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VR FTW this holiday

A ticket to another world -- or many! Give them the gift of VR this holiday season.

Sean Hollister
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
1 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Oculus Rift + Touch

If you're totally sold on VR, there's never been a better time to buy an Oculus Rift. Not only is it the most comfortable full-fat VR experience on the market -- a lightweight, fabric-covered design-- it costs half what it did last year. Plus, some of the very best games in VR are Oculus-exclusive.

2 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

PlayStation VR

Still, the Oculus Rift requires a pricy PC. You know what doesn't? Sony's PlayStation VR! It works with the PlayStation 4 console your lucky recipient may already own, or can buy relatively cheaply, and Sony already has a few great games in its library. 

It's easier to buy now, too, since Sony includes the PlayStation Camera you'll need in every box as of August 2017.

3 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

HTC Vive

The HTC Vive, like the Oculus Rift, needs to be tethered to a powerful gaming PC. It looks a little goofy. And despite a huge price cut, it still costs more than the competition. But that's because it's the best VR hardware you can buy today. 

Unlike every other headset, the Vive lets your giftee freely walk around a room, without buying additional sensors or running multiple USB cables back to a computer.

4 of 24 Google

Google Daydream View (2017)

Don't want to spend quite as much on VR? If your giftee has one of roughly a dozen compatible phones, the Daydream View is a cheaper (and tether-free) way to give VR a try. You can't walk around, lean in, or reach out and grab things, but the included controller makes for a mean wand or fishing rod. 

New for 2017? Increased comfort everywhere.

5 of 24 Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung Galaxy S8

If you buy the Daydream View headset, you'll need a Daydream-compatible phone, and believe it or not, it's Samsung's Galaxy S8 -- not Google's own Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL -- that works best with the Google headset.

It just so happens that the Galaxy S8's screen works with the Daydream View's lenses better than the screens in the Google phones, which suffer from a little pixelation and ghosting when viewed inside Daydream View. The fact that the Galaxy S8 has a headphone jack is just the cherry on top.

6 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung Gear VR (2017) with Controller

But if you're buying a Samsung phone, you should consider the Gear VR (on the right). For three years running, the Samsung Gear VR has been the gold standard for inexpensive virtual reality, thanks to a partnership with Oculus to fund and share games across both stores -- and now it's more immersive than ever thanks to a Daydream-style motion controller. 

It only works with Samsung Galaxy phones, but quite a few are compatible with this model, including the Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8, S8+, S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, and S6 Edge+. If they already own one of these phones, it could be a great addition.

Note: If you're buying for a Galaxy S7 or earlier, you can probably find last year's headset at a steep discount.

7 of 24 Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

If you're going straight for a Gear VR, the Galaxy Note 8 is the phone we'd recommend you buy. The larger screen offers one of the widest fields of view you can get inside the Gear VR from any Samsung phone. Its battery lasts longer than the Galaxy S8 (though not the S8+) -- important when VR is such a battery drain. And VR aside, it's also a great phone.

8 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung Gear VR Controller

But perhaps your giftee already has a Gear VR and a compatible phone? If so, consider just buying them the motion controller. Samsung says it works with every Gear VR headset, and we found it added a lot to VR games. It certainly beats tapping your temple every time you want to interact with a virtual world. 

Be sure to look out for deals: We've spotted the controller on the cheap from time to time.

9 of 24 James Martin/CNET

Google Cardboard

Looking for an even more affordable option, perhaps just a stocking stuffer? Google Cardboard is it. Works with practically any Android or iOS phone, just don't expect a very immersive experience. If you need a strap to keep it attached to your head, you could buy one of the dozens and dozens of clones out there.

Buy it at the Google Store.

10 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony PlayStation 4

Buying a PlayStation VR? Don't forget the PlayStation 4! You'll need this game console to power the headset. (It's not just for that, of course: It's also a fantastic streaming video box and plays some killer flatscreen titles.)

With over 60 million consoles sold as of June -- and some buyers opting for the newer PS4 Pro -- you might want to look for a used PS4 to save some money.

11 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro

But if you've got some extra money to throw around, why not buy a PlayStation 4 Pro instead? The additional horsepower means that some (but not all) VR titles look crisper, with less distracting shimmer around the edges. Farpoint is a great example of this. And if your giftee has a 4K TV, this console could also make their regular games look quite a bit better.

12 of 24 Logan Moy/CNET

PlayStation VR Aim Controller

What to buy for the giftee who already has a PlayStation VR? You might try the PS VR Aim Controller. 

Be warned: There are only a handful of games that support it and the bundled Farpoint won't hold their interest for long. But we've never tried anything quite so effortlessly accurate as this reimagined light gun. 

13 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose QuietComfort 25

The Oculus Rift has built-in headphones, but many VR headsets don't, and your giftee will need them to experience VR properly. Our recommendation? Instead of just plugging in any old earbuds, invest in a set of excellent noise-canceling cans. 

The Bose QC25 headphones sound great, filter away outside noise, and their slim earcups fit comfortably under the band of a PlayStation VR or over an HTC Vive headset. 

14 of 24 Josh Miller/CNET

HTC Vive Deluxe Audio Strap

But before you buy Bose, consider this audio alternative for the HTC Vive owner in your life: The HTC Vive Deluxe Audio Strap. 

Not only does the accessory add integrated headphones to the headset, it also makes the Vive easier to use. Just twist a dial to tighten and loosen the strap instead of messing with velcro or elastic each time you want to wear or remove it.

15 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

MSI VR One backpack PC

Of course, your giftee is going to need a Windows gaming rig to power that Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. And if you've got thousands of dollars burning a hole in your pocket, there's nothing that says "I'm spoiling you rotten" quite like a backpack PC. 

Yes, the MSI VR One is a computer designed to be worn on your back, complete with giant hot-swappable battery packs, so you never have to worry about running out of cord as you walk around a virtual world. 

16 of 24 HP

HP Omen X Compact

And believe it or not, MSI isn't the only company making a VR backpack PC -- the pricey HP Omen X Compact just went on sale in the United States. 

By default, it slides into a vertical dock for a "desktop" mode, but you can also strap it to the backpack accessory (sold separately in the US) for tether-free VR. Pretty cool.

Acer Predator Helios 300
17 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Acer Predator Helios 300

Need a VR-ready PC that won't break the bank? Look for a laptop, like this Acer Predator Helios 300, with GeForce GTX 1060 graphics. Manufacturers will often cut a few corners elsewhere to fit VR-ready chips into a laptop this cheap, but we were relatively pleased with the Acer. 

You could also check out the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, which recently got upgraded with the GeForce GTX 1060 as well. Or try the HP Omen.

18 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Razer Blade Pro

Of course, the sky's the limit for laptop prices, too. If you want the finely crafted Razer Blade Pro -- a super-slim VR-ready PC -- expect to pay well even for entry-level GeForce GTX 1060 graphics. The GTX 1080 version is a true VR powerhouse, but worth it.

19 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET


Giant 18-inch screen? Check. Mechanical keyboard? Twin GeForce GTX 1080 graphics chips? You bet. The MSI GT83VR Titan is one of the most ridiculous gaming laptops we've ever tested, even before you consider the chassis is a gigantic, 13-pound wedge. 

On the plus side, you won't have to look at it once you're in VR!

20 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Alienware Aurora

Looking for something a little more... traditional? The VR-ready Alienware Aurora desktop is relatively small, inexpensive and extremely easy to upgrade. It uses almost entirely standard PC ports, right down to the motherboard, and supports twin GPUs. 

You also might want to check out the eerily similar Dell XPS Tower Special Edition, which sometimes offers more bang for your buck.

21 of 24 Sarah Tew/CNET

Falcon Northwest Tiki

If you want to sink serious cash into a VR desktop you can proudly display in your living room, you can't do much better than the Falcon Northwest Tiki. It's one of the most impressive, classy and small VR-ready PCs we've tested. 

And it's just four inches thick.

22 of 24 Lori Grunin/CNET

Dell XPS 27

If you'd rather buy an iMac-like all-in-one desktop PC for your VR headset, that's an option too. The new Dell XPS 27 offers a beautiful screen and potent built-in speakers, but also an AMD Radeon RX 570 graphics chip that's capable of entry-level VR gaming. 

23 of 24 Nvidia

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

So your giftee already has a powerful gaming PC, and now it's time to dial it up to 11? The GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is the best graphics card you can buy for virtual reality. 

No, it's not technically the most powerful GPU ever made, but it comes close -- and anything more expensive is truly overkill. 

24 of 24 Sean Hollister/CNET

AMD Radeon RX 580

If you're looking for a cheaper VR-ready graphics card, there are plenty of options, including the GeForce GTX 1080, 1070, 1060, the AMD Radeon Vega 56 (if you can find one) and Radeon RX 580, 570, 480, and 470.

Our budget pick would definitely be the RX 580, though. It's the sweet spot of entry-level price and entry-level performance for VR, and should be able to play every game with no difficulty. Just don't expect high settings.

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