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Best VR Headset 2017: Five of the best ways to escape reality

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Let’s not kid around, the world is a pretty scary place right now. From political collapse to exploding phablets, it’s understandable why so many people may want to escape to a safe virtual space.

Fortunately, technology has evolved to the point that we can do just that. Over the past two years, we’ve seen a wealth of virtual reality headsets hit the market – ideal for would-be reality escapees. What’s more, thanks to stellar work by key players including Microsoft, Sony and Google, you don’t necessarily need a super-expensive gaming rig to enjoy VR anymore, either.

But with all these changes, and more minimum requirements spec tables doing the rounds than you can shake a stick at, figuring out which headset to opt for is fraught with difficulty. So, we’ve created a definitive guide to virtual reality, making it quick and easy to find the right headset for you.

Score 3,5

Key features

  • Room scaling: No
  • Motion controls: Yes
  • Minimum system requirements: Daydream-compatible smartphone
  • Price: £99

Mobile VR has been around for a while, but it’s only recently started to get good thanks to the arrival of usable headsets such as the Google Daydream View.

The 2017 Daydream view is the second mobile-VR headset from Google, following on from the company’s 2016 unit of the same name. The headset arrives with all the usual strengths and weaknesses associated with mobile VR. Being powered by a mobile phone – not an expensive games console or PC – the platform isn’t terribly powerful and rendered images are noticeably pixelated as a result. But as a trade-off, the use of a phone means the experience is entirely cable-free. This makes it a better choice for those who don’t have a huge budget or oodles of room.

What makes this headset special is the amount of great content Google has secured for Daydream and its intuitive motion controller.

Google has done a stellar job of getting big-name studios to launch a VR service on Daydream. Highlights include first-person shooter Gunjack and more bespoke VR experiences such as Harry Potter: Fantastic Beasts. Played through the Daydream and motion controller, it’s about as close as you’ll get to sampling true VR without a rig or games console.

The only downside is that the Daydream platform requires a fairly powerful smartphone running Android Nougat or newer. To date, the list is limited to expensive handsets such as the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8.

 

Key features

  • Room scaling: Yes
  • Motion controls: Yes
  • Minimum system requirements: Intel HD 620 graphics or greater, Intel Core i57200U CPU or greater, 8GB RAM
  • Price: Depends on headset

Windows Mixed Reality is Microsoft’s shiny new augmented and virtual reality platform. It’s baked directly into the company’s Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Edition software, and is compatible with a number of different headsets – including the Acer Headset (£400 with controllers), the Lenovo Explorer (£400 with controllers), the Dell Visor (£380 with controllers), and the HP Headset (£380 with controllers).

The reference design comes with a variety of perks, including fairly minimal system requirements and a nifty tracking solution that reduces the number of cable connections you need.

If all you want to do is check out interactive experiences, watch VR and 360 movies, or do basic office and web browsing in VR, you’ll simply need a PC or laptop with an Intel Core i5 7200U CPU, 8GB of RAM and Intel HD 620 graphics.

For intensive tasks such as 3D gaming you’ll need more powerful hardware, but the specs offer a much more wallet-friendly entry point to VR than other PC solutions. The competing Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both require a dedicated GPU (Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or higher) to run.

The setup process, too, is pain-free since Windows Mixed Reality headsets don’t require external sensors. Instead, the headsets use two front-facing cameras and IME sensors in the headset and controllers to track their wearer’s position and surroundings.

The downside is that the headset tech doesn’t currently match the Oculus or Vive for a couple of key reasons. First, the dual 2880 x 1440 LCDs with a 90Hz refresh rate and 105-degree field-of-view optics aren’t as vibrant as the Vive and Oculus OLED panels. This, plus a few teething issues with the Windows software’s tracking, makes the headset feel a little less polished than its more established competition.

Nevertheless, if you’re on a budget and don’t want to clutter your house with VR sensors then Windows Mixed Reality remains a fantastic option. 

Oculus Rift

3 of 5

Score 4

 

Key features

  • Room scaling: Yes
  • Motion controls: Yes
  • Minimum system requirements: Nvidia GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater, Intel i5-4590/AMD Ryzen 5 1500X or greater, 8GB RAM
  • Price: From £399

For many, the Oculus Rift is the headset that ignited their interest in VR. Since early models of the Rift appeared at trade shows many moons ago, gamers have been swooning at its potential.

When it finally went on sale two years ago, we weren’t disappointed. Featuring slick PC software, a super-comfortable fit and an impressive launch lineup of games, the Oculus Rift was one of 2016’s best bits of tech.

Since then things have got better, thanks to the arrival of the super-intuitive Oculus Touch motion controllers and ever more exclusive titles, including the amazing Echo One space odyssey and blastastic shooter Robo Recall.

The only downside to the Oculus is its fairly hefty system requirements and the fact that you need to invest in a third rear-facing sensor to get the most out of the experience. Without the third sensor you won’t have access to key features such as room scaling, and certain titles just won’t play properly on the Oculus.

Room scaling is a VR technology that uses a combination of player positioning and VR headset tracking within a mapped area to simulate real-world movement.

The third sensor plus the Oculus itself also brings with it a fairly lengthy set of cables to manage, and will leave any play area with a sprawl of rogue wires. This may be an issue for people with limited space.

Still, with the price of the Oculus falling every month, the faffy setup is a small price to pay for one of the best virtual reality gaming experiences on the market.

If the cables are a deal-breaker then you’ll be happy to know that Oculus is also set to release the wireless – but less powerful – Oculus Go headset next year. 

PlayStation VR

4 of 5

Score 5 

 
 
 Key features
  • Room scaling: No
  • Motion controls: Yes
  • Minimum system requirements: PS4 (any version)
  • Price: £320

With pricing starting at a modest £320 for the starter pack on Amazon, the PSVR is pretty much the only option available to console gamers looking to get into virtual reality.

As a piece of hardware, the PSVR strikes a balance between the casual VR experiences offered by mobile platforms such as Google Daydream, and more serious platforms such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

It’s by far the easiest gaming headset to set up and will run on any PlayStation 4, meaning you don’t have to worry about complex specs sheets or checking each game’s system requirements before diving into virtual reality.

The selection of games is also stellar, including awesome titles such as Skyrim VR and Doom VR, which run like a dream.

The only downside is that by only using a front-facing camera, the PSVR doesn’t offer the same level of tracking as the Oculus and Vive. As a result, experiences are limited to stationary sitting positions.

Still, considering the simplicity of the setup and wealth of games available, even with these compromises taken into account, the PSVR remains a must-buy for PS4 owners. 

The HTC Vive

5 of 5

Score 4,5

 

  

Key features

  • Room scaling: Yes
  • Motion controls: Yes
  • System requirements: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or greater, Intel i5-4590, AMD FX 8350 equivalent or greater, 4GB RAM
  • Price: £599

The HTC Vive won Product of the Year and VR Headset of the Year at the Trusted Reviews Awards in 2016, and for good reason. At the time, the Vive was the only headset to offer 4 x 3m room scaling and motion controls. Although the Oculus has since caught up, the Vive remains the go-to headset for true VR power users.

Based on the SteamVR platform, which is rapidly becoming the main marketplace for virtual reality games, the Vive has the best games list on the market. In addition, the wands remain a stellar interface through which gaming is wonderfully immersive – there’s nothing like swinging a digital sword or blasting a virtual shotgun to make you feel at the centre of the action.

The only downside is that, like the Oculus, the Vive has some pretty demanding system requirements and a fairly laborious setup process. Featuring a number of sensors that need to be placed around the play area, most people will have to rearrange their lounge – or be rich enough to have a dedicated playroom – to get the most out of the Vive. However, the base stations can communicate wirelessly, which makes setup a little less cluttered than the cable-heavy Oculus Rift.

Even though the Vive technically only requires a GTX 970 or later to run, games with significantly higher system requirements are also becoming more common on SteamVR. Based on our experience, you’ll probably want a PC with an Nvidia GTX 1070 and 6th-gen plus Intel Core i5 CPU to get the most out of the Vive. Considering its £599 RRP, this makes it an expensive luxury.

Still, if you’re after the ultimate VR experience – and don’t mind moving a little furniture around to accommodate – the HTC Vive is a fantastic headset that’s well worth the money.

Note that HTC is also set to release a new, cable-free model – the Vive Focus – next year, which will go head-to-head with the Oculus Go.


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