What parents should know about the VR gear kids want

Highlights of the story

VR 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 treating your family to some virtual reality this holiday season? Have no idea where to start? Do not you worry.

From Google’s inexpensive Cardboard VR viewer to Sony’s new PlayStation VR, this guide will help you figure out what makes sense for your family’s interests, needs, and budget. Here are your options if you want to dip your toe in the water, wade up to your knees, or really swim with the big VR fish.

Keep in mind that VR is a rapidly changing technology, so always check company websites, professional reviews from sites like CNET, and user opinions before making the leap.

Virtual reality viewers are inexpensive handheld devices that offer three-dimensional views and the feeling of being in a different place. Viewer lenses work by expanding the depth of static images or animation, but they don’t allow you to interact with your surroundings. To use them, download any app labeled “VR” from iTunes or Google Play, launch the app, and insert your smartphone into the viewer. Most viewers use the phone button or other basic input to control the action.

Key features

• Inexpensive

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

• More like a 3D movie than true virtual reality

• The best for educational content and games

• Currently, the selection of high-quality applications is quite limited. Try the New York Times virtual reality stories and these recommendations.

Products in this category

• Google Cardboard ($14.99)

Literally made out of cardboard, this self-made wearable device is a fun and new way to experience virtual reality. Use it with any smartphone and VR apps for iOS or Android. Google offers many different viewers, including the steampunk-looking Google Tech C-1 Glass VR viewer ($14.99).

• SmartTheater VR Headset ($19.99)

This is a comfortable scope with adjustable lenses, a head strap and an easy-to-use trigger input. It comes with a cardboard hand motion controller that adds some oomph to the games. Works with most smartphones and any VR app for iOS or Android.

• View-Master Virtual Reality ($29.99)

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

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Increasing in price and features are virtual reality headsets. They’re similar to viewers in that you download VR apps from the app store and slide your phone into them. The headset works with exactly the same apps as the viewers (except the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View), but gives you a more immersive experience.

The advantages of headphones are that they are more comfortable to wear for longer, fit better (prevent light leakage), have better lenses, and often have headphone ports. That’s why some people like to use them to watch videos. They don’t make the videos in three dimensions, but they offer a personal cinema-type experience. They also usually have game controllers built into the headset or work with handheld controllers, giving you more options in apps than you would with a simple viewer.

Key features

• More expensive than spectators

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

• A more believable experience, but with limited ability to interact with your environment

• Ideal for gaming, educational content and watching movies

• Currently, the selection of high-quality applications is quite limited. Try the New York Times virtual reality stories and these recommendations.

• Headphones have minimum age requirements established by manufacturers; please check age before purchasing.

Products in this category

• Combine virtual reality glasses ($79)

These large purple headphones are made of flexible foam and have audio ports and dual input buttons for easy game control. Works with most VR apps for iOS and Android.

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

Made from fabric, these lightweight plush headsets are designed specifically for Google’s 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 Gear VR ($99)

Designed exclusively for Samsung phones, the Gear VR features an input pad on the side of the headset and works with bluetooth controllers, allowing you to navigate games easily. Works with Gear VR compatible games (including Minecraft Gear VR Edition).

• Kix VR Headset ($49.99)

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

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Right now, Sony offers the only virtual reality gaming console. Just in time for the holidays, the company’s PlayStation VR headset works with the PlayStation 4. If you don’t already have a PS4, you can buy the PlayStation 4 Slim or a PlayStation 4 Pro (also new for the holidays) and the PSVR . The headset plus the power provided by the console provides an immersive and interactive virtual reality experience.

Key features

• Expensive

• Limited to Sony PlayStation

• Fully immersive and interactive; potential for motion sickness

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

• The minimum age recommended by Sony is 12 years.

Products in this category

• PlayStation VR Launch Bundle ($499.99)

It includes everything you need to turn your PS4 into a virtual reality machine, including a headset, a camera, two motion controllers, a game and cables.

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

A slimmer, newly redesigned 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 HTC Vive ominous sleep. This is the ultra powerful VR headset that provides a fully immersive experience; some call it “the Holodeck” in reference to the Star Trek alternate reality. Both require powerful, high-end computers (costing more than $500).

Key features

• Super expensive

• Requires compatible games (eg Everest VR is a Vive exclusive) and high-powered computers

• Complete interactivity with your environment

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

• Best for families with teenagers; The minimum manufacturer age for Oculus Rift is 13 years; Valve claims the Vive is “not for kids.”

Products in this category

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  • • HTC Vive ($799)

    It offers a “room-scale experience”. If your kids play on the Steam gaming network, they’ve no doubt seen ads for the HTC Vive, since it’s made by the same company that owns Steam, Valve. Steam offers some Vive-only games designed to take advantage of the unique capabilities of this headset.

    • Oculus Rift ($599)

    It includes 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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