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What's the best way to play PC VR games for cheap?

The Merge and Samsung gear VR headsets pictured side by side, on a green and purple gradient background.
(Image credit: Merge, Samsung)

While our list of the best VR headsets will have you gloriously immersed in your favourite games, they aren't exactly affordable pieces of kit. But VR doesn't have to be expensive. If you already have a smartphone in your possession, there’s a cheap and easy VR solution waiting to slingshot you into the 21st century—one that involves spending little more than $30.

Thanks to Google’s Cardboard VR project that surfaced back near the dawn of virtual reality, a whole host of inexpensive answers to VR have sprung up. Many of these involve housing smartphones in clever enclosures, designed to mimic high-end VR headsets at a fraction of the cost. But don't think because these are mobile-centric devices you're banished to playing mobile games.

Mattel view master in hand with mobile in situ

(Image credit: Mattel)

Thanks to the advanced displays and processing power available in current generation smartphones, a wider frontier has become available for those looking to do some PC-powered VR gaming on the cheap. With apps like TrinusVR for Android, and iVRy for iOS, you can link your VR viewer to a PC, and retrofit games for VR viewing. AMD even has is own software, Radeon ReLive for VR that lets you stream VR games from your Radeon-powered gaming PC, straight to a mobile device.

These mobile apps work by turning your phone into a remote screen for your PC and processing the image to produce or simulate 3D. While they perform best with software designed for VR use, they also include modes that allow older games to operate with VR-like features. Details like head tracking are handled via mouse emulation or software such as opentrack, which uses phone sensors, or FreeTrack, which can use your webcam.

TrinusVR provides step-by-step instructions for setting up to play PC VR games on mobile. We tested it with a variety of games, including Crysis 2 and Elite: Dangerous, on a few different VR viewers, and the setup took no time at all.

Facebook vice president of VR Hugo Barra demonstrates how to use the new Oculus Go during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California on May 1, 2018.

(Image credit: John Edelson/AFP, Getty Images)

Keep in mind, should you be at all sensitive to VR motion sickness, the lower refresh rate and lack of head tracking with these VR apps might leave you feeling queasy. The same goes for playing games not designed for VR with a headset on. But if you have an iron stomach and are dying for a cheap taste of VR, these can offer you a first step.

Though, while it provides an introductory VR experience, these apps are nowhere near the same league as dedicated VR hardware. Top-shelf tech, such as the Oculus Quest 2, will run rings around these viewers in terms of visual fidelity, latency, and control accuracy. As it stands, however, this is still the best way to get into PC VR gaming for cheap.