Virtual reality

News What parents need to know about what kids want in VR

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Virtual reality headsets range from cheap Cardboards to expensive PlayStations

If you want to go deep or actually swim with the big fish in VR, here are your options

Want to treat your family to a little virtual reality this holiday season? Don’t know where to start? do not worry.

From Google’s cheap Cardboard VR viewer to Sony’s new PlayStation VR, this guide will help you figure out which device fits your family’s interests, needs, and budget. If you want to dip your toes in the water, wade knee deep or actually swim with big fish in VR, here’s your choice.

Keep in mind that virtual reality is a rapidly evolving technology, so be sure to check the company’s website, professional reviews on sites like CNET, as well as user reviews before jumping in.

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

most important function

• cheap

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

• More like a 3D movie than real VR

• Best for educational content and games

• The current selection of high-quality applications is very limited. Tried the NYT’s VR Stories with these recommendations.

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• Google Cardboard ($14.99)

This cardboard wearable, which you assemble yourself, is a fun new way to experience virtual reality. Works with any smartphone and iOS or Android VR app. Google offers a number of 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 an adjustable lens, head strap, and user-friendly trigger input. Comes with cardboard, portable motion controllers to spice up games. Compatible with most smartphones and all VR apps for iOS or Android.

• View Master Virtual Reality ($29.99)

More focused on learning than play, View-Master offers a range of sets that let you explore dinosaurs, outer space, wild animals and more. Each package includes a plug-in photocoil (your phone provides the horsepower). Compatible with most smartphones and the specially designed View-Master iOS or Android app.

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Even more expensive and functional are VR headsets. They’re similar to viewers in that you download a VR app from the app store and plug your phone into it. The headset uses the exact same app as the viewer (except Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View), but gives you a more immersive experience.

Headphones have the advantage of being more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, have a better fit (to prevent light leaks), have better lenses, and usually have a headphone port. Therefore, some people like to use them to watch videos. They don’t make 3D video, but provide a personal theater experience. They also often have built-in game controllers on the headset itself or work with handheld controllers, giving you more app options than using a simple viewer.

most important function

• more expensive than viewers

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

• More believable, you have experience but limited ability to handle the environment

• Ideal for gaming, educational content and watching movies

• The current selection of high-quality applications is very limited. Tried the NYT’s VR Stories with these recommendations.

• Headphones have a minimum age requirement set by the manufacturer; check age before purchasing.

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• Merge VR glasses ($79)

Made of soft foam, this large purple headset features an audio port and dual input buttons for easy game control. Works with most iOS and Android VR apps.

• Google Daydream View ($79; ships November 2016)

The lightweight, plush headset is made of fabric and designed for Google’s new Daydream VR platform. The platform includes Daydream-compatible phones like the company’s Pixel phones, apps and controllers. Daydream View comes with a controller, and the company says it will launch with 50 apps, including games, educational content and streaming services.

• Samsung Gear VR ($99)

Designed exclusively for Samsung phones, the Gear VR features an input pad on the side of the headset that works with Bluetooth controllers to let you 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 mount that adjusts to the phone make Kix ideal for high-quality VR on any smartphone. Works with most iOS and Android VR apps.

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Currently, the only VR console is offered by Sony. The company’s PlayStation VR headset works with the PlayStation 4 just in time for the holidays. If you don’t already have a PS4, you can get a PlayStation 4 Slim or PlayStation 4 Pro (also new for the holidays) and a PSVR. Headsets combined with the power of a console provide an immersive and interactive VR experience.

most important function

• expensive

• Sony PlayStation only

• Fully immersive and interactive; risk of motion sickness

• Games are generally mature but rich, including Batman Arkham VR, 100ft Robot Golf, Final Fantasy 15 VR, Warzone and Resident Evil 7.

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

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• PlayStation VR Launch Bundle ($499.99)

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

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

The PS4 is a redesigned slimmer version with improved graphics, backlit controllers and is quieter.

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

Better graphics, faster motion and optimizations to work better with certain “Pro-Enhanced” games

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You’ve probably heard of the ominous-sounding Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. These are ultra-powerful VR headsets that offer a fully immersive experience; some are calling them “holodecks,” a reference to Star Trek’s alternate reality. Both require a high-end, high-performance PC (costing over $500).

most important function

• extremely expensive

• Requires a compatible game (eg Everest VR is exclusive to the Vive) and a powerful computer

• Fully interact with your environment

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

• Best for families with teens; Oculus Rift maker’s minimum age is 13; Valve says the Vive is “not suitable for children.”

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  • • HTC Vive ($799)

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

    • Oculus Rift ($599)

    Equipped with everything you need for VR—except the computer: headset, sensors, remote, cables, Xbox controller, and games.

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