
Use shaving foam – Freefly VR offers a nifty trick to help you keep your headset lenses from fogging up: apply a thin layer of shaving foam to a clean lens, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Use an anti-static cloth to buffer the lenses and clean off the foam. The shaving foam will prevent fogging for about 3 days of regular use.
Charge your phone – If you're using a phone-controlled VR headset, you need to realize that the headset and the VR apps will use A LOT of your battery life. If you're not on 100% battery, you're going to run out of power far more quickly. Make sure your phone is fully charged before you start VR gaming.
Close background apps – The last thing you need is MORE apps sucking up your battery life while you're VR gaming. Make sure to close any apps you don't need—you can always re-open them later once you're done. Be certain to turn off any and all apps that access your phone's camera, as that may interfere with your headset's functionality—it uses your camera to track your focus and control the VR software. Also, you don't want text or email notifications to pop up while you're in the middle of an intense gaming session.
Wear headphones – VR headsets are more than just picture; you also need the quality sound for the full experience. Even if your smartphone has great sound quality, it won't suffice. Plug in a good pair of headphones to get the true 3D spatial audio of the software or game. Try using noise isolating or noise cancelling headphones for the full experience.
Use it while seated – In order to reduce the risk of accidents while VR gaming, make sure to play while sitting down. The last thing you want is to stumble over a coffee table or bump into your furniture in the middle of an intense gaming session.
Play on a swivel chair – For real fun, enjoy your VR experience on a swivel chair that allows you to spin a full 360-degrees. There are many VR apps that offer the full 360-degree range of motion, which you just won't get if you're sitting on a couch or your bed. Plus, who doesn't love spinning around on swivel chairs?
Playing on a swivel chair is also better for your neck. You should always turn your chair while trying to move your VR field of view, rather than craning your neck. The built-in motion sensors can recognize movements of your head independent of your neck movements, meaning that a twist of your head will be just the same as turning your whole body on the swivel chair. It's far easier on your neck muscles to turn your swivel chair!
Adjust until you've got it right – Whether you use the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, or Samsung Gear VR, you want to make sure the headset is sitting correctly on your face and in the right position.
Adjust the headset so it blocks out all external light, and make sure your eyes are close enough to the lenses to get the full field of view. The headset should be seated firmly against your head, not so tight that it hurts but not so loose that it's falling off. Adjust the focal point of the lenses to sharpen the image and reduce the risk of motion sickness and eye strain.
Consider a motion controller – If you're going to play VR games, you may find that a handheld motion controller is your best friend. Not only does it give you more control over the games, but it speeds up your ability to navigate menus and other software features. It's much easier to use a controller than fiddle with the buttons on the headset.
Start out slow – If you're new to VR gaming, you may find that a fully immersive experience may cause you to experience motion sickness, dizziness, or eye strain. You may not yet be ready for the full-on VR experience, or for a VR horror game.
Look on the VR app store for apps that have a lower intensity rating. Lower intensity ratings will indicate a much simpler VR experience, one that has a lower chance of causing motion sickness. Start out with low intensity apps until you're accustomed to VR, then slowly increase the intensity as you feel comfortable.
Cool off – Your headset is very likely to heat up as the VR app taxes your phone's hardware. When your phone gets hot, it's going to slow down the frame rates of the VR apps. If you notice lag or slow frame rates, or you feel the headset is getting hot, turn it off and power down your phone.
Give your phone a few minutes of rest (maybe even re-charge it a bit) before continuing gaming. Overheating phones can be a serious issue, one that could lead to permanent damage to both the phone and headset. Plus, if you get too hot and start sweating, the heat and sweat can fog up the lenses.
Bonus: If your phone is prone to overheating, consider removing the visor on the outside of the headset (Samsung Gear VR offers this option). That way, your phone will get enough air flow to keep it cool while gaming.
Turn on "Comfort Mode" – Samsung's Gear VR offers "Comfort Mode", an option that lets you adjust how warm/cool the background lighting on the headset is. For those who suffer eye strain, motion sickness, or migraines, this option is a must-have!
Motion controllers are handheld controllers that are designed to be used alongside high-end VR headsets—such as the Oculus Rift or Sony PlayStation VR. These controllers include a thumbstick (like on a PlayStation/Xbox controller) that allows you to scroll through menus, adjust gameplay, and control the virtual world.
There may be a trackpad (like a VR version of a mouse) that works in tandem with the thumbstick. The motion controllers are meant to be gripped in both hands, and they play an important part of the overall VR experience.
For casual single gaming, these controllers can be a very useful addition. They offer another option for controlling the game beyond motion and focus tracking. However, when it comes to competitive gaming, they aren't quite as effective as standard console controllers or gaming mice.
There's a bit too much "jump" for precision control, and the response time is slightly slower than is required for the fast-paced world of online competitive gaming. That may change in the future with new upgrades, but for now, VR gaming is an experience best enjoyed among friends.