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What parents should know about the VR gear kids want

Story highlights

Virtual reality headsets range from inexpensive Cardboard to pricey PlayStation.

Here are your options if you want to dip your toe in or swim with the VR big fish

Thinking about treating your family to a little virtual reality this holiday? Have no idea where to start? Don’t worry. This guide will help you determine what makes sense for your family’s interests, needs, and budget, from Google’s inexpensive Cardboard VR viewer to Sony’s new PlayStation VR. Here are your options: dip your toe in the water, wade knee-deep, or swim with the VR big fish.

Keep in mind virtual reality is a quickly changing technology, so always check out the companies’ websites, professional reviews on sites like CNET, and user reviews before you leap.

Virtual reality viewers are inexpensive, handheld devices that offer three-dimensional views and the feeling of being in a different place. The viewers’ lenses work by extending the depth of static images or animation but do not allow you to interact with your environment. To use them, download any app labeled “VR” in either iTunes or Google Play, launch the app, and insert your smartphone into the viewer. Most viewers use your phone’s button or another essential input to control the action.

Key features

• Inexpensive

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

• More like a 3D movie than true VR

• Best for educational content and games

• Selection of high-quality apps is currently somewhat limited. Try the New York Times’ VR Virtual Reality Stories and these recommendations.

Products in this category

• Google Cardboard ($14.99)

MGoogle offers many viewers, including the steampunk-looking Google Tech C-1 Glass VR Viewer ($14.99). Ade of Cardboard, this handheld device you put together is a fun, novel way of experiencing virtual reality. Use any smartphone and iOS or Android VR apps.

• SmartTheater Virtual Reality Headset ($19.99)

This is a comfortable viewer with adjustable lenses, a head strap, and an easy-to-use trigger input. Comes with a cardboard, handheld motion controller that adds some oomph to games. Works with most smartphones and any iOS or Android VR apps.

• View-Master Virtual Reality ($29.99)

Geared for learning rather than gaming, the View-Master is available in various packages to explore dinosaurs, space, wildlife, and more. Each pack includes insertable picture reels (your phone provides the horsepower). Works with most smartphones and specially designed View-Master iOS or Android apps.

Digital tools to turn game-obsessed kids into genuine game designers

Moving up in price and features are VR headsets. They’re similar to viewers in downloading VR apps from the app store and inserting your phone. Headsets work with the same apps as the viewers (except for the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View but give you a more immersive experience.

The advantages of headsets are that they’re more comfortable to wear for a longer time, fit better (preventing light leaks), have better lenses, and often have earphone ports. They also typically have built-in game controllers on the headset itself or work with handheld controllers, giving you more app options than you would have with a simple viewer. That’s why some people like to use them to view videos. They don’t make the videos three-dimensional but provide a personal-movie-theater-type experience.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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