VR Headset Review: 2016

Virtual reality technology has been developing for the past twenty years, until finally this year it has become the reality of game headsets. The big boys (and girls) no longer have to settle for playing on a flat, two-dimensional screen. Pretty soon, that is going to look and feel as clunky and retro as dialing a rotary phone.

The move to VR headsets was made possible this year by some fantastic breakthroughs in technology, such as the carbon wire process that makes VR headsets, despite their intricate and numerous circuit patterns and hardware, very lightweight and comfortable to wear. Almost like putting on a pair of sunglasses. Another breakthrough is the LED background photon sorter, which has removed the tell-tale Martian red from the VR experience; now you’re viewing the game landscape in vibrant colors and shimmering pastels without that ever-present red glare. VR game aficionados say this is the best single breakthrough in VR game technology in the last five years.

And of course your headset is now on wifi, so there’s no cords to get tangled up in during a game session.

So whether you’re into Donkey Kong or Heroes of the Storm the time is right to get on the VR headset band wagon.

Here’s a look at two of the major VR headsets on the market, just in time to shop for one to give yourself for the Holidays:

Samsung Gear VR

Despite their recent cell phone troubles, Samsung is a technology innovator in VR technology. Their Gear VR headset is priced at around one-hundred dollars, which puts it at the low end of costly VR headsets, yet gives full gameplay satisfaction. With more than 250 apps and over 800 videos available, you won’t be getting bored anytime soon. It’s compatible with a wide range of Samsung platforms, including Galaxy S7, Galaxy S6 Edge+, Galaxy S7 Edge, and Galaxy Note 5.

(Note: Time Magazine has labeled this headset “Best Pick of the Year” for 2016, but because of the growing problems with Samsung’s discontinued Note7 phones the company itself is in danger of going bankrupt and/or being subject to a hostile takeover — which could severely limit the continued availability of this VR headset.)

A note on pricing: The actual VR headset price has been brought down over the past few years to fit the budgets of most gamers. But system requirements are often still so high that individual gamers are holding back from investing in them. There are basically two ways to handle this situation. One is to simply wait another year or so, when it’s predicted these costs will also decrease to within financially acceptable bounds. The other option, which is gaining momentum among gamers in Third World Countries, is to form a gamer cooperative, where you contribute your share, so that with the others you can participate in the more expensive and elaborate games on a cooperative basis. If you’re good enough, you can also hack some of this stuff yourself and bypass licensing fees — but, of course, nobody around here is encouraging you to try that.

HTC Vive

This is the pricey one, at eight hundred dollars. But it’s unlike any other VR headset — with a 110 degree field of view, over a thousand games and experiences via Steam and HTC’s Viveport store, and a refresh rate of over 90Hz.

It uses 2 special sensors that map out physically the game or experience environment, so it seems like you’re wandering around the kind of virtual worlds they have on Star Trek’s famous holodeck. It may be a limited effect, but it allows you to walk over to any object and begin interacting with it, rather than just waving your arms in make believe. They will begin sending out extra sensors for the headset by December of this year.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.