What virtual reality headset should you buy? Pimax vs Oculus vs Samsung vs HTC vs…

Hello everyone! One of the first posts of this blog was written to help people in choosing the right headset for them. It has been written in August 2016 and I think that too much time has passed by for that to still be valid: OSVR is a project that is slowly dying (at least in consumer the space), Windows Mixed Reality headsets are going to be released and so on… so I thought it would be a nice idea to write a post to give you some advice on which headset you should buy now, highlighting the pros and cons of each one. Now the battle is not only between Vive and Oculus Rift anymore… it is far more interesting. So… are you ready? Go!

Mobile/standalone headsets

Google Cardboard
Cardboard viewer virtual reality
A very simple and cheap cardboard viewer… with an awful sweat sign at its center

Google Cardboard is, in my opinion, the best choice for you if you just want to dip a toe in the virtual reality waters. You just spend little money (even 0$ if you take it on VuDream or thanks to some promotions) and can see what VR is. That’s it. This especially holds true if you don’t have a Gear VR or Daydream compatible phone: there are Cardboards for almost every smartphone, from Android to iOS.

Another possible reason to use Google Cardboard is if you want to run some kind of promotional campaign. You can create branded cardboards using specialized websites like DODOCase and then offer them inside exhibitions to increment your brand outreach.

Pros:

  • Super cheap
  • Works on almost any smartphone
  • Can be branded for promotional campaigns

Cons:

  • Ehm… almost everything. The experience is very mediocre: 3DOF, poor input mechanism, mediocre lenses, comfort is only decent
Gear VR
samsung s8 gear vr
Samsung S8 inside a Gear VR headset. Notice how it is all polished (Image by Samsung)

Gear VR is a premium mobile virtual reality experience. If you have already a compatible phone (Samsung S* and Note* phones), you can get a Gear VR headset for little money or even for free (Samsung usually gifts them to people buying its flagship phones). It offers a great experience for watching 360 videos, Netflix or playing mini-games (like Spark Of Light). Graphics are very good since they’re powered by a Samsung phone. The remote controller is a very handful input device offering you the ability to interact with the VR environment in an easy and comfortable way.

It is the best choice to get started with VR if you already have a Samsung phone and are mainly interested in watching movies or having a casual use of VR.

Pros:

  • Rather cheap if you already own a compatible device
  • Great 3DOF experience for watching movies and casual gaming
  • Great quality
  • Stabilized gyroscopes: this is useful if you plan to do applications where you want to calibrate VR with the real world

Cons:

  • 3DOF experience: you can’t move naturally inside the VR world and not even use your true hands
  • Mediocre computational power: inside Gear VR you can’t play a graphically rich game like Robo Recall, but only low-poly games or watch movies
Daydream
New Google VR Daydream View Pixel 2
Daydream View headsets with their fancy colors (Image by Google)

Copy and paste what I’ve written for Gear VR, but consider it only if you have a Daydream-compatible phone. You can find a list of compatible phones here, for instance. Notice that if you missed the latest news (subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated!), Google has just released the second version of its Daydream View headset, that improves quality with respect to the first one and is compatible with the upcoming Pixel2 and Pixel 2XL phones.

Pros:

  • Rather cheap if you already own a compatible device
  • Great 3DOF experience for watching movies and casual gaming
  • Great quality
  • Great comfort

Cons:

  • 3DOF experience: you can’t move naturally inside the VR world and not even use your true hands
  • Mediocre computational power
  • Store still not full of apps

Oculus Go

Oculus Go headset announcement
Oculus Go’s sleek design (Image by Oculus)

Just announced at OC4, Oculus Go sits between Cardboards and Gear VR / Daydream. But it is a standalone device: it is like a Gear VR + S8 device sealed together (with all pros and cons of this solution) and sold for $200. If you don’t have a Gear VR or Daydream-compatible phone and you want to experience VR without spending too much, this can be the right choice for you. Cardboards offer a too poor experience and on the other side Gear VRs/Daydreams offer a rich experience, but you need to spend something like $800 for the bundle Samsung phone + Gear VR, even more than $900 for Pixel 2XL and Daydream. With Go, you obtain the same quality and comfort spending only $200. What is the downside regarding the other two solutions? That you don’t own a super cool phone. You have just a standalone headset, that you can use only for VR. I mean, if you buy a Note 8, you have an amazing phablet that you can use every day.

So, if you don’t have a Gear VR / Daydream phone and you don’t plan to buy one and you want to experience premium mobile VR experience spending not that much, go for Oculus Go. Also if you have to do exhibitions, Go is much better since it just works without you taking with you headphones, phones, etc…

Pros:

  • Cheap all-in-one VR solution
  • It works out of the box: no messing with phones, plugs, headphones, etc…
  • It is not tied to a phone, so you can demo it without worrying that your girlfriend sends you some spicy Telegram messages that anyone can see
  • Great 3DOF experience for watching movies and casual gaming
  • Great quality
  • It lets you wear glasses comfortably

Cons:

  • 3DOF experience: you can’t move inside the VR world and not even use your true hands
  • Mediocre computational power

Tethered headsets

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift front
Oculus Rift CV1 Headset (Image by Oculus)

We all know the Rift since a long time since it has been the device triggering the virtual reality revolution. The Oculus Rift CV1 device is one of the best headsets for what concerns comfort & design. Its Oculus Store is full of amazing experiences like Dear Angelica, Robo Recall, Echo Arena and so on; furthermore, you can also play almost all VR games on SteamVR, so you can access all the best VR experiences out there, some of which are Oculus exclusive. Furthermore, it has the Oculus Touch, which are the best VR controllers out there, integrated audio and a lot of cool stuff. But it is a device that is almost 1 year and a half old and so can’t be the cutting edge tech anymore. And its tracking technology (Constellation) works well but is surely not the best choice on the market. But it is really cheap to be a VR tethered headset, so it is, in my opinion, the best choice if you want to enter VR with a premium brand and play awesome games or start developing without spending too much money.

Pros:

  • Costs only $399
  • Great quality and design
  • A lot of amazing content
  • Amazing controllers
  • Clear business licensing model
  • Great microphone quality

Cons:

  • It requires a powerful VR-ready PC
  • Mediocre tracking technology: especially the installation becomes a bit messy if you want to have 360° tracking
  • The device is almost 2 years old (and probably in the next 6-8 months Oculus will announce a CV2)
  • We have to wait a bit to have a wireless solution available (it will come at the end of 2017)

HTC Vive

HTC Vive vr
Frontal view of the HTC Vive, with all its nice holes (Image by HTC)

Vive is the big competitor of Oculus Rift, since a long time. You can find a great comparison between the two in this article I’ve written some time ago. Vive is great especially for its awesome tracking technology that allows tracking perfectly the controllers and other trackable devices (the Trackers) that you put in the scene. This means that you can make games with props (very useful for arcades) or even find a way to track the full body of the user. Being an open ecosystem, you can add a lot of customization to your VR solutions, maybe creating also your own tracked devices. The problem is that it is one of the most expensive VR solutions out there and it is as old as the Rift. Furthermore, you can’t theoretically play Oculus games, even if there actually is a hack for that (Revive). The problem of the tracking technology, even if it is great, is that it is going to be updated and the new version is not backward compatible: this means that if you buy a Vive now, when you’ll buy the next-gen lighthouse stations, you have to put in the trash bin all your current HTC headsets and trackers.

In my opinion, it is the best solution if you want to enter VR with a premium and well-known brand and you need high tracking precision and/or customizability.

Pros:

  • Open ecosystem, a lot of customizations are possible
  • Great tracking technology
  • Wireless solution already available (TPCast)
  • Various modules and accessories to make the experience better (e.g. Tobii eye tracking)
  • A lot of amazing games available
  • Perfect for business/enterprise applications

Cons:

  • It requires a powerful VR-ready PC
  • It is rather expensive
  • No integrated audio (you have to buy a separate add-on)
  • Not great design and comfort (even if buying a separate add-on, it improves)
  • Controllers not very ergonomic… but a new generation is coming
  • Tracking technology is going to be updated and old devices are not backward compatible
  • A bit too sensible to IR interferences;
PSVR
PSVR device
PSVR headset, with its fancy lights (Image by Sony)

PSVR is currently the most sold tethered VR headset.

SuperData research VR market
Sales of virtual reality headsets according to SuperData (Image by Wall Street Journal)

Reason for its success is that it is compatible with every existing PS4 device, so if you own a PS4, you just spend something around $350 and you can experience virtual reality. Furthermore, you can live PSVR exclusive games like Resident Evil 7, that is an astonishing experience. The problem of this device is that PlayStation is, of course, a quite closed ecosystem and the tracking technology, especially regarding the controllers, is maybe the worst on the market. Even visuals are not fantastic, but comfort on the head is very very good.

PSVR is the right choice for you if you already own a PS4 console and you’re mainly a gamer or a developer of console games.

Pros:

  • Cheap if you already own a PS4
  • Comfortable
  • Great games

Cons:

  • Mediocre tracking
  • Mediocre visuals
  • Not that awesome processing power (surely less than a GTX 1080 powered PC)
Pimax 8K
Pimax 8k VR review
The amazing Pimax 8K device (Image by Pimax)

Pimax 8K is another new entrant in this list. It is the most innovative headset on the market, with astonishing resolution (2 * 4K), enormous field of view (200°), SteamVR compatibility and a lot of modular accessories (eye tracking, scent emission, wireless connection, etc…). It already uses SteamVR 2 technology, so it will not become obsolete in some months as the Vive. It basically has all the advantages of the Vive and much more: it is like a Vive on steroids. You can read my complete review on it here. So… it seems the perfect choice, but it has some problems, too. The first one is that the design and manufacturing are not of first class. Then, most importantly, the shipping date is still not clear: it should be January-February 2018, but usually Kickstarter projects have delays, so it may happen that you will get it at some moment in Q1-Q2 2018. The real issue is that it may even happen that you never get it… this is how Kickstarter works… Virtuix Omni backers now this even too well. I think that Pimax will ship its devices, but we can’t be sure 100%.

Buy it if you can wait to have your VR headset and you want to be at the cutting-edge of technology. Especially if you use a lot virtual desktops or other apps requiring you to read texts in VR: with this device it is super-easy to read texts in VR.

Pros:

  • Amazing resolution
  • Incredible field of view
  • Open ecosystem
  • Great tracking technology, SteamVR v2
  • Various modules and accessories to make the experience better
  • Innovative controllers (it should ship with controllers very similar to the Vive Knuckles)

Cons:

  • Unknown shipping date (maybe Q1 2018). This means that in the meantime the big companies could announce something even better!
  • Requires a very powerful PC (the 8K X version requires a PC that doesn’t even exist!!)
  • Very expensive: with its $800 for the full package, it is the most expensive headset on the market
  • Mediocre design and manufacturing quality
  • LCD display that is not as awesome as OLED ones
Samsung Odyssey
Samsung Odissey Virtual Mixed Reality headset
Samsung Odyssey headset with its controllers (Image by Road To VR)

Samsung has entered the market with its Windows Mixed Reality headset that is really an interesting product. Resolution of 1440×1600 per eye, when Vive has 1080×1200, OLED display, integrated AKG headphones and inside-out tracking that makes the setup super easy. Quality and comfort is great, like with all Samsung products, including the Gear VR. In the upcoming times it will be SteamVR compatible, meaning that you will be able to use it to play your Steam games. It works even with PCs with only mediocre specs, so you don’t have to buy a super-powerful PC. And the price is $499, so a bit more than the Rift, but less than Vive and Pimax. The only Achilles heel is the one of all Mixed Reality headset: controllers are not that comfortable and are tracked only when they’re frontal enough to the headset. (Read my full description of it inside this article!)

I have to admit that is my preferred choice for this moment. Buy it if you want to enter VR with a device that is user friendly and of a high-quality, even if it has few games at the moment. Caveat: I think that the upcoming Vive 2 and Rift CV 2 will have better specs than this one, but we’ll have to wait months to see them. This one comes out on November, 6th.

Pros:

  • Great resolution
  • Good field of view
  • Great comfort
  • Great design
  • Compatible with SteamVR (in the future)
  • Compatible with the new Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem, something that the other headsets don’t have
  • Works with almost any recent PC and laptop
  • Easy to be used
  • Price in line with its features

Cons:

  • Not compatible with SteamVR for the next 2 months
  • Not compatible with Oculus ecosystem
  • Not so many VR games in the Windows MR ecosystem at the moment
  • Controllers not very comfortable
  • Tracking not as smooth as Oculus or Vive one
  • No wireless kit available
Non-Samsung Windows Mixed Reality headsets (Acer, Dell, Lenovo, HP, ASUS, etc…)
lenovo mixed reality headset with controllers
Lenovo headset. it is very elegant (Image by Lenovo)

Copy-paste the description for Samsung, but make the device less comfortable, with less resolution, less crisp visuals, without integrated audio, and with cheaper controllers. Make the headset $50-$100 dollars cheaper. Add a flip-up design that lets you flip up the headset when you want to see the real world for a while without removing the headset completely. Ok, you obtain this kind of Windows devices.

Actually, if you have the money to afford Samsung one, buy Samsung one. If you have to spare money, this is a nice choice if you want a cheap VR solution that is user-friendly.

Pros:

  • Good resolution
  • Decent field of view
  • Compatible with SteamVR (in the future)
  • Compatible with the new Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem, something that the other headsets don’t have
  • Works with almost any recent PC and laptop
  • Easy to be used
  • Flip-up design to take pauses from VR easily
  • Price in line with its features

Cons:

  • Not compatible with SteamVR for the next 2 months
  • Not compatible with Oculus ecosystem
  • Not so many VR games in the Windows MR ecosystem at the moment
  • Controllers not comfortable
  • Tracking not as smooth as Oculus or Vive one
  • No wireless kit available

Hope that now you have a better picture on what you should buy. If you’re still confused, it’s normal: every choice has its pros and its cons.

If you want some super fast rules of thumb about PC headsets:

  • You just want a super cool headset -> Samsung Odyssey
  • You want to be at cutting edge and support crazy projects -> Pimax 8K
  • You have little money and want to experience great VR -> Oculus Rift
  • You want customizations or make enterprise apps -> HTC Vive

Some people are waiting for the Vive 2 and CV2 to enter VR, but my advice is to stop continuously waiting for a better VR. I have spent $1000 for my Rift + controllers and now it just costs $399, but in this time I’ve got experience with VR and I’ve been able to run this blog and become an “influencer”. So, I’m proud of not having waited.

Now it’s your turn to make a choice…

 

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Skarredghost

AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I’ve still not waken up…

8 thoughts on “What virtual reality headset should you buy? Pimax vs Oculus vs Samsung vs HTC vs…

  • October 17, 2017 at 8:36 pm
    Permalink

    Nice mini reviews there, Tony! I agree with all said, except that I wouldn’t say the Vive will become obsolete just because the release of the new tracking technology. I think the new tracking system won’t add something remarkable for the average user so to considere the actual solution as obsolete. Yeah, it will weight a bit less, it will support more base stations and so allow a wider area (not aimed to the average consumer with just a small bedroom available IMO) and so on, but the tracking itself will be almost the same. In fact it’s quite hard to beat the precision of the actual tracking tech. Also, even when the 2nd gen Vive gets release it will be backwards compatible with the v1 base stations, so I think it won’t become obsolete for the average consumers (it maybe does in the enterprise space tho).

    Also not really sure about saying the Samsung Odyssey works with almost any recent PC. I mean, it’s true but with a few caveats and limitations. You won’t be able to run Robo Recall or Raw Data through SteamVR with an average PC just because you are using this headset. I guess you’ll be able to run only a limited set of apps from the Windows Store and stuff. So I think this “works on almost every PC!” marketing statement from the Windows Mixed Reality HMDs must be taken with a grain of salt.

    p.s.: you should link your great article about the Knuckles Controllers on the Pimax pros list! 🙂

    Reply
    • October 18, 2017 at 12:06 pm
      Permalink

      You’re making interesting considerations! (as always…)

      With Vive, what I wanted to highlight was that if you buy a Vive now and in the future for some reason want to upgrade the base stations, you can’t. You can use Vive 2 with v1 base stations, but you can’t use Vive 1 with v2 basestations. Regarding why someone should want to change the base stations…what will be interesting for the user, regarding the new tech, is that it will be more resistant to IR interferences, because there won’t be the need of the sync flash anymore.

      About the Odyssey, yes… but at least you can use the device. Oculus has ASW and Vive has a similar tech, but you can’t use my laptop to experience VR. With the Microsoft devices, you can, so you can enter VR… not the best VR ever, but at least some kind of VR. That’s a great pro side in my opinion, because it lowers a lot the VR entry cost.

      Reply
      • October 18, 2017 at 4:35 pm
        Permalink

        About the Vive, you got a point there, I was forgetting of the possible improvements in external interference. Anyway, I’ve never had problems with the tracking because of interference (maybe if you use additional IR-based sensors as Kinect and stuff or if you have your VR setup in a room full of mirrors as in Kiefer Sutherland’s movie :P), so personally I have no need of updating base stations in the near future. But only time will tell…

        Regarding the Odyssey, you are more than right, but I hope consumers are also aware of this and do not get disappointed when they try to play Raw Data on a toaster. Otherwise, there will be a trade-off between a lower entry cost and unsatisfied users due to this (not-so-clear) statement. But yeah, what is clear is that users at least will be able to wander around their Windows VR homes with 6 DoF! And that’s nice.

        Reply
  • October 18, 2017 at 4:33 am
    Permalink

    Wow, I read so much bullshit every day on the headsets VR that I had to congratulate you. You master the subject and it’s a pleasure. (sry for my english). Can be a flat on the kickstarter part because Pimax is a recognized company with a liability so the risks are almost zero and for the wireless for the rift, thats confirmed by TPcast for the end of 2017. Short, good job 😉

    Reply
    • October 18, 2017 at 11:53 am
      Permalink

      Thank you, I’m happy you appreciated the post! 🙂
      Well, about Pimax, I believe that as well… but there’s always that microscopic risk that something goes wrong in the manufacturing process.
      Yeah, TPCAst confirmed that is going to release a wireless add-on… I would really like to test it!

      Reply

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