Getting one of the best cheap VR headsets is actually easier than it sounds. Thanks to a range of companies delving into making virtual reality headsets that use Android or iOS smartphones to take care of the heavy-lifting VR needs, you can pick up a VR headset of a bargain bucket price.
We need to caveat that with the disclaimer that you’re not going to get the most truly immersive virtual reality experience with any one of our best cheap VR headsets. For that, you’ll need to be willing to part with a lot more cash and take a look at the likes of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or if you’re feeling very flush, the Valve Index; you’ll also need a powerful PC to run such virtual reality devices.
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So if you’re looking to take tentative steps into the world of virtual reality, then one of the best cheap VR headsets is the way to go. You won’t break the bank yet you’ll also get a solid taste of what it’s like to experience virtual reality beyond seeing it in Star Trek’s holodeck.
We've tried out all of these products to assess their comfort, quality, usability and what features they offer. Just be aware that not all of these headsets are well-rounded products; after all, you get what you pay for. But once you've picked out the right headset for you, check out our list of best VR games to play with it.
What are the best cheap VR headsets?
Our pick for the best cheap VR headset is the Pansonite 3D VR headset. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s not up to do doing a good job of being an entry into the world of virtual reality. Rather, the Pansonite 3D VR headset comes reasonably close to delivering a high-quality VR experience without paying a high price, all thanks to its solid construction.
But it’s not the only decent yet affordable VR headset you can get, as the Topmaxions 3D VR Glasses not only do a good job at VR but can also work with augmented reality apps, facilitated via a removable front cover that lets you see the real world around you through the attached phone’s rear camera.
If you want a way to easily control VR apps, then the ReTrak Utopia 360 VR headset has a remote and a top-mounted button to provide an easier way to navigate through virtual environments and software. The Taotronics 3D VR Headset has similar control but loses a little when it comes to image quality.
Finally, Resulzon's 3D VR Headset offers plenty of bang for your buck thanks to the inclusion of a Bluetooth steering wheel. However, it’s the lowest quality product on this list, though it may still be worth looking at if you think you'll make use of its bundled accessory.
But without further delay, here is the full list of our favorite cheap VR headsets.
The best cheap VR headsets you can buy today
If you want to get a cheap VR headset that gets as close as it can to a high-end virtual reality setup, then the Pansonite 3D VR Headset should be on your gadget radar. It comes with in-built headphones, as well as an aux input for people with smartphones that still have a 3.5mm headphones jack. And it sports a neat adjustable headset band that’s similar in design to the PlayStation VR. It also has a cloth font design, that harks back the now-defunct Google Daydream headset.
There’s a lot to like here and when it comes to playing games like Roller Coaster VR, the Pansonite 3D VR Headset does a fine job at sucking you into the virtual action. Even this knockoff Star Wars VR video on YouTube was fun to watch through the Pansonite. Nothing about the headset detracted from any of these experiences, making the Pansonite one of the best overall VR headsets around at this price.
If you want a no-frills VR headset then the Topmaxions is a headset to consider. It has a minimal design with neat touches like foam padding to protect your face, yet avoids making your head too hot if you wear it for an extended amount of time. A removable outer cover opens things up for some augmented reality action facilitated through your phone’s camera. And a suction-cup panel will help hold your phone in place.
On the downside, there's no way to adjust the focus, but thankfully, the visual quality was actually pretty good during testing with Roller Coaster VR and a few 360-degree YouTube videos. The head strap in the back also needs to be manually attached, but thanks to a Velcro design, that takes only a few seconds to do. Overall, this is a capable little VR headset at a shockingly low price, though it's missing a few frills we saw in other models, like built-in headphones and adjustable focus.
If you’re after an easy to operate VR headset, the then the ReTrak Utopia 360 VR Headset is the way to go. Its got a top-mounted ‘action’ button that allows you to activate extra features in a VR app with ease. And thanks to the adjustable Velcro straps and a soft foam face pad, which happens to be vented, you get a comfortable as well as simple-to-use headset.
In the box, you get a remote that is a nice-to-have but not something that gets used a lot outside of a few app menus. But you can add more to the ReTrak Utopia 360 VR Headset, with the $15 option to upgrade to the Elite edition of the headset, which gives you a controller that’s more gaming-orientated. And there’s an option to add in headphones that clip to the headset.
While the magnetic front panel can take a little bit of effort to open in order to put your phone into the headset, the rest of it is easy to use. Thanks to side-mounted rollers, it’s easy enough to adjust the headset in a position that brings it into focus with your eyes.
They say ‘size doesn’t matter’. But in the case of virtual reality headsets, especially those that don’t require a tethered PC, size very much does matter, as indeed does weight. That why the TaoTronics 3D VR is interesting, as it’s one of the smallest and lightest VR headsets on this list, which will be a boon for people who find wearing VR headsets uncomfortable after any length of time. Despite being a cheap VR headset the TaoTronics 3D VR is actually pretty comfortable. And it also comes with some neat features such as the Google Cardboard magnet ‘button’ that allows you to interact and control apps without needing to go hunting for a separate controller.
There are a few downsides, however. Most notable is that the headset’s small size means it’ll struggle to fit large phones; bad news for phablet fans. And the headset’s diminutive size means that heat from the smartphone it’s being used with and from the wearer’s face, doesn’t get easily ventilated; there’s a chance this could make the whole virtual reality headset experience feel more claustrophobic. Still, you get separate focus adjustments for each eye, which is a welcome option, particularly since they offer such a large range, helping minimize eye strain for people with different vision needs. Unfortunately, VR content looked slightly distorted and colors were a bit muted through these lenses.
The Resulzon’s are similar to those pair of classic 3D viewer glasses stuffed away in your junk drawer. The design is simple, lightweight, easy to use and fit securely on my head. On the downside, they are constructed of hard plastic and lack sufficient padding on the mask, which made them uncomfortable to wear for more than 20 minutes at a time. Finding the focal adjustment was easy enough- since there is only one button on the unit. The facemask did a poor job of blocking light from entering the unit during my VR demos.
The headset shipped with a poorly constructed Bluetooth-enabled racing wheel (batteries not included). It took me numerous tries to pair the two devices, after which I quickly lost interest in playing the 16-bit racing game it was designed for. Needless to say, there are many other better choices in this price range that are both cheaper and easier to use.
How to choose the best cheap VR headset for you
There are a few things to consider when deciding which of our best cheap VR headsets suits you best.
First off, you will need to check what works with the headset you have your eye on. By going to the headset’s website you should be able to get an overview of what the headset works with. You’ll also want to check your phone to make sure it can run the VR apps and games you might be interested in. The last thing you want to do is buy a VR headset and then find out you can’t really use it.
Speaking of phones, you’ll want to check that your phone is compatible with your headset of choice, as some handsets might be a little too big to fit into certain headsets. Most headset websites should make this clear, but if in doubt look at the dimensions of the headset’s phone holder and then check them against your smartphone.
After that, you’ll then want to give some consideration to what accessories the VR headset might have, either in the box or separately. Some come with precious little, while others offer neat remote-come-controllers that can make navigating virtual environments that little bit easier. We’d suggest that it’s worth paying a little more to get a VR headset with a dedicated controller, as that will enhance the overall experience from the get-go.