Christmas is coming and now we are in that period of the year when we ask ourselves all the time “What can I gift my friends with??? And my parents? And my girlfriend??” without finding a valid answer and so, in the end, we resort buying whatever stuff we find two days before Christmas just to have gifts for everyone. But this means always making super-bad choices, buying terrible jumpers and having people looking at us like this when they unwrap our packets…
So, this Christmas… why don’t you make people happy and present them some cool AR/VR gadgets? AR and VR are awesome and can make everyone’s Christmas better…
And even if you’re reading this post in another moment of the year, my advice is still to make AR/VR gifts. But… what can you give to your friends and relatives? I’ve collected some ideas and decided to make a list. I won’t go much in detail in each item of the list, otherwise, this article would take years to be read, but I’ll give you some hints and directions about how you can make the XR innovators around you happy! So, let’s start!
This is the first and most obvious choice. We all want to have at least a VR headset. If the person you want to make a gift to has still not a VR headset, you can make him/her super-happy by buying him/her a VR viewer. But… which one you can buy? Well, I’ve already made a comprehensive guide on the various VR headsets, so I recommend you to read that post and make your choice.
If instead the person you want to make your gift to has already a VR headset like Oculus and Vive, you may surprise him (please let me drop the “him/her” at every sentence and consider that this person can also be a woman in VR) buying a recently released VR headset. This means choosing something like:
- Oculus Go (still not on sale, but you can write a card with written “I’ll buy it for you!”);
- Vive Focus (but pre-orders are open only in China);
- Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets (especially the Samsung Odyssey if you’re in the US).
If you’ve chosen to go for a Cardboard headset because you just want to make your friend dip his toes into VR, I strongly recommend you to choose a model that is compatible with the phone that your friend owns. So, ask him for his phone model and then google around what is the “best cardboard for <model>”. The reason is that there is not such a thing as a universal Cardboard, so you risk buying a model that he can’t use!
About which Cardboard type to buy, honestly, I don’t know. There are bazillion models with different shapes, materials, qualities, prices… the variables are too much. Just to give you some hints:
- Since Google has invented the Cardboard, let it guide you. On Google website there’s a section dedicated to listing a set of suggested Cardboards;
- One popular headset is Merge VR, that supports various phone models (it is also iOS compatible) and is very coloured;
- Another popular one, less cool, but very used, is the VR Box;
- A model that I love because is super-tiny and super-portable is the Homido Mini;
- If you want to target kids (supervising their VR usage, of course), you can go for the Mattel View Master;
- If you want to go for the new Cardboard v2.0 setup, with the upper button, you can search them on Amazon (this one is an example);
- On Dodocase website, you can find a collection of high-quality cardboards, that you can also customize. This means that you can give as gift a Cardboard customized with some print that the other person will surely love (for instance you can print a Cardboard with his favorite super-hero on!);
Otherwise, if you want to be super-cool, you can buy the best VR gift of all: anaglyph glasses!
You can also go for Augmented Reality gifts, of course. So, why don’t you give away an AR headset?
HoloLens is a super-innovative device and surely the best augmented reality headset on the market, a gift that every AR innovator would love. There are two problems with HL:
- The content is very few, so you have to give it to someone that is also a developer;
- It costs at least $3000 and maybe it is a bit too much for a Christmas gift (if it is not, I want really to become a friend of yours… :D).
So, my advice is going for a cheaper and more original viewer, that is Aryzon. Aryzon is a cheap AR cardboard viewer for your Android and iOS phones and you can surprise your friend making him dip his toe in AR with an innovative product that few people have (I’ve backed their Kickstarted campaign and my device has only arrived a few days ago….).
A slightly more expensive alternative to Aryzon, that is only Apple compatible, is the Mira Prism. If Aryzon is the Cardboard of AR, the Prism is the plastic cardboard of AR: more resistant and pretty. But it is currently out of stock.
If HoloLens and other similar devices will be the future, the present is mobile-based augmented reality, that is Apple ARKit and Google ARCore. The problem with such technologies is that they’re not supported on every phone. For instance, I have a Samsung Note 4 and I can’t run ARCore (not even using the ARCoreForAll hack).
So, if you have enough money, you can buy an AR-compatible phone to your friend. Even in this case, it won’t be cheap. The best choice in the Apple world is the new iPhone X since thanks to the frontal depth camera it can also track the face of the user, allowing the development of special AR apps. For instance, it makes possible to add virtual makeup to the face of the user. But iPhoneX costs $999!
Regarding Android, you can choose a Samsung S8 device or a Google Pixel 2 / Google Pixel 2 XL. Even these ones are pretty expensive.
Let’s return speaking about stuff that we normal people can afford. If your friend already has the AR/VR hardware, why don’t you buy some cool software for him?
VR market is full of awesome games and with Steam is very easy to make gifts to friends: you can choose a Steam Gift Card to give free Steam credit or directly a Steam Gift to give a specific game to the person that you like. I think that the second choice is more personal than simply giving money.
About the game to gift… well, that is up to you. It depends on the money you have (luckily there are nice VR games even for $4.99) and the genre your friend likes. Just to say some names, I can tell you that currently, Doom VFR is very popular, even if feedbacks are mixed, claiming that the game appears as unfinished. Fallout 4 VR is coming. You can also choose to go for games that are not recent but that are a piece of the VR gaming history like SuperHot and Onward. The list of Top Sellers is the way to go to choose an awesome title.
Unluckily you can’t buy gifts on the Oculus Store at the moment.
The same idea applies to AR, too… even if currently, in my opinion, there are still not epic AR apps on the store…
Very similar to the previous point: instead of gifting a VR game, you can buy another kind of VR app, like:
- Creativity tools (e.g. Tilt Brush, Kodon);
- Prototyping tools (e.g. Modbox);
- VR world creation experiences (e.g. the world creation tools in Anyland);
- Educational tools (e.g. Calcflow);
- VR videos and stories (e.g. the ones contained in Jaunt app);
- Explorational apps;
- Relaxation tools (e.g. Guided Mediation);
The gist is: give him some VR software that he may like!
VR arcade ticket
Instead of buying him a VR hardware or software… why don’t you go together to a VR arcade?
VR themes parks are unluckily not that widespread yet, but if you have the luck of living next to one of them (or you want to have a journey), you must absolutely go there. Inside VR arcades you may live amazing virtual reality experiences, with full body VR, scents emission, multiplayer, blending of the real and virtual world and so on. People that have tried VR arcades with such experiences always come out super-satisfied. So you can give to your friend a ticket to such an arcade! Some examples of such parks are:
- The VOID (USA, UK). The most popular one, offering jaw-dropping experiences in some locations of the world. The latest Star Wars experience has been reviewed very positively by The Verge (price is $30 for 30 minutes if you’re curious);
- VRZone (Japan): here you can try games regarding for instance Super Mario, Dragonball, Ghost In The Shell that employ VR headsets in combination with various props. I know a guy that went there and came out really satisfied;
- East Valley of Science and Fantasy (China). An enormous theme park that is going to be opened in China, with an enormous mecha in front of it.
Anyway, these are just examples of some very popular ones. You have to look for the ones that are next to you… for instance in Italy we have 3DWA.
VR development tools
If you want to make a gift to someone that is or want to be a Virtual Reality developer, you can buy him:
- A VR course (e.g. on Udemy or Udacity). Lots of people want to start learning about how to become a VR developer and an online course can be the right choice for them;
- A course dedicated to passing the Unity certification program (like this one on Udemy). Having a Unity certification is of great value for a developer;
- A book on VR development or on UX design for virtual reality (don’t have advice for these ones, sorry!);
- Some assets on the Unity Asset Store to help your friend in developing the VR app of his dreams. The problem is that, googling around, I found that Unity offers Asset Store vouchers only starting at $1000, so maybe the best choice is giving directly the money to your friend so that he can buy the assets he wishes.
VR ready PCs
If the person that you want to buy the gift to can’t use VR because he has not a VR-ready PC, well, you can buy it for him. It’s not cheap, I know. But a powerful PC can be very useful both for gaming and work, so the expense may be worth it.
You have to look for Desktop PCs or laptops with the “VR-ready” label on them. If you’re in doubt, look for the recommended specs for the various headsets and see if the computer fits them. If you’re not that good at understanding specs, don’t worry, because the various companies already offer you a great set of alternatives. For instance, Oculus has a page dedicated to listing some Oculus-ready PCs and Microsoft has one, too.
Another option would be the one of buying a backpack PC. Backpack PCs are awesome for VR because they let you experience high-quality VR with complete freedom from cables: MSI and HP (and also other companies) manufacture very awesome PCs of this kind.
360 / VR Cameras
If the person you want to make a gift to loves to shoot videos, a 360 / VR camera can be the right choice for him. Here too you have a lot of choices and it is not easy to decide what to buy.
The Samsung Gear 360 is maybe the most popular one, but there are a lot of valid alternatives out there. Since shooting videos is absolutely not my field, I’ll send you to an article with a great list of cameras and to another post of mine where I interviewed a director and he gave me some impressions about the devices he’s used.
Here I just want to highlight that most cameras will just shoot a flat video in 360, so you’ll have the video of what happens around you, but without stereoscopy, so without the sense of depth. Others let you record videos with the sense of depth, but they don’t record in 360, but only at around 180° (cameras that Google wants to release are this way). Others have both qualities, but they’re super expensive and used only in professional setups (cost is $10000+, so I guess this is not the ideal choice for a gift).
In this case, after he’s received your gift, he’ll also be able to participate in the useless debate “can 360 videos be considered VR?”.
Sensors & full body VR systems
If the person you want to make the gift to loves to try cutting-edge technology, you may gift him some innovative VR device to let him interact with VR in an advanced manner. Some examples are:
- Vico VR, a full body mobile VR system;
- A sensor like Kinect (R.I.P.) / Orbbec so that he can make experiments on full body tracking on his own (or use Driver4VR to have his full body inside Steam VR experiences);
- A set of Vive Trackers so that he can have full body inside Steam VR experiences, or he can experiment with implementing VR applications that use physical props. If you want to give the Trackers for the full body stuff, it would be nice to also buy some velcro supports to make them stick to the body, too);
- Some full body VR suit (like Perception Neuron, Prio VR, etc…);
- A Leap Motion hand tracking device (even if only v1 is available, because v2 will be only embedded into headsets);
- A pair of VR gloves (like ManusVR or the upcoming Noitom Hi5);
- A VR treadmill to run in real life to run in VR (Omni, Virtualizer and Kat-Walk are the names here, but they all had troubles with shipping and such)
- Some feet controller (like 3D Rudder);
If you’d ask me to choose among the names I mentioned above, considering price and possible uses, I’d go for Vive Trackers, since they can have really lots of uses, especially if the person you’re interested to make the gift to is a developer (make sure that he has an HTC Vive, though!). Also, Vico VR is a nice choice, because as we verified at Immotionar, trying full-body VR without wearing any sensor is an awesome sensation.
If your friend has a headset without a valid positional tracking feature (e.g. Cardboard or OSVR), it may be worth to buy him a NOLO VR system, that can implement it. I know that most OSVR users are now using NOLO, so it should be good. The only problem of NOLO is that the room-scale it offers is only front-facing, so it is like using a Rift with only 2 sensors.
Brain Computer Interfaces
Another cool choice is making him experiment with the use of brainwave reading inside virtual reality. This is really a fascinating topic, that in the next decades will revolution completely how we interact with technology (we’ll all become cyborgs as Robocop!).
So a cool gift could be a brainwave reading device, that he can use in conjunction with a VR headset, so that to produce virtual reality applications that can react to what the user is thinking and/or feeling. Notice that this means that the target person has to be a developer, because he should script this connection of technologies by himself: on the stores, there are not BCI VR games.
If you want a list of BCI gadgets comprehensive of prices, you can find it in my super-long post about Brain Computer Interfaces (look for the “With which devices can I experiment right now in the field?” paragraph).
TPCAST is a solution that can make the HTC Vive (and now even the Oculus Rift, since preorders are open) wireless. It is a pain to set up, but when it works, it works really really well, freeing you completely from the slavery of the wire. For around €350 you can make an awesome gift for an HTC Vive owner!
Cable management systems
If you don’t want to buy a wireless system, you can buy some system to manage the cable the headset, so that it stops being a nuisance for the VR player. Usually, this requires making the cable to pass near the ceiling, so it doesn’t stand on the floor, but comes from above, freeing the user from the risk of stumbling upon it. There are some system of this kind on the market: one is this one on Amazon (even if from reviews it appears that you have to use screws to fix the mounts on the ceiling) or this one by Bestorx (that has better reviews). Anyway, looking for “VR cable management” on Google may give you some cool answers.
Eye tracking device
Eye tracking and foveated rendering will be two features that VR headsets will add in the future for sure. Eye tracking makes possible to have VR visuals that are more similar to the real ones and also have our VR avatars that look more natural in social VR experiences. Furthermore, it makes possible to create UX that are easy to be used and comfortable, because for instance you can select objects just by looking at them with your eyes, without having to move your head and hands.
So, if you think that Eye Tracking technology can be an interesting gift, you can:
- Buy a FOVE headset, the only one implementing eye-tracking out of the box;
- Pre-order a Tobii HTC Vive Devkit, an add-on that can be retrofitted onto an existing HTC Vive to add eye tracking to it;
World sensing cameras
There are some cool little depth cameras that you attach to a device to add it advanced mixed reality functionalities. These are pretty cool gadgets.
One of them is the famous Structure sensor by Occipital, that you attach on the rear of your iPhone/iPad to transform it in a device able to scan completely a room, so that you can reconstruct its 3d model easily (it becomes basically a Google Tango). Very cool.
Recently, ZED, a company famous for producing depth cameras, has announced the ZED Mini, a camera that you attach to your Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset to transform it into an AR headset, able to scan all the environment around you and add elements onto it. Really awesome. You can read more info about it inside this Road To VR article or buy it directly on its store.
Headset and controllers stands
I’m not a tidy person… my desk is always a mess. When not in use, my VR headset and controllers lay somewhere on my desk, among others stuff. When I have to charge things, I just plug their cables and then throw them somewhere.
But there are people who love keeping things in a very ordered fashion: that’s why there are headset and controllers stands and stations.
For instance, you can buy a VOYA or CYBUST head stand, that offers you a head onto which you can put your headset and controllers, that so stay in a very neat way on your desk. These are not the two only options that you have and googling around you can find other alternatives. Lots of people on Reddit love also to manufacture the stand by themselves, so if you’re a fan of DIY, you can craft the gift yourself!
Another possibility is buying a charging station for the controllers, so you keep them in a tidy way when they’re in charge. Some examples are:
- VRGE, that offers you awesome stands to store your headset and charge at the same time your controllers for Rift, Vive, and PSVR;
- Insignia, that has just released a charging station for Ocuus Touch;
Do you remember my post about WIDMOvr? If not, you can still find it here.
Inside there you can find ideas for various accessories you can buy as gifts for someone that owns a headset, like for instance:
- Cover mask to protect the foam of the headset from sweat and such (you can buy them on WIDMOvr or VRCover, for instance);
- Lenses and lens mount: these are special accessories for the VR headset that lets the user insert prescription lenses inside the headset, so that someone that needs glasses can wear the headset without them and be far more comfortable. If you know someone that loves VR and that needs to wear glasses, this is a great gift (you can buy them on WIDMOvr or VR Lens Lab);
- Lens protectors, to avoid scratches and smudges to the lenses (for instance on Microsoft Store… or you can buy a VR lenses adapter as above, with lenses that have 0 correction);
- Bags to carry your headset and controllers around in a safe way (there are a lot of models, even one that costs $9000!);
- Silicone skin to protect your headset and controllers (available for instance on Microsoft Store);
Another interesting accessory is the Vive ‘N Chill that chills a bit the user while he plays using an HTC Vive. The review on UploadVR about this device has been positive.
VR headsets, especially Vive and Oculus, are very flat devices. A single color, maybe two and nothing more. Would be great to customize them a bit and make them funnier. That’s why there are some websites offering skins for such devices… and you can give them as gifts!
If your friend has an HTC Vive, You can, for instance, find a lot of skins on MightySkins, with lots of colors and textures (even if I have to say that some of them are quite weird). There are also for Rift, but the website doesn’t show you the previews (weeeird).
But the best and cheaper option for customizing your headset is applying some awesome Googly Eyes! This is the best gift ever!
Not exactly a VR device, but the Chromecast can be used to stream on a screen what the user is seeing inside a GearVR or Cardboard and this can be useful to play in VR without isolating from friends. Furthermore, it is a an amazing device to stream videos to your TV. It’s an idea to keep in mind.
Smartphone Hologram Projector
Returning to the AR realm, there are little plastic gadgets that you put on your smartphone screen and, when used with their companion app, they somewhat emulate the projection of a 3D hologram. Let me be honest: this is absolutely not a hologram and the illusion quality is mediocre (it’s not as having a holographic display), but I tried it and find it enjoyable anyway… and reading online, seems that people agree with me.
You can find such gadgets on Amazon for a very cheap price. This is one of them, for instance. Otherwise, there are a lot of instructions online to do one of them by yourself… so, as I’ve said about the stands, you can manufacture it by yourself and then give it away!
There are gun controllers into which you put your smartphones so that you can play with a real gun inside AR mobile games! Look for them on Amazon…
And that’s it… I’ve written all the ideas that have come to my mind! Some of them are better, others are worse; some are cheap, others very expensive; some are AR-oriented, others VR-oriented. But I really hope that they’ve given you some hints about what you can give away for Christmas. If you have other AR/VR cool ideas, let me know in the comments section below!
So, what are you going to give to me as gift? 😉
(I hope at least a newsletter subscription and a share of this article on your social channels…)
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