There’s now a ton of immersive VR games, apps and movies to enjoy. But what if you aren’t ready to shell out several hundred bucks for a home VR setup. Oculus VR's upcoming headset is slated to be priced at $200 while Microsoft's new mixed-reality headsets are slated to start at $299. On the mobile front, you have the Gear VR and Google Daydream, which are great with their included controllers, but they're both well over $50.
We purchased several top-selling headsets under $40 that can transport you into the VR world, whether your own an Android phone or iPhone. After hours of testing, we’ve ranked these affordable options from best to worst based on comfort, visual quality and ease of use.
This headset hits it out of the park with a few unique details that many of the alternatives miss. A padded cap on the top strap boosts the comfort level, and a pair of horizontal guides inside the device allows you to set it up for your phone. Focus controls and venting on this headset are fantastic, and the perforated face padding does a great job of keeping you cool. Image quality was clear when watching or playing what?, although colors were slightly more muted than with our top pick. The overall build quality on this headset is second to none in this price range.
Support for augmented reality isn’t required for a VR headset, but it’s nice to have and the Desktek delivers. Transitioning from VR to AR is dead simple, thanks to a magnetized panel that pulls away to expose the phone's camera. Too bad the clamp can accidentally trigger your phone’s volume and/or power buttons, depending on their placement. You can adjust focus using controls on top of the headset, which operate smoothly. Image quality was crystal clear with little to no distortion; however, light leakage at the top was more noticeable than with our top two picks. The included gamepad is designed to fit on a keychain, and while the rubberized controls are a bit mushy, it worked surprisingly well for gaming on the go.
This was the lightest of the full-sized headsets that we tested and that alone bumps up the comfort level quite a bit. The horizontal guides make it a cinch to placer phone in the Pasonomi. If you have a particularly large phone (over 6 inches) this is one of the few headsets that can accommodate that size. Focusing the lenses requires screwing the eyepieces in or out inside the headset, which means you can’t make adjustments while wearing the headset. Colors looked slightly muted on this headset and while a clear image is possible it requires some work given the lens adjustment mechanism. The inability to remove the front visor for AR apps is my only other complaint.
The VR Elegiant's design is among the best we tested; considerable venting at the front and top of the headset along with perforated face padding kept things cool. Individual focus adjustments for each eye come in handy, and the removable magnetic front panel allows you to explore AR apps.Image quality, clarity and color all proved excellent. VR games felt slightly zoomed in as compared to others, which can be more immersive but also problematic as the view felt off at times.. The elaborate head strap is the most immediately noticeable feature on this headset; it features a padded cap on the top strap and another across the back. This can make for a perfect fit on the right head, but for others it will prove quite uncomfortable, as that rigid section cannot be adjusted.
The unique sliding front face panel on the VR Box is a clever touch, allowing for quick, easy access to the camera for AR apps. The phone-loading mechanism is similarly unusual -- you slide out an entire section of the headset and clamp your phone in place before sliding it back in. The headset features a more customizable focus adjustment system than most with separate settings for each eye. VR content looked clear and the color reproduction was faithful. We noticed some slight light leakage from the top left due to the sliding mechanism that reveals the camera. Our one major complaint is the front-mounted top head band, which made for an uncomfortable experience.
One of the smaller and lighter options on this list, the TaoTronics 3D VR headset is quite comfortable. The downside of this headset’s small size is increased concentration of heat; larger phones in particular could present a problem. The TaoTronics is the only option we tested that features the Google Cardboard magnet “button,” which allows for additional interaction with some apps without the need for a controller. Separate focus adjustments for each eye is another welcome option. Unfortunately, VR content looked slightly distorted and colors were a bit muted.
There are a number of things to recommend the Meco headset. The removable magnetized front plate allows you to switch quickly between AR or VR apps. The head strap has a faux leather piece at the back that feels better than many of the more rigid options out there, and the focus adjustments are well-implemented and feel robust. However, overheating was a persistent problem due to the lack of venting. As nice as the faux leather is, it doesn't disperse heat well. These thoughtless design choices caused the lenses to fog up as a result. Image clarity and color were solid, but there was also distracting light leakage.