What Parents Should Know About the VR Equipment Kids Want

From low-cost Google 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 take a dip in the water, go knee-deep, or really swim with the big VR fish.

Keep in mind that virtual reality is a rapidly changing technology, so always check company websites, professional reviews on sites like CNETand user reviews before making a move.

VR viewers are low-cost portable devices that offer a 3D experience and the feeling of being in a different place. Spectator lenses work by adding depth to static images or animations, but they don’t allow you to interact with the environment. To use them, download any app marked “VR” on iTunes or Google Play, launch the app, and insert your smartphone into the viewer. Most viewers use your phone’s button or other primary input to control the action.

Key Feature

• Inexpensive

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

• More like a 3D movie than real virtual reality.

• Best for educational content and games

• The choice of high quality applications is currently quite limited. Try New York Times Virtual Reality Stories in Virtual Reality as well as these recommendations.

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Google Cardboard saved their child's life
Google Cardboard ($14.99)
Literally made out of cardboard, this handheld device that you build yourself is a fun, new way to experience virtual reality. Use with any smartphone and iOS or Android VR apps. Google offers many different viewers, including Steampunk Google Tech C-1 Glass VR Viewer ($14.99).

It is a comfortable viewer with adjustable lenses, a head strap and an easy to use trigger input. Comes with a cardboard hand-held motion controller, which makes games more attractive. Works with most smartphones and any VR app for iOS or Android.

Designed for education, not play, the View-Master is available in a variety of configurations to explore dinosaurs, space, wildlife and more. Each pack includes picture insert reels (your phone provides the power). Works with most smartphones and specially designed View-Master apps for iOS or Android.

VR Headsets: The Best for Big Kids and Teens

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Rise in price and the characteristics of VR-headsets. They are like viewers in that you download VR apps from the app store and stick your phone in them. The headsets work with the same apps as the viewers (with the exception of Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, but give you a more immersive experience).

The benefits of a headset are that they are more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, fit better (preventing light leakage), have better lenses, and often have headphone jacks. That’s why some people like to use them to watch videos. They do not make the video three-dimensional, but they create the feeling of a personal cinema. They also usually have built-in game controllers on the headset itself, or work with handheld controllers, giving you more options in apps than a simple viewer.

Key Features

• More expensive than the audience

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

• A more believable presence experience, but limited ability to interact with the environment.

• Suitable for games, educational content and movies.

• The choice of high quality applications is currently quite limited. Try New York Times Virtual Reality Stories in Virtual Reality as well as these recommendations.

• Headsets have a minimum age limit set by manufacturers; check the age before buying.

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This oversized purple headset is made from flexible foam and features audio ports and dual input buttons for easy game control. Works with most VR apps for iOS and Android.

Google DayDream View ($79; delivered November 2016)
This lightweight plush fabric headset is designed specifically for Google’s new Daydream VR platform. The platform includes Daydream-compatible phones (such as the Pixel phone), apps, and controllers. Daydream View comes with a controller and the company says there will be 50 apps at launchincluding games, educational content and streaming services.
Samsung Gear VR ($99)

Designed exclusively for Samsung phones, the Gear VR includes an input panel on the side of the headset and works with Bluetooth controllers to make it easy to navigate games. Works with Gear VR compatible games (including Minecraft Gear VR Edition).

Individually adjustable lenses, a snug fit, and a smartphone tray that can be customized to fit your phone make Kix a good option for quality VR on any smartphone. Works with most VR apps for iOS and Android.

Consoles: Best for ages 12 and up

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At the moment, Sony offers the only VR game console. The PlayStation VR headset, released by the company just in time for the holidays, works with the PlayStation 4. If you don’t already have a PS4, you can buy a PlayStation 4 Slim or PlayStation 4 Pro (also brand new for the holidays) and a PSVR. The headset plus the power provided by the console provides an immersive interactive VR experience.

Key Features

• Expensive

• Only for Sony PlayStation.

• Completely immersive and interactive; the possibility of motion sickness

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

• Recommended by Sony minimum age 12 years.
Ride a rollercoaster in virtual reality

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

PlayStation 4 thin ($299.99); PSVR sold separately

Newly redesigned, thinner version of PS4 with better graphics, backlit controller and quieter operation.

PlayStation 4 Pro ($399.99); PSVR sold separately

Improved graphics, faster action and optimizations to work better with certain “Pro-Enhanced” games.

Heavy Duty Headsets: Best for Teenagers

You may have heard of the sinister-sounding Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. These are heavy duty virtual reality headsets that provide total immersion; some call it a “holodeck” in reference to the alternate reality from Star Trek. Both require high-end, powerful PCs (which cost upwards of $500).

Key Features

• Super expensive

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

• Full interactivity with your environment

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

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

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Offers a “room-scale experience”. If your kids are playing on the Steam gaming network, they’ve probably seen the ad for the HTC Vive since it’s made by the same Valve company that owns Steam. Steam offers several Vive-only games designed to take advantage of the headset’s unique capabilities.

The kit comes with everything to make virtual reality a reality, except for the computer: headset, sensor, remote control, cables, Xbox controller and game.