Six years after the first iteration of the Oculus Rift kickstarted the modern era of virtual reality, the now Facebook-owned company is back with not one but two new entries, joining a raft of big names from Valve’s Vive to Sony’s PlayStation VR and even Nintendo.
With more options than ever to suit budgets, play styles – and games and experiences actually worth paying for – there’s never been a better time to don a headset and step into a new reality. Here’s a quick guide to five of the best on the market.
Price: £399/£499 (64/128 GB)
The Quest is Oculus’s first fully featured standalone headset and offers a transformational experience. For the first time you get all that’s good about high-end VR, including precise tracking, excellent hand controls and room-scale play that lets you actually walk around in a virtual world, and without the restrictive cables tethering you to a monster PC.
You lose visual fidelity (the Quest is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip from 2017), the battery only lasts about three hours, and it’s not as comfortable on the face as the Rift S. It’s also more difficult for other people in the room to see what you’re doing, as not every game supports Chromecasting your view to a TV.
However the freedom to pick up and play, or to take your headset to another room or a friend’s house with no fuss, is worth it – particularly in households where space is limited. It has pretty good built-in speakers located by your ears, or you can plug your own headphones in.
Not every great VR game is available for the Quest, but fan favourites such as Job Simulator, Robo Recall and Superhot VR have made the jump, while titles such as Star Wars Vader Immortal are compelling (if short and pricey) experiences. It just needs more games, but many are on the cards.
Verdict A mobile, self-contained VR headset that’s finally worth buying.
Best game Beat Saber – Guitar Hero with lightsabers is simply brilliant without wires.
Price: £399 – plus high-end gaming PC
The latest PC-powered VR headset from Oculus is a big step up in comfort and convenience compared to the previous Rift, but still requires a hefty gaming PC to power it.
The Rift S ditches the annoying sensors that had to be positioned around your room to track your head and hands, and needed recalibration almost every time you used them. Instead cameras on the Rift S track your room and hands, with just one USB cable and one display cable connecting your headset and PC. Just put the headset on and it takes care of the rest, making setup much easier. Another significant change is the switch to a halo design for the attachment to your head, which combined with reduced weight makes it a lot more comfortable to wear even for extended VR sessions. Built-in speakers by each ear remove the need for headphones, but you can plug your own in if you want.
The headset’s display is crisper too (though you can still see the pixels) and it has the same great touch controllers as the Quest. The Oculus game library is quite big and you can play VR games from Steam too.
Verdict PC-powered high-end VR with less of the faff.
Best game Robo Recall – I, Robot turned into an arcade shooter at its best.
Price: £799-£1,299 – plus high-end gaming PC
If you are a VR devotee with all the money to spend on the best possible kit, the Vive Pro is what you want. You’ll also need a lot of space. Vive will let you use a whole five-metre-square room as a VR environment, with the help of the headset sensors and a base station plugged into your (high-end) PC. For your money, you get the best-looking, highest-resolution VR experience currently possible, a step above the slightly pixelly experience on both Oculus headsets and the older Vive. Games look significantly better, and virtual objects less blurry round the edges.
Built-in headphones and an improved harness that holds the thing on your head when you’re moving around make playing more comfortable. A cable still connects it to your PC, though for even more money you can tack on a wireless adaptor. Setup is lengthy and quite complex, as every single component requires its own up-to-date firmware and drivers, and sometimes it can take half an hour or longer to actually get a game going. If you’re into high-end VR you probably don’t mind the tinkering so much, but for a lot of people it’s enough to put them off.
Verdict Technically the best VR experience – but for a price (in time and money).
Best game Doom VFR – only high-end VR can do justice to this frenetic shooter.
Price: £180 – plus PS4
Compared with high-end PC VR, the much cheaper PlayStation VR headset is pretty plasticky, and lower-resolution. It can’t track your hands or even its own motion controllers with total accuracy, though most games work perfectly well with a standard PlayStation 4 pad. The thing about PS VR, though, is that it’s got by far the greatest number of VR games that you’d actually want to play.
Where lots of PC VR games are adaptations of older titles like Skyrim or experimental concepts that can leave you with a headache, Sony has tasked its development talent with making things specifically for VR with the kind of polish you’d expect from a PlayStation game. Tetris Effect is a trippy take on the classic, and transcendental in VR; Blood & Truth is a hugely enjoyable London gangster drama; Moss is a gentle adventure involving a little white mouse. Early PC VR hits like Job Simulator and Beat Saber are available too. If your priority is games that are super fun to play, rather than how good they look, PS VR is the standout.
Verdict The least impressive VR tech, but the best games.
Best game Astro Bot: Rescue Mission – brilliantly inventive puzzle adventure featuring cute robots.
Price: from £38 – plus Nintendo Switch (£280)
Nintendo’s VR option is so simple and intuitive you can build it yourself. Indeed, you have to build it yourself: Nintendo Labo comes as a kit full of flat-packed cardboard. Pop the game into your Switch and it’ll give you lively instructions to assemble your own cleverly designed VR headset, along with some endearingly crackpot accessories like a cardboard swan for flight games, a little windmill that lets you play games by blowing on it and a blaster for shooting with. Insert the Switch controllers and screen, and away you go.
Labo VR comes with 64 creative, experimental games – one involves feeding hippos fruit with the blaster, another piloting a UFO – and, interestingly, it also lets players remix and create their own VR games. Few of them last more than 10 minutes or so but they’re creative and entertaining nonetheless. Nintendo’s is the only family-friendly VR option, with a 7+ PEGI rating, and it also gives curious kids an insight into how VR actually works with friendly tutorials and explanations. Technologically it’s basic, but the games are spirited and fun, and assembling the headset yourself is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
Verdict VR as a toy: fun, creative, cheap and family-friendly.
Best game Only the packaged games run with it: one favourite has you taking pictures of fish underwater with a cardboard camera.
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