Technology has finally evolved up to the point where the much anticipated augmented reality and virtual reality headset is available to the salivating masses. Like smartphones, tablets, PCs, and (literally) any other technological gadget, they come in different shapes, sizes, and prices. Ultimately, they all have the same goal; to connect us to a new virtual reality.
A Quick VR Headset History
Virtual reality is something that has been a result of our ever-growing technological fantasies. Our pursuit of the ultimate gaming experience. Looking to battle giant creatures, enjoy the thrills of space, or just move to other planets? With virtual reality, you can do that.
The Oculus Rift was the first to really bring virtual reality gaming right to our eyes, but things started off way before that when Nintendo introduced the Wii in the 2000s, which led to motion gaming, which led to Play Station and Xbox taking motion gaming to a new level and kick-starting the virtual-real-life gaming experience. Then followed Google Glass, which gave us the first real glimpse of virtual reality – but the first Google Glass never really made it to the public.
For Oculus, there were challenges that were crossed, and tough decisions are taken that landed the startup dream project of Oculus Rift. Virtual Reality was a challenge conquered by the makers of Oculus, and now the boundaries can be stretched taking the experience beyond our present fantasies. The Oculus Rift headset, for instance, has single-handedly revived the dreams of hundreds of companies and entrepreneurs worldwide.
What to expect out of a VR headset for under $500?
Premium VR headsets start around $400, so under that level, you can expect a few or one premium feature and a great VR headset to begin with, but nothing more than that.
In the range of $400 to $500, expect to find a pretty good semi-premium model.
Things are getting hot in this range, so you can expect an excellent value for money with more premium features such as refresh rate, more pixels, better technology, and build quality. In the under $500 range, it will be tough to find a wireless VR headset also.
This is the entry-level for the premium models, so there are a couple of models with the processor, wireless, and other premium features. Unless you are not a professional gamer, then most of the VRs in a range of $350 to $500 will do the work just fine.
The 10 Best VR Headsets for the Under $500:
Below we list and review the ten best VR headsets currently available for sale online.
1. Oculus Quest 2 (Best all in one VR headset)
- Display: IPS LCD, 1832x1920px per year resolution
- Refresh rate – 90Hz native
- Memory: 64/256GB 6GB LPDDR5 RAM
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2
- Tracking: Supports 6 degrees of freedom
The Quest 2 is a surprising release, given that the original Quest only came out the year ago. It got a nice bump in its display resolution and an experimental 90hz Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor, which gives you a visibly and objectively better experience.
It does represent excellent value for money. It offers an imposing library of games. Quest 2 is the standalone VR headset, which means you don’t need anything except the headset and controllers. For movement and control, tracking Quest 2 has an inside-out tracking system.
Also, it has 50% more resolution to work with than the Quest 1. It has a 90hz refresh rate compared to a 70 Hz refresh rate on the Quest 1.
2. Oculus Rift S (Best PC powered VR headset)
- Sensors – Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Magnetometer, 360-degree positional tracking
- Field of View – 110 degrees
- Resolution – 1080 x 1200 per eye
- Refresh rate – 80Hz
Blame it on Palmer Lucky and his investors at Kickstarter. Blame it on Facebook who bought it for $2 billion. But the madness was started by this VR headset. This equipment plugs into the DVI and USB port of your beloved PC or portable monitor and tracks your head movement to provide 3D imagery on its stereo screen.
With a resolution of 2160×1200 and working at 233 million pixels per second with a refresh rate of 90Hz, this dude is serious stuff. The VR is ready for shipping however the controllers will be arriving later.
The Oculus Rift (now upgraded to the Oculus Rift S), the virtual reality headset allows video game lovers to step inside the virtual world and satiate their gaming spree. The journey was not very simple. The CEO of Oculus, Mr. Brendan Iribe had an ambitious startup business plan chasing virtual reality – something that has been discussed, debated, and dreamt on extensively over the last two decades. Oculus’ dream journey started with a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter.
There were other startup devices that explored virtual reality before Oculus, but the devices did not really make the cut failing on a number of fronts like synchronization and exhibiting latency. Oculus indulged with real-time and avid gamers loved the Oculus Rift. To seal the success of the Oculus Rift headphone, Facebook announced a $2 billion purchase tag for the flagship innovation of Oculus. Where does Oculus Rift score?
In any of the traditional gaming models, the most difficult part is adjusting the latency – you just cannot have a delay in the user feedback and machine recognition. Latency is a problem that has been bugging Microsoft’s Kinect even today.
In many ways, Oculus Rift is exactly the technology that the gamers were longing for. With an ultra-low latency and 360 degrees of head tracking, the Oculus Rift allows a seamless look around the virtual world very similar to real life. It is thrilling to observe how small head movements are tracked by the Oculus Rift headset in real-time, and delivering an intuitive VR experience.
3. The HTC Vive Virtual Reality Headset
- Refresh rate – 90 Hz
- Field of view – 110 degrees
- Sensors: SteamVR Tracking, G-sensor, gyroscope, proximity
- Resolution – 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye
Made in collaboration with Valve, the HTC Vive is due to hit shops in April 2016. If you remember, Valve is the maker of that phenomenon called the HHalf-Life HTC Vive allows one to plug into the huge ecosystem of Valve’s gaming universe. With 70 sensors packed to provide a 360 degrees track, this VR headset is a runway burner.
It also has a 90Hz refresh rate to keep down latency, which is very important to keep down motion sickness. However, the key to the success of this VR headset is its revolutionary Lighthouse tracking technology, which enables the user to move around with the headset on. It might need extra sensors for the surroundings but it is still awesome, nonetheless.
4. Merge VR Goggles Virtual Reality Headset
- Display technology – OLED/AMOLED
- OS – Android/IOS
- Weight – 340 gr
- Dimensions – 5.5 x 7.5 x 4 inches
One of the earliest VR headsets and an impressively built architecture, the Merge VR headset is certainly a piece of equipment to have. Made from lightweight and flexible foam, the makers of Merge VR claim that the phone slot can accommodate any phone built in the last two years. User controls and a dual-lens is handled by two sliding switches at the top of the goggles.
Pushing the buttons down will make the touch-friendly, conducive widgets fill the screen. This does give the user a sense of control though it is hardly immersive. At this price point, the Merge VR Headset is a great buy. The enthusiasts are certainly delighted by its presence.
5. Sony Playstation VR Virtual Reality Headset
- Display method: OLED
- Panel size: 5.7 inches
- Panel resolution: 1920 x RGB x 1080 (960 x RGB x 1080 per eye)
- Refresh rate: 120Hz, 90Hz
- Field of view: Approximately 100 degrees
- Sensors: Accelerometer, gyroscope Connection
The Sony PlayStation VR is coming. With a 5.7 OLED screen, providing the user with extremely low persistence, which would mean almost no motion blur, and a refresh rate of 120Hz, this piece of equipment, is an example of extraordinary engineering. 120 fps gaming is now a reality.
Latency issues have been solved by incorporating a new 18ms reading. 6 LEDs now aid the positional awareness of the headset. While, by Sony’s own admission, it is still some time away from actually competing, with pricing as low as $399, this set is certainly is going to have its own clientele. A quite a big one too.
6. Samsung Gear VR Virtual Reality Headset
- Sensors – Gyro sensor / Proximity sensor
- Field of view – 101˚
- Easy to use touch pad
- Weight – 345 g
The incredible art of merging frugality with technology at an unbelievable price point, The Samsung Gear VR (now upgraded to version SM-R325NZVAXAR) is almost Oculus Rift but lite. It does use the Samsung smartphone processor and display. You have to use a Samsung smartphone to be able to use it. You simply have to slot the handset in front of the lens and use its Super AMOLED as its screen.
The image is grainy but using the Gear comes with its own charms and benefits. There is a huge store of games and added features plus a whole marketplace of VR video content called Milk VR and probably the best content that is there.
But it all boils down to its ludicrous pricing. At $99, we have a steal.
7. Oculus Go
- Type – Standalone
- Refresh rate – 72 Hz
- Resolution – 1,440 by 1,280 (per eye)
- Motion detection – 3DOF
This is a standalone headset with just a headset and controller; that’s it. Oculus Go is a step between phone-based VRs and the mid-range category headset.
It’s definitely one of the most comfortable headsets I’ve used with adjustable velcro straps and breathable foam material around your eyes, and a grey mat plastic shell.
You don’t need to use headphones as the speaker is built into the headphone band, which gives a decent 3D sound experience. You also have a microphone so you can chat with people.
Spec-wise it’s basically a smartphone built-in to a headset with a Snapdragon 821 processor and 32 gigabytes of built-in storage; you also get a single wireless controller that you can use with your right or left hand and has a trigger touchpad and a couple of buttons for going back.
8. Homido VR Headset Virtual Reality Headset
- Field of view – 100 degrees
- Platform – Android, iOS
- Refresh rate – Smartphone Refresh Rate
- Resolution – Smartphone Resolution
- Display – Smartphone Display
This is an underdog in the competition, silently creeping up the popularity charts. It is compatible with larger phones such as iPhone 6 Plus and OnePlusOne. The Homido offers adjustable lenses and provides the user with a handy 100-degree field view.
Moreover, it also has alternate settings for those with spectacles: far-sighted, nearsighted and normal vision. The Homido VR Headset has a screen compatibility range of 4” to 5.7”.
One can enjoy the VR headset hands-free and the biggest advantage one gets whilst using a Homido VR is that the headset does not allow light to sneak in and flood the view.
9. IncrediSonic Vue Series VR Headset
- Works with 300+ iOS/Android VR apps on Apple App Store and Google Play Store
- Comes with a Bluetooth-enabled remote controler
- No optical lens adjustments needed
- Batteries : 2 AAA batteries required. (included)
With a screen compatibility range of 4” to 6” this VR Headset can accommodate most smartphones. However, for smaller phones, an additional slot needs to be added. This headset is an attention to detail equipment all the way. It comes with 2 spare nose pads, Bluetooth remote batteries for Android, and a microfiber cloth to wipe the lens clean.
There is no need to manually adjust the lenses though focusing on a field of view with both the eyes did seem to be a concern at times. It is lightweight at 400g and comfortable to wear. However prolonged use may make the nose a little sore.
10. HP – Mixed Reality Headset and Controllers
- Display resolution – 1440×1440 per eye
- Field of view – 95 degrees horizontal (Fresnel–Aspherical)
- Tracking cameras – 2 front–facing cameras
- Refresh rate – 90Hz when paired to HDMI 2.0 port
HP Mixed Reality has a flipping mechanism, which I find pretty useful for getting in and out of VR. It is built from solid plastic, which feels pretty sturdy and premium. You will quickly adjust this VR headset to your head shape due to the knob on the back used for adjustments.
HP headset doesn’t have light bleeding at all. It is very comfortable and will not press tightly around your head. The refresh rate is 90 Hz, and the field of view is 95 degrees. It comes with a better resolution than the Oculus Rift, which is 2880 x 1440.
I’m not too impressed with the lenses being used on this headset, and I would say this is the biggest downside. They tend to be very clear in the center, but they can get a little bit blurry when you miss a sweets spot.
Over $500: HTC Vive Cosmos
In case you are ready to break and go a little over $500 to get a premium model, then here is what I have for you.
For those of you serious gamers, the HTC Vive Cosmos might be a perfect fit. This VR headset is truly a beast. It has inside-out tracking, 2880×1700 resolution across new LCD panels. Cozy ergonomics will make sure that the headset is nice and comfortable, and also stable.
They redesigned controllers from the original Vive and added a ton of extra features, and indeed these controllers are some of the best in the market. Also, know if you do have other Vive accessories, it is still compatible with them. This headset is fully wireless as well.
You get a great field of view with a 110° and 90hz refresh rate. If you are interested in adding various peripherals to your VR setup, the HTC Vive Cosmos will be a perfect solution for you.
Why is VR incredible, and why is now a great time to get into VR?
VR has been around for years, but only just recently has started gaining some exciting momentum.
In the early days, consumer VR was mainly for the cutting-edge early adopters who didn’t mind rough tech demos and basic VR experiences. Now, in 2020, VR has had some time to mature, and right now, we have a range of excellent headsets on the market.
These headsets provide an amazing virtual reality experience, and we don’t need to be the most tech-savvy person to use them.
Gamers dream that one day can actually be in the game world, and that’s precisely what VR provides. Some people who’ve never tried it think it’s just a screen strap to your face but in reality is much more than that.
VR offers a 3D stereoscopic image that provides a sense of depth and presents you can’t achieve with a monitor or TV.
It’s incredible to see people’s reactions to using VR for the first time as their brain is tricked into thinking what they see is real. VR is one of the most exciting new technologies of our generation that could revolutionize how we socialize, learn, and offer another level of entertainment.
All you need to know before buying a VR
The phone-based and PC based VR era is going to end soon. Modern VRs have their own processors and interfaces that support many apps. So, the pc based, phone-based, and any VR with a cable will be much cheaper than premium wireless models.
To start with
In case you have never been using a VR, start with some cheap, phone-based model and see if this kind of experience seems attractive to you. Keep in mind that this will be far from the premium experience that $700 VR is offering, but just to get a glimpse go with the phone.
PC requirements for VR?
The minimum I recommend for VR gaming in 2020 is the found:
- Windows 10 PC with a fairly recent CPU
- At least 4 cores
- Clock speeds around 3 gigahertz
An example: Core i5 7500 or Ryzen 5 1600, GTX 1060 or RX 580 and 16 gigs of RAM.
Your GPU should have a DisplayPort, and a PC will also need a USB 3.0 port.
Can I play VR games with a weaker machine?
Absolutely! You can get into PC VR gaming with a slightly weaker machine; however, if you want to play the latest games at acceptable frame rates, you must have a stronger PC.
VR gaming is hugely resource-intensive, and my personal recommendation for a system is at least a GeForce 1080 or above and a fairly modern higher-end CPU with a minimum of 4 cores.
What about the VR play area?
It’s recommended to have a space that is 6ft by 6ft. You can game in a smaller area, you can stationary VR game in a chair, but that’s going to limit the experiences you can have.
Upgrade up to $500
If you already have a VR and you are just looking for an upgrade but still stay on the middle range budget, go with a Quest 2. This is one of the most popular VR models in 2020.
It’s because it’s a value for money ratio. The price of Quest 2 is a little over $300, and for that price, it is probably the best
Where Can You Use a VR Headset?
For one, how about using them in movies? Yes, Virtual Reality hardware can now expect an introduction in non-gaming platforms like filmmaking, vocational astronomy courses, and many other entertainment and educational platforms.
Oculus and Facebook have thrown out a lot of speculations too. There were speculations about what the result would be, and whether the world is set to experience FarmVille on a 360-degree version. All that seems unlikely as Oculus states that the partnership is aimed to help them secure the project and not just further Facebook’s interests.
First-person gaming was probably the prime motto of virtual reality devices. There are instances when a character in a game is changing perspective, and it can be captured and experienced flawlessly with the Oculus Rift headset. One can look around the virtual eco-space, run, move with a 360-degree perspective, feel obstacles and do a whole lot more.
The feeling is perhaps similar to that of time traveling of Matrix; yes, devices like the Oculus Rift headset will even let you dodge bullets. While you might not want to purchase the Oculus Rift that can cost as high as a whopping $500 – and undoubtedly offers the best VR experience – you can easily get hold of the Google Cardboard.