2016 is due to be the year of virtual reality, with many big brands including Oculus, HTC (and Valve) and Sony due to release virtual reality headsets at some point this year. In fact, the HTC Vive Pre and Oculus Rift will be entering the market in a matter of months, however these are premium options with £500+ price tags and no Mac support. You can read about the immersive HTC Vive Pre VR experience on our sister site PC Advisor. So what are Mac and iOS users to do? While it seems that VR for Mac is still some way away, iOS users have an option available to them – it may not be as premium as the experience offered with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive Pre, but provides a good example of what VR is like. See: Best iOS gaming accessories
How to use a VR headset with an iPhone: What is mobile VR?
Mobile VR may not be quite the premium experience that expensive virtual reality headsets provide, but it offers a way for mobile users to experience VR on a budget. Instead of featuring high-resolution displays, sensors and powerful internals in the virtual reality headset, mobile VR relies on your iPhone to provide the display, sensors and brains of the VR, while the job of the headset is to provide special VR lenses and a way to hold your iPhone.
The idea is that you’ll load up a VR-enabled app on your iPhone, then slot it into the headset and put it on your head. The app then uses the myriad of sensors already available on the iPhone to replicate your head movements, allowing you to look around a virtual environment. Of course, only using smartphone sensors means that it won’t be quite as responsive as premium VR and you may experience a slight lag when turning your head, but it shouldn’t be enough to induce motion sickness (an issue that VR manufacturers had to overcome in early development).
Not all Mobile VR headsets are budget though; Samsung famously manufactured the Gear VR, which is powered by Oculus, the company behind the hugely popular (and Facebook owned) Oculus Rift. The company uses Oculus technology to provide a more premium VR experience and coupled with the QHD displays of its flagship Galaxy series and a generally well-built, comfortable headset, it provides a great mobile VR experience. The only issue is that the Gear VR is only compatible with Galaxy S6/S6 Edge or newer devices, so iOS users are out of luck. There are other alternatives though, which we discuss below.
Read next: Why you can't use Oculus Rift with Mac
How to use a VR headset with an iPhone: Google Cardboard
The cheapest way to experience VR on an iPhone is using Google Cardboard. Yes, Google Cardboard was originally designed with Android devices in mind but Google made the app available for iOS users and released its API for iOS developers in 2015. The beauty of designing a headset with Android devices in mind is that it fits a myriad of screen sizes, which means that those of us with an iPhone 5 or later can use the headset without any real issue.
As you can probably guess by the name, Google Cardboard is primarily made from cardboard, and the instructions on how to build it yourself can be found on the Google website. It requires you to source parts like lenses yourself, but these can be easily found online or in high street shops. Our sister site PC Advisor has an article on how to build your Google Cardboard yourself, but if that isn’t your style, you’ll be glad to know that you can also buy pre-built Google Cardboard headsets pretty cheaply – we found this one on Amazon for only £10. All you need to do is fold the cardboard!
Once the headset has been set up, simply load up a VR-enabled app and get ready to experience a virtual world. If you’re stuck for ideas, there’s a variety VR-enabled apps already on the App Store, including the likes of Sisters, a relatively short but scary VR experience and Vangard V, a single level space-shooter. Most VR apps are free, but you may come across a handful of paid, premium experiences too.
Of course, being made from Cardboard, the Google Cardboard isn’t the most comfortable headset to wear, especially over long periods of time. It’s a good starting point for mobile VR users, but if you find yourself still wanting to use VR after the initial novelty has worn off, it may be worth investing in a slightly more expensive (but more comfortable) option, like the ones we’ve listed below.
Read next: All we know so far about Apple's VR headset
How to use a VR headset with an iPhone: Premium alternatives
The Homido VR headset is a good option for iOS users that want a more premium mobile VR experience. The Homido VR headset is designed with comfort in mind, with soft padding to stop your skin becoming irritated when wearing the VR headset, while also doubling up as a comfortable way to combat light leakage. It also boasts a 100-degree field of view thanks to its specially designed lenses, which should help provide a more immersive VR experience. As well as this, it offers controls that let you adjust the distance between the lenses, as everybody has a slightly different facial shape.
The Homido VR looks to be ideal for glasses wearers too, as you can adjust the distance between your eyes and the smartphone. It comes with three options to toggle between – far sighted, near sighted and normal vision. The Homido Center app for iOS and Android features a catalogue of VR-enabled apps available at your fingertips including games and experiences. You can pick the Homido VR headset on Amazon at the time of writing for £47.99.
If you’re looking for something a little fancier, the Merge VR headset may be a good option – though it’s worth noting that it’ll only fit the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus or later (4.7in minimum). The Merge VR is a funky looking purple VR headset that offers a sturdier and comfortable experience with ventilation ports and a flexible foam body. The interesting feature of the Merge VR headset is that it includes two buttons on the top of the headset, allowing you to interact with compatible VR apps – this may be used to fire a weapon, toggle different viewing modes, etc. It also features camera access, allowing the Merge VR headset to be used with augmented reality apps too.
Though the company is based in the US, you can buy the Merge VR headset in-store or online at GAME, and costs £39.99 at the time of writing.