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Santa's VR Christmas Gift Guide

It’s the holiday shopping season, and various consumer electronics prognosticators have proclaimed that 2016 will be the year that virtual reality flies off the shelves and under the Christmas Tree. So, if you’re considering being drawn to the siren song of VR, you’ll need to make some decisions. The choice of what platform to buy comes down to two factors, budget and the existing hardware you have already invested in.

Let’s start with hardware. Are you a PC or a Mac owner? If you’re a PC owner then Oculus Rift could be for you, just be prepared to lay out some serious cash. If you’re a Samsung phone owner, then you may have a low-cost way into VR. And if you’re Apple, well – you’re gong to have to wait until next year the rumored iPhone 8 hits the street, or go with one of the gaming platform VR setups. Or, for the budget-minded, there’s Google Cardboard which works with both Samsung, Apple, and the new Google phone.

Here are your VR choices:

Think of the Gear as a step up from Google Cardboard. Sure, it fits nicely on your face – and it gives you navigation controls on the side, but it’s still pretty much your phone in front of your eyes. It’s VR, but not the fancy VR that the dedicated headgear offers. If you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, the simple answer is – sure why not. It’s a good entry point to the VR world. It powers VR games and 360 video, and it’s fun.

Way back when VR was just SciFi fodder, Oculus had all the early adopters chomping at the bit. That was 2012. Now Oculus is owned by Facebook – and it’s a PC-only device that requires a souped up computer to drive a high-end VR experience. Together the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch bundle will set you back almost $800, and that’s before you upgrade your PC. But you’ll be in serious VR land – right on the cool cutting edge. So if you want to dive in, this is the place to go. The new Oculus Touch controller is optional, but hey, why not. And there are plenty of games for the Oculus that make this the top gamer’s choice.

Setup of the Oculus can be done in 20 minutes – though it does take up three USB ports and an HDMI port on your computer,

Vive | Serious: $800 with tons of software from Steam.

The software company Valve joined forces with HTC and released Vive earlier this year. The Valve Steam eCommerce site has all kinds of cutting edge VR software for the platform. Vive is neck-and-neck with Oculus for the “cool geek” factor. Users say that set is pretty tricky – definitely not plug-and-play – but if offers you room-scale design that gives you total immersive VR. Vive may be the most advanced of all the consumer VR devices out today.

The fact is most Oculus Rift games can be played on your HTC Vive today. With Vive you get the headset, two sensors called lighthouses, two hand controllers, and what you need to connect to the headset to your computer.

But setup of the HTC Vive isn’t a walk in the park. The two lighthouse boxes need to be installed on separate sides of the space (diagonally). The headset requires a USB port, an HDMI port, and AC power. Calibration involves tracing the play area – walking around with the controller in your hand. The total time is more than 40 minutes if you don’t run into any issues.

The PS-VR may be the best consumer entry point, somewhere between high-end and the Google Cardboard entry point. When you outfit the whole thing, with the console, headset, and camera – you’re still under $800, which is the starting point for Vive and Oculus. It delivers a full VR experience and has a number of games that are highly rated. Among them: Star Wars and Call of Duty. The PS VR store has almost 75 games today – so no shortage of software for the platform.

The newest headgear in the space is from Google. So far, it only works on Google’s Pixel phone. Do you have one of those? If so, you’re one of the five people who do. But the Daydream View is VR platform to keep an eye on. At just $79 it’s a serious contender for the entry level play experience, and heck, you can buy it AND the Pixel phone and still be way under the cash you’ll shell out for the Vive or Oculus.

There are plenty of choices for shoppers looking to dive into virtual reality this holiday season. Yes it’s early days – but the hardware is solid and the software is already abundant.  So to a Happy (virtual) Holiday Season.

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