With new VR headsets coming into the market every day, it can be hard to know the best hardware to choose to showcase your Virtual Reality designs. There's no simple answer: the kind of headset you need depends on why you're using VR, your technical needs, your budget, and of course, your clients.
The immersive power that VR brings to the table is truly amazing and is only improving with time, but with technology accelerating at the pace it is, and the VR industry blowing up more and more every year raises the question: if you are going to invest in VR, particularly a VR headset, which model makes the most sense for you to purchase to view your VR content? Before we get into our VR headset comparison, let's explore further which VR headset would be best suited for your needs.
VR Headset Considerations
Why you're using VR
There are many different reasons firms use VR--and your motivation for it will affect the kind of hardware you select. Ask yourself:
- How much do you intend to make VR a part of your firm's marketing efforts? Firms who truly want to be known for their VR services and reinforce branding at every opportunity might consider ordering branded cardboard headsets to leave behind with clients and prospects.
- Are you using VR in an attempt to cut down on travel time? If so, you'll need to make sure your client is set up with and comfortable using a VR headset.
Your technical needs
When addressing your technical needs, consider the following:
- What smartphone will you be using? Most Android and iOS can experience VR for a low cost on Google Cardboard or Homido MINI headsets. For a better experience on iPhone, the Mattel View-Master VR takes quality up a notch, where Samsung's Gear VR (for Samsung users only) is the ultimate in mobile headset quality.
- Are you willing to invest in a new smartphone (or smartphones) for a better VR headset experience? While there are headsets out there for virtually any smartphone, our (completely unaffiliated) recommendation for a high-quality VR experience is Samsung's Gear VR headset. However, you'll need a Samsung smartphone (see specifications on the Samsung website) to power this.+
If you're hesitant about setting a budget for VR, check out our article on Why You Already Have a Budget for VR. When allocating some of this budget to VR headsets, think about this:
- How many headsets are you planning to invest in? One for the company? One for each salesperson, client, 3D author? Maybe you're investing in a few good quality headsets, or a large amount of lower-quality headsets--or both!
- What percentage of your total VR budget can you allocate to VR? Read up on Popular Headsets and Pricing to inform your decision.
- Does your client wear glasses? Typically, glasses are awkward with lower-range headsets like Google Cardboard and the Mattel View-Master VR. Samsung's Gear VR has customizable focus, allowing users to view clearly without glasses. Alternately, these pocket-sized Homido MINI glasses allow users to keep their glasses on while experiencing VR.
- How technical is your client? Would they be comfortable receiving files from you to view on their own smartphone and headset? If you think they would be receptive to this, be sure to start by explaining to them how the collaboration process would work with this new technology, and walk them through connecting their headset and downloading the Yulio Viewer app to make sure they're up and running.
- Is your client locally based? If not, is it worth sending them their own VR headset for the project?
- How much is your client worth to you? Is it worth leaving them their own headset, and if so, how much are you willing to invest in it?
Mobile vs. Tethered
First, you have to decide whether you want a mobile or tethered headset.
These headsets are essentially encased lenses where you can position your phone to view the VR content. Your phone will split the content into two frames - one for each eye, so that when you put the headset on, your phone becomes the VR device, creating the immersive visual experience right in-front of your eyes.
- Mobile headsets are - to put it bluntly, mobile! You can take them with you anywhere you go and get them out and set them up with ease. So you can take them with you to show off VR to a client or take your VR portfolio to a sales meeting
- They are relatively inexpensive in comparison to tethered headsets (we’re talking upwards of a $400+ difference here)
- They require less technology (none of those pesky movement sensors, camera trackers, unwieldy cables, or high-end PC’s to run complicated programs)
- Less set-up time (you can typically just open the VR app on your device, slip it into the headset, and begin your immersive experience)
- The user is less susceptible to VR nausea
- Typically with mobile, you can’t interact with your surroundings unless there is a button or menu option. Usually, mobile VR headsets are set up to process FPR’s (fixed point renderings), which allow you to see all angles of a fixed point, but doesn’t allow you to move anything but your line of sight
- You cannot walk around the scene. Mobile VR tracks head movement only in what we call 3-degrees of freedom, not full motion 6-degrees of freedom, so there’s no walking around
- Your smartphone wasn’t designed to have the image quality or internal power that true VR needs to be at its best (although you can still get quite the experience without all of all of the tethered gear)
Tethered headsets are a lot more complex than mobile headsets. Mobile headsets are made for smartphones, which aren’t designed for the image quality and processing power needed to have the ‘true’ immersive VR experience; however, this isn’t necessarily needed for all activities that you may be using VR for. Tethered headsets consist of a helmet connected by long thick cables to a powerful PC. The helmet will come with VR quality image display, built-in motion sensors, and an external camera tracker, and you will also have some sort of remote debating on which option you choose to help you navigate your surroundings, which increasingly heightens your immersive experience with the software.
- This is what this equipment was made to do; create the most complex and immersive experience for you. (So if you’re looking for the top-of-the-line tech for VR, here it is)
- You’re able to play video games and do more mobile and tactile motions within the software (This means walking around, picking up items, and interacting with your surroundings!)
- You’re restricted to the length of the cables attaching from your headset to the PC, which means that you can’t wander too far or go out of that range
- You need a dedicated space of at least 3 square meters
- This tech usually comes with quite the price tag. Don’t expect to spend anything less than $500 (and that doesn’t count the amount of time you need to devote to setting it up!)
- Users are more susceptible to nausea because of the interaction in the software
Options in the market: Mobile
Samsung Gear VR
Price: $149.99 - Samsung Store
Compatibility: Works on most devices that are USB Type-C and Micro USB. Does not work for iPhone
Comments: Great design for sleekness and comfort, slightly higher price than the Google Daydream, and great quality for viewing; This option has a large range of content and games available (which includes free ones too!) for users which makes it an attractive buy.
Google Daydream View
Price: $140 - Google Store
Compatibility: Works on most select Android devices including some LG and Samsung models. Does not work for iPhone
Comments: Overall, a great design for sleekness and comfort, and great quality for viewing; however as of right now, there is not enough content available for it to make it worth buying as opposed to some of its competing headsets like the Samsung Gear VR.
*The Google Daydream has since been discontinued - read more here*
Price: ~$85 (69.99€) - Homido Store
Compatibility: Compatible with most Android and iOS smartphones
Comments: Great design and said to be comfortable, but the image quality is not as great as the Samsung Gear VR. The grip for your phone inside of the headset is strong, but the magnet that holds the headset lid shut (protecting your phone) is not very strong, so if you have a thicker phone, it might be advised to get a different headset with a stronger clip to hold the shell closed. There have also been complaints about the allowance for your headphone jack; for standard earbuds, they fit just fine, but if you have your own over-the-ear headphones, the jack has to be small enough to squeeze through the plastic cover. Image quality is ok, but not as clear as the higher-end headsets.
ETVR 3D VR
Price: $79.99 - Ebay
Compatibility: Compatible with most Android and iOS smartphones
Comments: Many people rave that the design looks good, is still comfortable to wear and compares to the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream View; however, the image quality is not as impressive as the competing headsets. That being said, if you’re looking for a cheap(er) mid-range headset to experience VR, this could be a good option for you.
Price: ~$20 (14.99€) - Homido Store
Compatibility: Compatible with all smartphones
Comments: Designed as a pair of glasses as opposed to a headset/goggle. Definitely more affordable than some of the higher-end headsets, has a sleek design, is foldable, and the image is still clear. The only takeaways from this product are that you don’t have the full spectrum of VR. The glasses aren’t strapped to your head, and the goggles don’t cup around your eyes, which means you have to hold them to your eyes when viewing in VR, and you can still see and feel the environment around you in your peripherals as opposed to being fully immersed in a VR environment. These are still a great light-weight option if you don’t want to blow the budget on a headset, and lend themselves to the idea of a portfolio in your pocket more than most alternatives
Price: $15 - Google Store
Compatibility: Compatible with all smartphones
Comments: Similar to the Homido Mini in that they are designed as lenses that you have to hold to your eyes instead of it being goggles strapped to your head, but the difference between Google Cardboard and Homido Mini is that Google Cardboard cups your eyes, and allows less peripheral vision so that you’re more immersed in the VR content. Again, this option is also on the lower-end for cost, which makes this and the Homido Mini the best bang for your buck in terms of quality of image, effective VR experience, and practicality of use. The Google Cardboard is also very light-weight and packs away easy inside of the fitted cardboard box it comes in. Considering all of the factors, Google Cardboard and Homido Mini are the cheapest and easiest ways to view VR content.
Options in the market: Tethered
Price: $529 (just headset) - $1328-$2628 (headset and hardware setup) - Oculus Rift Store
Compatibility: Rift Hardware
Comments: In terms of just the headsets, the Rift and the Vive are almost identical (1200 x 1080 OLED displays for each eye, a 110-degree field of view, and plenty of room inside the headset to accommodate a pair glasses), however the hardware for the Rift is more advanced for motion control and image quality, and has a very powerful processor to accompany the headset; this option is one of the highest quality (and most expensive) options on the market today. This being said, their gaming focus for the user is either sitting or standing (the range is only a 5 x 11 rectangle), so if you want the full immersive walking experience in VR, you may want to consider some of the other options.
HTC Vive/Steam VR
Price: $799 - Microsoft Store
Compatibility: PC Computer
Comments: The design was made to be sleek and comfortable, and the remotes fit easily into your hands. The image quality is equally as impressive as the Oculus (1200 x 1080 OLED displays for each eye) comes with a 110-degree field of view, and there's plenty of room inside the headset to accommodate a pair glasses. This system has 360-degree controllers, headset tracking, directional audio and HD haptic feedback which makes the VR experience incredible. This is also the only headset in the market that actually allows you to walk around in VR (in a 15 x 15 space), of course this means that you have to set up the position tracking; with this, the Chaperone system warns you about the boundaries of your play area which is a nice feature when talking about tethered VR. The only major flaw with this product is the setup required; there’s a lot of cables, and each piece of equipment that you want to use needs to be plugged into the computer hardware.
Sony PlayStation VR
Price: $400 (just headset) - $579.99 (PlayStation 4 and headset)
Compatibility: Playstation 4
Comments: This setup comes with two remotes which help you interact with your surroundings virtually. The image quality is not as good as Oculus or Vive (Playstation VR has 960 x 1080 for each eye), but that being said, this is still pretty good quality. It also has a slightly more narrow range of vision at 100 degrees versus Oculus and Vive that have 110 degrees, but again, this being said does not mean that it’s going to make a huge difference. This tethered VR system is the most affordable option since it can be run on a PlayStation 4, of course, that’s assuming that you already have this console at home, otherwise, it can be pricey to purchase the console and the helmet.
Matching the headset to how you want to use it
Now we have or VR headset comparison data, it’s time to break down which headsets are better for what you would be using it for.
For mobile headsets, the majority of the work is being performed by your smartphone, and the headset is merely the vehicle used to view the content, which is what allows companies to keep the price of the headset relatively low. Think of it as if you’re in a rooted chair; you can look all around you but you can’t interact with the 3D space unless there are hotspot options that will virtually move you around. Mobile headsets are standard if you’re just looking for something to use for work or leisurely, and if you aren't looking for anything more than just a visual and/or auditory experience. Mobile headsets make more sense for those who are not planning on playing more invasive video games because there is no motion sensors or movement tracking. And we think they’re the most practical for business applications. Typically in a meeting featuring a VR presentation, you’ll want to pop in and out of VR while you discuss the presentation - so straps can get in the way, and controllers can be intimidating. And of course, the mere reality of mobile means you can present to clients located anywhere. Your virtual reality headset comparison can’t be complete until you consider the ways and locations in which you typically are trying to show VR to clients or any audience.
For tethered headsets, the majority of the work is done by a powerful processor inside of some sort of hardware purchased alongside your headset. The cost is much higher, but your experience in VR will have a lot more dimension than the mobile experience. Tethered headsets make more sense to purchase if you plan on playing with interactive content in gaming. To choose which tethered option is best for you, you have to consider how often you’ll use it and with what games you want to play. Oculus will have the most options for content to experience in comparison to the other tethered options, but it also has the largest price tag, and Sony Playstation VR is the cheapest option, but you’re limited to the games that PlayStation releases. In business, tethered rigs can make a great splash at trade shows, but can be impractical if you have to have clients come to you for every presentation.
Some Yulio clients started out exploring them for the immersive quality of VR but ended up struggling because clients didn’t want to come in to see each design iteration. One of the most useful VR headset comparison field tests for one of our architectural clients came when he set up a simple mobile experience at a tradeshow booth, only to find his neighbor table struggling with a tethered setup. While the tethered looks cool and is fully immersive, in the end, the trade-off of simple set up that achieved the same goal worked well for them. After all, the real goal is sharing your vision in a new and immersive medium.