LIVING

Virtual Reality Is the Coolest Tech Gift For Christmas 2016

12/20/2016 11:30 EST

Eighties pop culture made a lot of predictions about the future that are coming true. "Back to the Future II" foretold the Cubs’ World Series win and the triumph of Biff Tannen Donald Trump.

The 1990s, meanwhile, led us to believe that virtual reality was on its way, and this year in finally arrived – just in time for the holidays.

vr

2016 VR technology is the real deal, not like Nintendo's failed Virtual Boy from 1995 nor is it an oversell like that attempt to convince us all to buy 3D TVs a couple years back. Though it's hard to wrap your head around how effective the games and videos are without wearing a headset, it really does feel like you are inside the experience.

These days VR has entry points that fit any budget, though as with anything you get what you pay for. The cheapest way to access virtual reality is through your smartphone while the better but most expensive options Sony's PlayStation VR, Facebook's Oculus Rift and Valve's HTC Vive require gaming consoles or computers.

According to Consumer Reports, 13 million VR headsets are expected to be purchased this year so if you become one of these early adopters, you won't be swimming with the virtual sharks alone.

Here's our run down of your holiday VR options:

  • Google Cardboard ($20)
    The least expensive option here is Google Cardboard, an NFC-enabled VR papercraft headset with bioconvex lenses. You assemble it yourself and then insert your phone. Over 5 million have shipped and developers have published over 1000 compatible apps available in various digital stores.

    Where to buy: Google Play Store
  • View-Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack ($29.99)
    The old View-Master toys first introduced kids to stereoscopic 3D a full 75 years ago, and now the company has moved into you child’s first VR viewer.

    The headset is built for kid-related toughness and works with your Apple or Android smartphone to provide a 360-degree view that changes as you move your head. It works with View-Master's own "experience apps" or any Google Cardboard apps.

    Where to buy: Best Buy
  • Merge VR ($69.99)
    These sculpted foam rubber VR goggles step up the quality level considerably, though the virtual reality is still powered entirely by your phone. Merge VR is sturdier and more comfortable than cheaper headsets, offers have adjustable lenses to improve viewing and dual input for interactive VR games, and a pop-out window for augmented reality apps.

    They're also great for kids 10 and up. Verge also offers their own family-friendly app library via VRStart.com and are Google Cardboard compatible.

    Where to buy: Best Buy
  • Samsung Gear VR ($139.99)
    While Gear VR is another smartphone-powered VR headset, it's more expensive and only works with Samsung Galaxy S6s and S7s. But it offers a more powerful system developed in partnership with industry pioneer Oculus Rift.

    It has a bigger field of view, smoother picture and less light leakage as well as a controller touchpad on the side of the goggles. Best of all, it can play the apps in the Oculus Store, from exploring the solar system in "Star Chart" to block-building in "Minecraft."

    Where to buy: The Source
  • PlayStation VR ($549.99)
    PSVR is the new kid on the block who immediately claimed it as its territory, gobbling up 30 per cent of the market in just a few months. Despite being the third major virtual reality release of 2016, the PS4's massive install base meant it was the cheapest way to get proper VR that was far beefier than any phone provide.

    It's a big but comfortable headset that works with the PlayStation camera and motion-sensing Move controller (sold separately) to place your whole body inside the game.

    PSVR also arrived with 50 games and experiences in tow, ranging from "Batman: Arkham VR," which lest you fight crime in Gotham, to "Eagle Flight," which lets you fly like an...

    Where to buy: EB Games
  • Oculus Rift ($849.99 + $279 for Touch Controllers)
    Oculus Rift is the pioneers of brave new VR world. Initially Kickstarter-funded, the company was bought by Facebook and hit the market earlier this year. It comes with headset, remote and Xbox One controller.

    Oculus Touch sensing controllers will cost an additional $279. The graphics and constellation tracking system combine into a high-end experience, but it requires a similarly high-end computer. So-called "Rift Ready" PCs cost between $2000 and $3000.

    Where to buy: Best Buy
  • HTC Vive ($1,149.00)
    Valve's HTC Vive is the highest-end virtual reality tech, with the price tag to prove it. The differentiator here is that it's "room-scale VR" which means that thanks to a pair of tracking base stations you can walk around within the experience. It even offers a "chaperone" early-warning system to avoid collisions.
    Like the Oculus, it needs a powerful PC to give the tech enough oomph to play the 600+ games available via the SteamVR store.

    Where to buy: HTC.com


Also on HuffPost

Video Game Gift Guide For Grown-Ups