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What Parents Need to Know About the VR Gear Kids Want

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Virtual reality headsets range from cheap cardboard to expensive PlayStation

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

Thinking of giving your family a bit of virtual reality over the holidays? You do not know where to start ? Do not worry.

From Google’s inexpensive Cardboard VR Viewer to Sony’s new PlayStation VR, this guide will help you figure out what’s right 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 really swim with the big VR fish.

Keep in mind that VR is a rapidly evolving technology, so always check company websites, professional reviews on sites like CNET, and user reviews before jumping in.

Virtual reality viewers are inexpensive, portable devices that provide three-dimensional views and the feeling of being in a different place. Viewer lenses work by extending the depth of static images or animations, but do not allow you to interact with your surroundings. To use them, download any app titled “VR” in iTunes or Google Play, launch the app, and insert your smartphone into the viewer. Most viewers use your phone button or other basic input to control the action.

Main characteristics

• Cheap

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

• Closer to a 3D movie than real virtual reality

• Ideal for educational content and games

• The selection of high quality apps is currently quite limited. Try The New York Times VR Virtual Reality Stories and these recommendations.

Products in this category

• Google Cardboard ($14.99)

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

• SmartTheater Virtual Reality Headset ($19.99)

It’s a comfortable viewer with adjustable lenses, a headband, and an easy-to-use trigger input. Comes with a portable cardboard motion controller that adds punch to games. Works with most smartphones and all iOS or Android VR apps.

• View-Master Virtual Reality ($29.99)

Designed for learning rather than playing, the View-Master is available in a range of packages that allow you to explore dinosaurs, space, wildlife and more. Each pack includes insertable picture reels (your phone provides the power). Works with most smartphones and specially designed View-Master iOS or Android apps.

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VR headsets are increasing in price and features. They are similar to TV viewers in that you download VR apps from the App Store and insert your phone into them. The headsets work with the exact same apps as the viewers (except Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View), but give you a more immersive experience.

The benefits of helmets are that they are more comfortable to wear longer, they fit better (preventing light leaks), they have better lenses, and they often have headphone ports. That’s why some people like to use them for watching videos. They don’t render videos three-dimensional, but they provide a personal, cinema-like experience. They also usually have game controllers built into the headset itself or work with handheld controllers, giving you more options in apps than you would have with a simple viewer.

Main characteristics

• More expensive than viewers

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

• A more believable experience, you are there, but limited ability to interact with your surroundings

• Ideal for games, educational content and watching movies

• The selection of high quality apps is currently quite limited. Try The New York Times VR Virtual Reality Stories and these recommendations.

• Helmets have minimum age requirements set by manufacturers; check 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)

Crafted from fabric, this lightweight, plush headset is specially designed for Google’s all-new Daydream VR platform. The platform includes Daydream-enabled 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 GearVR ($99)

Designed exclusively for Samsung phones, the Gear VR includes an input pad on the side of the headset and works with Bluetooth controllers, both of which let you easily navigate games. Works with Gear VR compatible games (including Minecraft Gear VR Edition).

• VR Kix Virtual Reality Headset ($49.99)

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

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At present, 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 have a PS4 yet, you can buy the PlayStation 4 Slim or a PlayStation 4 Pro (also brand new for the holidays) and the PSVR. The headset and the power provided by the console provide an immersive and interactive virtual reality experience.

Main characteristics

• Expensive

• Limited to Sony PlayStation

• Totally immersive and interactive; potential for motion sickness

• Games tend to be mature but plentiful, including Batman Arkham VR, 100 Foot Robot Golf, Final Fantasy XV VR, Battlezone, and Resident Evil 7.

• The minimum age recommended by Sony is 12 years old.

Products in this category

• PlayStation VR Launch Pack ($499.99)

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

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

A newly redesigned and slimmer version of the PS4, this one has improved graphics, an illuminated controller, and runs 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 Oculus Rift and the disturbingly sounding HTC Vive. These are the ultra-powerful VR headsets that deliver a fully immersive experience; some call it “the Holodeck” in reference to Star Trek’s alternate reality. Both require powerful, high-end PCs (which cost over $500).

Main characteristics

• Very expensive

• Requires compatible games (eg Everest VR is a Vive exclusive) and powerful computers

• Complete interactivity with your environment

• Games tend to be mature, especially The Assembly and Deus Ex Mankind Divided.

• Ideal for families with teenagers; Minimum manufacturer age of Oculus Rift is 13; Valve says the Vive is “not for kids”.

Products in this category

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  • • HTC Vive ($799)

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

    •Oculus Rift ($599)

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



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