How To VR Without a Headset: Exploring Virtual Reality without Gear

Virtual reality (VR) is an exciting technology that allows users to experience immersive simulated environments. Typically, experiencing VR requires a headset that blocks out your view of the real world. However, you can still explore virtual worlds without expensive VR gear. Here are some methods for VR without a headset:

Use a Cardboard Headset

A simple way to try basic VR is with a cardboard headset. You can even make your own at home:

  • Get a cardboard box and cut out openings for your eyes
  • Make sure there is enough room to fit your smartphone inside
  • Download a VR app to your phone and slide it into the box
  • Look through the eye holes to view the VR content

While limited compared to high-end gear, cardboard headsets demonstrate the VR concept on a budget. Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR work this way. You won’t get features like position tracking, but you can still look around in 360 degrees.

Access VR Apps on Your Phone or Computer

Many VR apps work by simply using your smartphone screen or computer monitor. You won’t get an immersive stereoscopic 3D view, but you can still explore:

  • On a phone, move around to see different parts of a 360 degree photo or video
  • On a computer, use a mouse or trackpad to change your viewpoint

Apps like Google Street View and VR video players work this way. It isn’t fully immersive, but gives a taste of VR without equipment.

Use a Powerful Computer and Gaming Tools

If you have a high-end gaming PC and accessories, you can utilize tools created for VR development:

  • Game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine have VR design features
  • SteamVR lets you play VR games on a computer
  • Use a gamepad or keyboard instead of touch controllers

While not as immersive as headsets, these tools allow you to view and design VR worlds on a desktop. Developers often use these methods before testing a VR experience on a headset.

Attend Real-World VR Installations

Some VR projects use room-scale setups with powerful computers and projection mapping:

  • The VOID hosts multiplayer VR experiences in physical rooms
  • Art installations may feature VR elements without headsets
  • VR roller coasters combine actual motion platforms with virtual worlds

These approaches allow groups to share VR experiences together. While not accessible to everyone, it’s one way to enjoy cutting-edge VR technology without owning a headset.

Use Augmented Reality Apps

Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital content onto the real world using your mobile device. AR apps include:

  • Pokemon GO places characters into real-world locales
  • IKEA Place lets you preview furniture in your home
  • Google Sky Maps identifies astronomical objects in the real night sky

While not full virtual reality, AR apps demonstrate how emerging technologies can enhance our perception of reality. AR offers many possibilities as the tech improves over time.

Wait for Future Advancements

Headset-free VR may become more viable down the road as the tech evolves. Possible innovations that could enable this include:

  • 360 degree multi-view displays
  • Eye tracking and motion controls without wearables
  • Directional speakers and tactile feedback devices

With enough cameras, sensors, and computing power, some experiences may approach today’s headset VR. We’re still in the early days, so future consumer products could make VR more accessible to the average user.


While VR headsets provide the most immersive experiences today, you can get a small taste of virtual reality without expensive specialized gear. Simple solutions like cardboard viewers and 360 degree video introduce the core concepts. Powerful home computers can also run VR apps and games on a desktop. As the supporting technologies continue to advance, VR may someday feel convincing without isolating headsets. In the meantime, there are accessible entry points for anyone seeking to explore virtual worlds on a budget.