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Which Budget VR Headset Should I Buy?
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Planet Earth has seen many births and deaths of Virtual Reality, from the Sensorama in the 1950s, The Sword of Damocles in the 1960s, the VideoPlace in the 1970s, the Virtual Cockpit in the 1980s, the Virtual Boy in the 1990s, Google’s Street View in the 2000s and then the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive devices that began emerging from 2010.


It’s fair to argue that this incarnation of Virtual Reality has survived the longest, and although not growing at the pace many predicted, it has lasted nearly an entire decade with new technology and software being released daily. Many would say VR is now here to stay and will only integrate more with our lives as technology evolves and the concept of VR becomes more mainstream.


One barrier for many people when it comes to VR is the cost, the most advance equipment requires a powerful computer to run which could cost up to the thousands, then there’s the headsets themselves, costing anywhere between $399-$799 they aren't cheap. For people living pay check to pay check it can be just too far out of reach.


But VR is slowly becoming more affordable and we’re just now starting to see the birth of full standalone and wireless headsets capable of full immersion in a virtual world for a fairly reasonable price. Allow us to discuss some of those options to help in your decision, should you be considering buying one.


Samsung GearVR

The GearVR is a headset developed and released in partnership between Samsung and Oculus. The first model was released in 2015 and there have been 6 variations since, with a seemingly final version released in 2017 (the SM-R325), which supports the most phone types when using either of the Micro-USB or USB-C adaptors, supporting Samsung Galaxy devices from the S6/Note5 up to the S10/Note9. All versions feature touch controls on the headset, on-board accelerometer, gyroscope, geomagnetic and proximity sensors, a lens focus dial, Micro/USB-C charging ports and newer editions even include a three-degrees-of-freedom motion controller, which is compatible with all GearVR versions. Its arguably the most hardware and feature rich smartphone operated headset.



Pros

  1. Uses Oculus store for apps and games

  2. Great build quality and comfortable to wear

  3. Built-in controls, power port and additional hardware

  4. Decent field of view (96-101° depending on model)

  5. Great 3doF controller with trigger button


Cons

  1. Requires smartphone

  2. Only supports Galaxy phones

  3. Difficult to use with non-Oculus apps

  4. No rechargeable option for controller

  5. Requires phone to be docked at all times


Should I buy it?

The Samsung GearVR is ideal for those on a tight budget with a compatible Galaxy smartphone. It’s the closest to tethered VR in the Oculus ecosystem you’ll get before the Quest releases later this year, many apps and games are cross-platform and cross-purchase meaning you invest in to your next potential headset before you even own it. With built-in controls, SD card support and GPS functionality it even beats Oculus Go in some respects. If the requirement of a smartphone is a deal breaker then the Oculus Go is your best bet but these outweigh the cost of a GearVR by nearly 3 times.



Google Daydream View

The Daydream View is the natural successor to Google’s Cardboard offering. The first edition was released in 2016 with the second and possibly final version released in 2017. The headset doesn’t feature any controls so relies on its 3doF controller for this. The design uses a stylish fabric material around its body which provides a light weight and a more household item style. The headset connects with the phone using NFC and is compatible with specific handsets from Google, Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei, Asus, Xiaomi, ZTE and Alcatel.


Pros

  1. Lightweight, stylish and comfortable

  2. Decent field of view (101° on both editions)

  3. Compatible with handsets besides just Pixels

  4. USB-C chargeable motion controller

  5. Supports Daydream, Cardboard and Play Store VR apps


Cons

  1. Requires smartphone

  2. Limited handset support

  3. Mediocre developer support

  4. No physical buttons or dials on headset

  5. Awkward controller with no trigger or grasp buttons


Should I buy it?

For us the Oculus store is a deal breaker, so we’d always go with an Oculus product before a Google one, but if you don’t have a Samsung Galaxy device and are too on a tight budget then the Daydream View might be for you. Best to research if the handset you have is one officially supported first, but if you’re a Pixel owner the Daydream View is the ideal headset for your portable VR needs. If style or comfort are important factors for you then the Daydream View is also the natural choice. But again if you’d rather not use your smartphone to power the headset its best to save for the Oculus Go or wait for the Oculus Quest.



Oculus Go

The Oculus Go, developed in partnership with both Qualcomm and Xiaomi and released in 2018, is a standalone VR headset that is neither PC tethered nor smartphone reliant. With dedicated hardware (battery, storage, processor etc.), the Oculus Go truly is the first mainstream and well supported standalone VR headset. It features a 3doF motion controller, 32/64gb storage, built-in surround sound spatial speakers and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The headset will soon be succeeded by the much improved but twice as expensive Oculus Quest in 2019.


Pros

  1. Does not require computer or smartphone

  2. Uses Oculus store for apps and games

  3. On board speakers, battery and storage

  4. Great field of view (110°)

  5. Decent 3doF controller with trigger button


Cons

  1. No GPS and relatively weak processor (Snapdragon 821)

  2. Almost impossible to use with non-Oculus apps

  3. No rechargeable option for controller

  4. Limited memory with no expansion options

  5. No control buttons on headset


Should I buy it?

The Oculus Go is the only choice for many people for two very big reasons - 1. Non-tethered, real portability and 2. No reliability on smartphone screens and hardware. It’s certainly on the higher end of what many would consider a budget headset, but what it lacks in frugalness, it 100% makes up for in sheer convenience and pick-up-and-playability. If you hate having to rely on your phone and want something truly dedicated to VR and VR alone, the Oculus Go is for you. If you want something more powerful (but much more expensive) then get the Vive Focus or wait for the Oculus Quest.



Generic VR Headset (/Google Cardboard)

100s of generic virtual reality headsets have been on the market for as little as $5 since the rise in popularity of Google Cardboard kits. Functionality and quality massively varies but if you do your research and don’t go excessively cheap, you can get a device that supports most modern smartphones and shares the same magnet based functionality used by Google Cardboard headsets, others even come with Bluetooth controllers. We suggest downloading the Cardboard and Fulldive VR app stores to get the best out of an entry level headset like these.


Pros

  1. Low cost considering the potential

  2. Lots of variety in style and features

  3. Supports almost any smartphone capable of VR

  4. Great gateway to more rich experiences

  5. Good for enthusiast experiments and modifying


Cons

  1. Relies solely on power and features of your phone

  2. General lack of build quality and comfort

  3. Lack of controls and functionality

  4. No 3doF motion controller support

  5. Very limited developer support


Should I buy one?

These headsets are the cheapest options by far and are ideal for people who want to dip their toes in to a VR experience without taking out a small loan. Yes they lack build quality and functionality and as a result, user experience – but they do give you a very base level experience of what VR has to offer, and for that they are well worth the $5-30 asking price, anything more expensive and you may as well invest in a GearVR or Daydream View – but if your phone isn’t compatible with either of those I really wouldn’t suggest getting a generic headset to fill the gap, as it won’t be worth the investment, best to save up for an Oculus Go or borrow a friend’s headset.




The main take away from all this is that your experience with portable devices will never match up with what is offered by tethered headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the portable technology and power just isn't quite there at the moment, at least not for an affordable price. Even the Oculus Quest will struggle versus its tethered cousins. But if portability or price is important for you like it is many others, the sacrifices might be worth the end result.

We use all sorts of devices here at OP and we see the potential in all of them, but we're interested in you - do you already have one of the devices covered here or maybe another of which you'd like to share your experiences? How do you feel about VR in general and do you think it will continue to grow or die another death as predicted by half a century of history? Get in touch and tell us your thoughts below!

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  • daedalus007
    April 19, 2019

    I still feel that we don't have the talent/budget from developers to truly make VR worthwhile for anyone but that 0.00001% of enthusiasts who are into new tech.

    The 'FOV' issue is a major one.  I find it both amusing and laughably-bad that with as long as VR has been available to the public that nobody thought to offer one that has an adustable FOV...ideally anywhere from 75 to 155 would be a good range.  Capping out at barely 105 is not going to help many people who are new to VR and suffer from simulation sickness.

    Also the price point makes these pricy peripherals completely pointless.  The dev support isn't there (mostly niche budget indie titles) and there are no 'killer apps' that aren't just ported from other systems.

    Finally, on a purely practical level, not everyone has the living space required to enjoy these in the comfort of their home because their homes are either small apartments or otherwise have too many breakable items around to make it worthwhile.

    Motion controls are far easier to sell because it doesn't require a complete loss of visual awareness of one's surroundings.

    • To respond to your points in order...


      I'm not sure if you're talking just about tethered VR here or all VR in general, but either way 0.00001% of enthusiasts is way beyond exaggerating and with PSVR selling just shy of 5 million units alone it's a completely redundant point. It might not be in every home but it's far from a niche little toy that no one see's the value in.

      While FOV isn't great on a lot of headsets, it's certainly not a major issue, and doesn't cap out at 105 either. There's a few contenders on the market that reach 120 on their devices and that will only increase as the technology does. There's a lot more that can be done to combat motion sickness besides just FOV and I see this being explored in various games and apps that I have experimented with, some that reduce it to comfortable amounts, others that completely remove it from the experience.

      The price IS a legitimate issue, and one that is slowly being addressed but not as quickly as I'd hope for myself. Dev support is limited but again "not there" is an exaggeration as there are hundreds of mind blowing and incredibly involved games produced for gamers to get lost it.

      As for your last point, very few headsets need a living room worth of space to be enjoyable. The HTC Vive feels like the headset you're targeting here, but even with that there's thousands of games and apps that provide excellent experiences from your computer desk or couch. I've only played a few open space VR games but I much prefer the titles that allow me to sit down and experience things at my own pace, the last thing I want to do after a long days work is put a headset on and dance around the house.

      These might have all be borderline valid points at one moment in time, but they're quickly becoming those VR myths you read about in forums made up be people who aren't interested in or do not have the funds for virtual reality.

      • You started off making some good points.  I could see what your position was (even if it didn't change my mind; was good to read).  This was all going nicely at first.

        Unfortunately, your last sentences/blurb at the end just had to make a left turn into ad hominem territory.


        These might have all be borderline valid points at one moment in time, but they're quickly becoming those VR myths you read about in forums made up be people who aren't interested in or do not have the funds for virtual reality.

        The moment you suggested/implied that my lack of interest in VR was due to my income (or lack thereof), your entire point became worthless.  You became nothing more than an exclusionary egotistical arrogant shill for whatever VR company/companies you work for to write this 'informational article'.

        Maybe you are a legit VR enthusiast that wants others to enjoy the tech.  However I don't see it that way.  You might as well paint your face like a clown and put on a wig while using your hoity-toity sneering voice about how I'm not 'hardcore' enough.

        If engaging in the VR community means dealing with the likes of you, then I'll gladly opt-out.  I've got more than enough standard non-VR games to play.  I've got more than enough single player games to play, most of them by awesome indies who deserve far more love than some overpriced trash that'll be relegated to the annals of gaming history as yet another 'failed peripheral'.

        Please do tell me where you get that '5 million VR headsets' from.  Barely 1% of total Steam users bother to use VR headsets on Steam, the largest and most prominent PC gaming storefront for the platform.  Now if there are people who only play standalone non-Steam games that have VR then I can dig it, but I don't see many other stores having a significant selection of VR games.  Now 1% of ~15 million ACTIVE Steam users is barely 150k who would have a VR headset that Steam detects.  Far far south of the '5 million' that you've claimed.  But let's even presume 5 million headsets; how many people actually buy games for em?  ;)

        The biggest problem was that the headset creators and hardware manufacturers don't care about games or experiences.  They want to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.  They aren't in this for the long haul.  They sell hardware to people with more money than sense (hello Microsoft Kinect, hello Playstation Eye, hello Nintendo Power Glove; they're all 'so bad').


      • Dear Daedalus007,

        Before bursting in to a fit of rage at what was supposed to be a reasonable debate, please understand a few things concerning my response to your initial comments. Firstly I do not work for a VR company, I work for Opium Pulses and am and have been a great admirer and fan of virtual reality for a long time, I write articles like these in my own time for enjoyment, not for any other reason. Whether you subscribe to that truth or not is down to you, but it’s important to know before you judge my entire character.

        The PSVR sales are reported by countless news outlets online, a quick google will give you some stats to wade through, remember this is a console-based VR headset that cannot connect to or be detected by Steam – then there’s Oculus based headsets (GearVR, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift) that have their own storefront and while the more expensive Rift can make use of a selection of games in the Steam store, the former two headsets, cannot. Steam VR titles are mostly aimed more at the HTC Vive, arguably the most expensive and free-space-hungry headset.

        Neither my article nor comments were set to prove that VR is selling like hotcakes, far from, it was simply a response to your estimated 0.00001%. I can’t however respond to the points you make out of what seems like sheer anger as I can’t see that I’ll make any reasonable headway there, but you too, also make some good points so I’ll address those before anything else.

        It’s true, VR is still a niche hobby and a lot of gamers have probably never touched the technology, let alone considered investing in it, however I don’t think it’s fair to say that because less than 1% of gamers are using VR on a particular platform that means that the few that are, are toying with something that couldn’t be worthwhile for many others. VR has a lot to offer and while it’s subjective and down to opinion, I do think its worth being stated more by people who have actually given it a fair chance.

        I disagree with your statements about manufacturers not caring about the experiences of their users, just looking in to the history of Oculus and the people behind it (their ambitions etc) will give you a different angle on that perspective, but again, I imagine you feel pretty strongly about this already so I shan’t put too much more energy in to that.

        To address the paragraph you quoted of me, I’ll admit upon re-reading I wasn’t quite comfortable with the wording myself (no one is perfect), this wasn’t supposed to be a summary of you or the type of personal you are, and more a statement on where I find the origin for most of these opinions are born. Personally I don’t believe they make fair debate and only serve to negatively prod those who have a positive belief in something.  I only debate from corners in which I have experience and I personally just think that makes the for a lot less needless arguments.

        but it’s worth knowing that even I, cannot afford any full tethered VR experience, I’ve spent a lot of time with them however so feel I know enough to see both their potential and value and compare them to the mobile counterparts. I have however had a lot of experience with mobile VR headsets and have compared my own (GearVR) with competing headsets of my friends and family, hence this article.

        I personally believe VR will be the spearhead in a new direction of social interaction online in the years to come and this is the element I’m most excited about, but this is another article for another day. For now, I experiment where I can with the little funds I have and share my experiences for fun.

        In saying all of this, I do also apologise for any offense I caused – I assure you it wasn’t intentional.

      • Looked up who you were.  Now it makes sense lol.  Your response is far more reasonable than I thought it would be.  I've heard the whole 'poor person' sneering backlash from far too many people for far too long to sit by and 'let it happen' again, especially from someone writing for (and working for) a site that should know better.

        Oculus was crowdfunded for almost 2.5 million USD on Kickstarter and I believe they had additional funds through other crowdfunding/donation means; a resounding success story in non-digital products.

        Facebook then bought the company for 2+ billion USD and proceeded to systematically spit on everyone who 'invested' in the original product.  When I say 'the devs and manufacturers don't care' I actually mean it.  They don't give a single solitary damn about anything other than money.

        If any publisher or dev or manufacturer bothered to give a damn about any of their users, it wouldn't have taken 5+ years of VR before they finally made one with an FOV above 100.  They wouldn't have subjected countless test subjects to nausea and intense motion-sickness from their lazy ports and half-hearted attempts at copying ideas from past 'virtual reality' game failures.

        I'm absolutely pessimistic about VR as a thing and I see it as nothing more than expensive toys by people with far too much money to spend.  But you know what?  At least they're getting a physical item for their money instead of being a whale and throwing money at gambleboxes.  I'll acknowledge that much.

        When VR gets a 'killer app' that makes it worthwhile; when VR is actually able to be tried out and/or demo'd in a controlled setting prior to purchase; when VR doesnt' require a large living space to safely play; when VR becomes AR instead so that we aren't at risk of losing sense of our surroundings entirely...that's when I'll give a damn.

        I don't see VR as the future.  I see AR as the future.  AR = Alternate Reality.  Effectively an 'overlay' above the real world but done in such a way as to be entirely convincing otherwise.  We're far away from that kind of tech (maybe in 50 years or so) but I hope we get there.

        The problem with VR and AR as concepts is that compulsive game design (skinner boxes, gambling, etc) is already rampant.  To put those mechanics into a VR/AR scenario would potentially cause a collapse of society if enough people are 'addicted' to it and completely lose sense of the real world.  It is bad enough with non-VR and non-AR games; cybercafes in Korea/Japan already let people go in and game to death until someone notices the smell from their corpse.

        Do we really want to make things even more immersive?  When is enough gonna be enough?  Just give me my holodeck with 100% full admin rights/control and let me make my own fun, ok?  ;)

      • I'd like to reiterate that nothing about that quote was a judgement of who you are based on your interest or lack thereof in VR, I understand your disgust in people that dismiss debates based solely on another's income, my point was that many of the misconceptions of VR (in my personal experience), stem from those who have never given it a reasonable amount of their time.

        While I agree with a few and disagree with a little more of your opinions, I think we've spoken enough about our own respectively to get our points across. I think we can both agree we'd like to see it develop in to something we can all be rewarded for "giving a damn about", instead of just a small minority of us.

        One point I would like to pick up on is that AR stands for Augmented Reality, as in an augmentation to our existing world. Not Alternate Reality, which is essentially just what VR is right now. Sound close, mean very different things. However I too, look forward to see where AR takes us and how it adapts to the world around us.

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