You’ve heard the news: Virtual reality (VR) is coming, and it’s not going to be cheap. Facebook’s high-profile Oculus Rift headset starts at $599, and that doesn’t include the powerful PC required to run it. Same goes for HTC’s Vive ($799) and Sony’s PlayStation VR ($499, plus $350 for a PlayStation 4).
So no VR unless you win the lottery, right? Wrong. Anyone with a smartphone—even nontechies—can easily hitch a virtual ride for less than the price of dinner. Hardware makers have designed a range of affordable headsets for as little as $15. And you can find hundreds of VR experiences in the Android and iOS app stores—many of them free.
Here are eight ways to get the picture without spending a fortune.
Google Cardboard: $15
In 2014, Google paired inexpensive plastic lenses with a smartphone and shoehorned both into a cardboard holster. The smartphone does most of the heavy lifting, with its built-in motion sensors tracking the movement of your head as you look all around. Thus the $15 Google Cardboard was born, proving that impressive VR experiences were possible with inexpensive materials. The granddaddy of inexpensive ingenuity is still a bargain (and a great choice for the kids).
Homido Mini: $15
Dodocase Smart VR: $40
Samsung Gear VR: $99
Amazon is home to dozens of smartphone-compatible headsets with cushioned face mounts, adjustable lenses, and head straps. Many of these (such as the Motoraux 3D VR) sell in the $30 to $40 range, and some include a Bluetooth controller that helps navigate app menus and operate VR game controls.
But a small jump in price gets you a technological leap with the $99 Gear VR. Designed with Oculus expressly for Galaxy smartphones, the Gear VR incorporates a side-mounted touch pad for swiping your way through menus. It also comes fitted with adjustable lenses.
CEDAR POINT VR: Free
The Night Cafe: Free
War of Words VR: Free
Jaunt VR and VRSE: Free
These portals stream concerts (U2, anyone?), short films, and first-person travel stories. (Android, iOS)