What parents need to know about the VR gear kids want

Highlights of the story

Virtual reality headsets range from cheap Cardboard to expensive PlayStation

Here are your options if you want to stick your toe in or actually swim with the VR big fish

Want to treat your family to a little virtual reality this holiday? Have no idea where to start? Don’t worry.

From Google’s cheap Cardboard VR viewer to Sony’s new PlayStation VR, this guide will help you figure out what makes sense for your family’s interests, needs and budget. Here are your options if you want to dip your toe in the water, wade knee deep or actually swim with the VR big fish.

Keep in mind that virtual reality is a fast-moving technology, so always check companies’ websites, professional reviews on sites like CNET and user reviews before taking the plunge.

Virtual reality viewers are inexpensive, wearable devices that provide three-dimensional images and the feeling of being in a different place. The viewer lenses work by increasing the depth of static images or animations, but don’t allow you to interact with your surroundings. To use them, download an app labeled “VR” from iTunes or Google Play, launch the app, and place your smartphone in the viewer. Most viewers use your phone’s button or some other basic input to control the action.

Most important features

• Cheap

• Compatible with most smartphones and iOS or Android apps labeled “VR” (except the View-Master, which uses specially designed apps)

• More like a 3D movie than real VR

• Best for educational content and games

• Selection of high-quality apps is currently quite limited. Attempted VR Virtual Reality stories from the New York Times and these recommendations.

Products in this category

• Google Cardboard ($14.99)

Literally made of cardboard, this wearable device that you assemble yourself is a fun, new way to experience virtual reality. Use with any smartphone and iOS or Android VR apps. Google offers many different viewers, including the steampunk-looking ones Google Tech C-1 Glass VR viewer ($14.99).

• SmartTheater Virtual Reality headset ($19.99)

This is a comfortable viewer with adjustable lenses, a headband and a user-friendly trigger input. Comes with a cardboard, portable motion controller that adds some spice to games. Works with most smartphones and all VR apps for iOS or Android.

• View Master Virtual Reality ($29.99)

Focused more on learning than gaming, the View-Master is available in a range of packs that let you explore dinosaurs, outer space, wildlife and more. Each package includes plug-in photo coils (your phone provides the horsepower). Works with most smartphones and specially designed View-Master iOS or Android apps.

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Higher in price and features are VR headsets. They’re similar to viewers in that you download VR apps from the app store and plug your phone into them. Headsets work with the exact same apps as the viewers (except for the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View), but give you a more immersive experience.

The advantages of headsets are that they are more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, they fit better (preventing light leaks), they have better lenses, and they often have earphone ports. Therefore, some people like to use them to watch videos. They don’t make the videos three-dimensional, but they offer a personal cinema experience. They also usually have built-in game controllers on the headset itself or work with handheld controllers, giving you more options in apps than you would with a simple viewer.

Most important features

• More expensive than viewers

• Compatible with most smartphones (except Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View) and iOS or Android apps labeled “VR”

• More believable, you have experience there, but limited ability to deal with your environment

• Good for games, educational content and watching movies

• Selection of high-quality apps is currently quite limited. Attempted VR Virtual Reality stories from the New York Times and these recommendations.

• Headsets have minimum age requirements set by manufacturers; check the age before buying.

Products in this category

• Merge VR glasses ($79)

This large purple headset is made of flexible foam and has audio ports and dual input buttons for easy game control. Works with most iOS and Android VR apps.

• Google Daydream view ($79; shipping November 2016)

Made from fabric, this lightweight plush headset is designed specifically for Google’s brand new Daydream VR platform. The platform includes Daydream-compatible phones (such as the company’s Pixel phone), apps, and controllers. Daydream View comes with a controller and the company says there will be 50 apps at launch including games, educational content and streaming services.

• Samsung Gear VR ($99)

Designed exclusively for Samsung phones, the Gear VR includes an input pad on the side of the headset and works with bluetooth controllers, allowing you to navigate games with ease. Works with Gear VR compatible games (including Minecraft Gear VR Edition).

• VR Kix Virtual Reality Headset ($49.99)

Individually adjustable lenses, a snug fit, and a smartphone tray that you can adjust to your phone make the Kix a good option for high-quality VR on any smartphone. Works with most iOS and Android VR apps.

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At the moment, the only VR game console is offered by Sony. The company’s PlayStation VR headset, just in time for the holidays, works with the PlayStation 4. If you don’t already own a PS4, you can get the PlayStation 4 Slim or a PlayStation 4 Pro (also brand new for the holidays) and the PSVR. The headset plus the horsepower provided by the console makes for an immersive, interactive VR experience.

Most important features

• Expensive

• Limited to Sony PlayStation

• Fully immersive and interactive; risk of motion sickness

• Games are generally mature but plentiful, including Batman Arkham VR, 100ft Robot Golf, Final Fantasy XV VR, Battlezone, and Resident Evil 7.

• Recommended by Sony minimum age is 12.

Products in this category

• PlayStation VR Launch Bundle ($499.99)

Includes everything you need to turn your PS4 into a VR machine, including a headset, a camera, two motion controllers, a game and cables.

• PlayStation 4 Slim ($299.99); PSVR sold separately

A redesigned, slimmer version of the PS4, it has improved graphics, a backlit controller and is quieter.

• Playstation 4 Pro ($399.99); PSVR sold separately

Better graphics, faster action and optimized to work better with specific “Pro-Enhanced” games

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You may have heard of the ominous sounding Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. These are the ultra-powerful VR headsets that provide a fully immersive experience; some refer to it as “the Holodeck” in reference to Star Trek’s alternate reality. Both require high-end, high-performance PCs (which cost upwards of $500).

Most important features

• Extremely expensive

• Require compatible games (eg Everest VR is exclusive to Vive) and powerful computers

• Full interactivity with your environment

• Games are generally mature, including The Assembly and Deus Ex Mankind Divided.

• Best for families with teenagers; The Oculus Rift manufacturer minimum age is 13; Valve states that the Vive is “not for kids”.

Products in this category

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  • HTC Vive ($799)

    Offers a “room scale experience”. If your kids play on the Steam gaming network, they’ve definitely seen ads for the HTC Vive, as it’s made by the same company, Valve, that owns Steam. Steam offers some Vive-only games designed to take advantage of the unique capabilities of these headsets.

    • Oculus Rift ($599)

    Comes with everything to realize VR – except the computer: a headset, a sensor, a remote control, cables, an Xbox controller and a game.

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