Comparing the latest VR headsets

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Virtual Reality has evolved dramatically in recent years but its full potential depends on the quality and functionality of the eagerly awaited VR headsets developed by companies like HTC, Facebook, Samsung, Google, and others to be released in 2016. Since this technology promises to offer more than super realistic experiences for gamers, a broader base of customers needs to figure out which device to spend their money on.

Let’s go over some of the features of the biggest VR forerunners to see how they compare.

Oculus Rift Oculus Rift is the original VR headset, the first on the scene. The first prototype featured on Kickstarter in 2012 and caused a big stir, leading to the tech startup being acquired by Facebook for US$2bn in 2014.

Developed specifically for gaming, the Oculus Rift uses wide angle perspective, advanced display technology, and a low-latency constellation tracing system to create “presence” – the feeling that you are physically in a virtual reality setup. The high refresh rate and low-persistence display means that the user has a smooth, jitter-free experience.

The Oculus Rift headset must be plugged into a high-end computer with a powerful CPU. The lenses in the headset can be adjusted, including for people who wear glasses and for different face shapes. The lenses magnify the screen so it fills your field of vision. The Oculus Rift features two high resolution screens with high refresh rates.

The Oculus Rift comes with an Xbox One wireless gamepad, perfect for a wide range of games and experiences. Users can also buy Oculus Touch, a new pair of lightweight, wireless controllers, tracked by the Constellation positional tracking system.

All in all, the Oculus Rift is a state-of-the-art VR tool that promises great experiences. Oculus is a pioneer in the field and has the financial backing of Facebook, but since it can only be used with an expensive computer setup, it will be limited to serious gamers and out of reach of the mass market that can’t afford those setups.

HTC Vive HTC’s Vive headset, powered by SteamVR, has been developed in conjunction with Valve, one of the biggest names in PC gaming and the creator of Steam.

With high resolution screens in front of each eye, high refresh rates that guarantee low latency, and two sensors to track movement, Vive takes the VR experience further than other headsets. In addition to creating a realistic VR world, the Steam VR "base stations" sensors that track movement allow players to enter the VR world physically and interact with elements in it, creating a truly immersive experience.

Vive must be plugged into a PC and works with Valve’s gaming system, which is not its only source of content. HTC and Valve have a long list of gaming content partners in addition to their non-gaming partners HBO, Lionsgate and Google. This access to unlimited, high-quality content, combined with empowering gamers to interact in the virtual world, makes Vive a serious contender in VR. The only limitation seems to be the need for a completely empty space to be able to move around in and get the most out of the HTC Vive.Samsung Gear VR The Samsung Gear VR is an Oculus Rift-powered device compatible with the Galaxy Note5, S6 edge+, S6 and S6 edge. It uses the smartphone as its processor and display screen. Owners of these phones can download movies, apps and games from the Oculus store, clip the phone onto the Gear VR headset, and they are ready to go.

The Gear headset is lightweight (318g without the phone) and comfortable to wear. Being compatible with a popular phone that many people already own and always have with them, it has the potential to take VR to the masses. The Gear VR headset isn't the best VR experience around – it is mobile VR - but it also doesn’t require a high-end computer system. For those who already own one of the compatible Samsung phones, it provides easy access to VR experiences.

At $100, the Samsung Gear is affordable if you already own a Samsung phone. On the other hand, those who don’t already have a Samsung phone and don’t want one, will miss out on the Gear VR system. Another drawback of the Gear is the tendency of the lenses to fog up at the beginning of use because of a temperature difference between the glass of the phone and the lenses of the headset.

Google Cardboard You can download the instructions from Google to make your own Google AR Cardboard headset and you can also buy a kit at prices that vary from as little as $25 to $85.

The headset works with iOS or Android phones and Google Cardboard apps. The AR experience is the best when a phablet-sized phone with a high resolution screen is put into the headset.

While Google Cardboard is only capable of AR, it gives everyone a peek into the magic of virtual reality - a peek that might trigger an interest that will only be satisfied with high-end VR technology. In this way Google Cardboard has the potential to be the gateway for the VR industry to grow boundlessly.

Sony PlayStationVR The PlayStation 4-powered VR headset by Sony, previously known as Morpheus, has been renamed PlayStation VR. Sony has been working hard to make the headset comfortable for hours of game playing. The tech is distributed above the lenses to take the weight off the nose and cheeks.

PlayStation VR features a high resolution display, a wide angle field of vision, and a super-fast refresh rate, plus nine LEDs that track head movements.

PlayStation VR has a lot going for it. It doesn’t require a high-end PC or the latest smartphone. Sony takes advantage of its own widely-used PlayStation 4. Sony has its own movie and television studios to create gaming content and, the company already has a vast base of loyal gamers eager to get into VR gaming. Of course this is also its main drawback: you have to own a PlayStation 4 to join the fun.