How to Pick the Right VR Headset for Your Project
A key part of experiencing VR comes from what headset you use. A beautifully filmed 360-video, edited with great craft using InstaVR, will still disappoint if you choose the wrong headset. But choosing the right headset isn’t just a matter of price — you want to choose the right headset for your use case. The best headset for small group employee training might not be the best one for a large scale sales presentation or for display at an exhibition booth.
To help you choose the right VR headset for your project, we’ve put together the following guide. Think of it like a decision tree or Choose Your Own Adventure. Hopefully, after you’ve gone through the steps, you’ll identify the VR headset that will be most appropriate for the VR experience you’re authoring using InstaVR. And always feel free to reach out to our Support Team via Live Chat with any questions.
- What is your VR headset budget? How many headsets will you need?
- Do you want your own branding on your headset? Or would you prefer a more durable headset?
- Do you want a high quality mobile VR headset? Or do you want a more powerful VR headset tethered to a high-end computer?
- Do you want a sturdy high end mobile VR headset compatible with the Samsung Galaxy phone line? Or do you want a lighter, more stylish headset compatible with a broader, but still limited, set of phones?
- Do you want a tethered, powerful headset with 110-degree field of view and capable of room-scale VR?
- Bonus: Should you wait for a mobile, standalone VR headset like the Oculus Go or HTC Vive Focus? Or a more powerful tethered headset like HTC Vive Pro?
VR Headset Decision Tree
1.What is your VR headset budget? How many headsets will you need?
Budget sometimes dictates which VR headset you end up choosing. There’s really two pricing thresholds for current VR headsets: sub $100 mobile headsets (think Google Cardboard or a generic iOS/Android plastic headset) or over $100 mobile or tethered headsets (Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and a number of forthcoming standalone VR headsets).
Obviously, if you have a very small budget — for instance, if this is just a Proof of Concept to get more funding — then you’ll have to go with the cheaper headset options. But you have to understand that the quality of the VR experience will suffer. So by saving money at the headset level, you’re undercutting your investment in your camera, time, etc.
Beyond per headset pricing, you also have to consider how many headsets you’ll need. If you’re throwing an event where you want 50 people to experience the VR simultaneously, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford the higher end headsets. You may also want to mix-and-match… for a trade show, when there’s a high volume of traffic, you may want to have some extra Google Cardboards handy to go along with your primary VR headsets.
If your budget is under $100 per VR headset, or you need a large # of headsets, go to Section 2.
If your budget is over $100 per VR headset, go to Section 3.
2. Do you want your own branding on your headset? Or would you prefer a more durable headset?
In terms of lower-end VR headsets (sub $100), you have a lot of choices. The most popular VR headset at the entry-level price point is the Google Cardboard. This headset is made up of cardboard, a lens, a magnet, and either velcro or a rubber band. They can be purchased either from Google or there are numerous generic knockoff Google Cardboards. The user experience is somewhat similar.
As of mid-2017, Google had shipped over 10 million Cardboards. They utilize the viewers’ own iPhone or Android placed into the headset. The benefits of Cardboards, beyond price, are the ease of transport (they ship flat), ability to add your company branding to Cardboards, and ability to allow the viewer to keep the headset, if you have the budget. The downsides of Cardboards include flimsiness of headset, lack of immersion (only 90-degree field of view), and many users’ phones can only handle 2K or less images/video.
The benefits of generic iOS/Android plastic headsets, beyond price, are greater durability than Cardboards and they feel a little more professional. The downsides of generic iOS/Android plastic headsets are a lack of ability to add company branding to them, similar smaller field of view (most only 90-degrees), and the dependence on the users’ phone.
If you want a low-cost, easily branded, portable VR headset, choose the Google Cardboard:
If you want a low-cost, durable, slightly more professional VR headset, choose a generic iOS/Android headset:
3. Do you want a high quality mobile VR headset? Or do you want a more powerful VR headset tethered to a high-end computer?
If you’re going to be spending more than $100 on a VR headset, you have a few options. They all have major positives and will give the user a much more professional and immersive feel than their sub-$100 counterparts. But because of the similarities in the headsets, this makes the decision of which one to choose a bit harder.
One of the major decisions you’ll have to make is whether to go with a mobile VR headset (Gear VR, Google Daydream) or a tethered VR headset (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift). The mobile VR headsets, as their name suggests, are portable and good for travel. They include hand controllers and have a 100-degree field of view.
The tethered VR headsets are called that because they are connected by cord to a (required) high-powered computer. Which computer you use with your Vive or Rift varies — more on that later — but you should factor in that expense if you’re budgeting. Tethered VR headsets also allow for room scale VR, involving cameras that can spatially locate you within the physical space. Though you won’t be using that room scale feature with InstaVR-generated apps necessarily, it is a nice potential feature to use for other projects.
If you’re looking for a slightly lower cost, more mobile VR headset, go to Section 4.
If you’re looking for room scale VR, and can have users access the VR sequentially (ie you won’t have a large number of users at the same time), go to Section 5.
4. Do you want a sturdy high-end mobile VR headset compatible with the Samsung Galaxy phone line? Or do you want a lighter, more stylish headset compatible with a broader, but still limited, set of phones?
The Gear VR vs. Google Daydream higher-end mobile headset battle has picked up more steam recently. Gear VR had a distinct head start, announcing at CES 2017 that over 5 million headsets were in use. This was before Google Daydream even shipped globally! But the launch of Google Daydream garnered good press and reviews, and the headset included a hand controller (causing Samsung to play catch up and release their own controller). But the issue: that first Google Daydream headset only worked with Google’s Pixel line of phones.
Google played catch up for much of 2017. Though Daydream sales numbers have disappointed a bit, they should see some momentum in 2018, as they are now compatible with 9 different smartphones, including the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note8. Gear VR sales have leveled off some, as they discontinued promotions that offered free Gear VRs with Galaxy phone purchases. Both headsets remain popular and useful though, even with standalone VR headsets on the horizon.
The benefits of Samsung Gear VR include sturdy design, proven effectiveness, and compatibility with the popular Galaxy line of phones. The downsides of Samsung Gear VR include the phones sometimes overheat in the headset with excessive use, a comparatively bland design, and the need to upload Oculus Signature Files for each phone you plan to create apps for.
The benefits of Google Daydream include stylish design (multiple color choices), lighter weight, and compatibility with a broader number of phones. The downsides of Google Daydream include higher likelihood of damage while in transit, harder time getting app listed on Daydream Store (vs. Oculus Store), and phone compatibility still limited.
If you want a proven sturdy mobile VR headset, choose the Samsung Gear VR:
If you want a stylish and lower weight headset, choose the Google Daydream:
5. Do you want a tethered, powerful headset with 110-degree field of view and capable of room-scale VR?
If you want your users to have the best VR experience possible, and budget is not a primary concern, you’ll likely find yourself looking at Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Best for use in a fixed location or at an exhibition booth with ample space, these powerful VR platforms provide a 110-degree Field of View, which translates to a greater feeling of immersion. The ability to showcase high-quality long-form media makes these platforms a great fit for those serious about virtual reality.
On the flip side, having a headset tethered to a computer has its drawbacks. Travelling with a complete HTC Vive or Oculus Rift set is a big undertaking, and you’ll have to invest in a powerful computer and graphics card. And with the HTC Vive Pro on the horizon — which promises significantly higher resolution — some potential purchasers of these platforms are taking a wait-and-see approach.
The benefits of Oculus Rift include a smaller and lighter headset, a lower headset cost ($399 USD), and need for less powerful computer and graphics card compared with the HTC Vive. The downsides of Oculus Rift include lack of front facing camera and (possibly most importantly) lack of Mac compatibility.
The benefits of HTC Vive include Mac compatibility, adjustable lens distance, and headset sensors which lead to impressive room-scale VR with some apps. The downsides of HTC Vive include bulkier headset, higher price point for headset ($599 USD) and greater computing power, and the knowledge that the more powerful HTC Vive Pro may come out soon, making the existing Vive seem less impressive by comparison.
If you want a slightly smaller/lighter headset, at a slightly lower price point, which requires slightly less computing power, choose the Oculus Rift:
If you want a more impressive VR headset (37 sensors and a front camera), and need Mac compatibility, choose the HTC Vive:
6. Bonus: Should you wait for a mobile, standalone VR headset like the Oculus Go or HTC Vive Focus? Or a more powerful tethered headset like HTC Vive Pro?
If you follow the VR industry even a little bit, you’ll know there’s a lot of excitement on the horizon for headsets in 2018. For one thing, there are two new stand-alone VR headsets (also known as “all-in-one”). These are as powerful as the Gear VR or Google Daydream, but don’t require you to supply your own phone. That makes the costs lower, and can make the audio quality significantly better.
The Oculus Go is probably getting the most buzz. The $199 standalone headset is likely to be released in April or May of 2018. Without having first-hand experience with the headset, it’s hard to say whether the headset will improve upon its closest analogous competitor, the Gear VR. But not requiring a Samsung phone means the headset will be ~ $500 cheaper, and since it’s built on the same software as the Gear VR, you will be able to publish directly from InstaVR to it at launch. Oculus has another planned standalone headset called “Santa Cruz”, which some journalists have been lucky enough to try and rave about, but its availability for wide release is unknown.
The HTC Vive Focus, which is similarly a standalone VR headset, is currently available only in China and retails for ~ $595 USD. HTC was originally going to develop with Google a standalone Daydream headset, but that was scrapped. (Google still briefly mentions a standalone headset on their web site, but doesn’t list any details or shipment dates). The Vive Focus is getting rave reviews — and can handle 8K — but has no launch date outside of China. According to HTC’s Vive China president, the release of the Focus outside of China will depend on its reception in China. So that’s a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty.
The HTC Vive Pro is basically the HTC Vive on steroids — higher resolution, better audio, higher price point. But release date and exact pricing are still up in the air, making waiting for the Vive Pro a risky proposition when you can use a regular Vive right now.
Ultimately, waiting for unreleased headsets is only for the super patient. There’s so many great use cases for VR now, that if you wait 6 – 12 months for a different headset, you might be falling behind your competitors. And while Oculus Go will be cheaper than Gear VR, and HTC Vive Pro will be more powerful than HTC Vive, the available headsets now are more than enough to wow your VR audiences.