Which is the best VR headset you can buy? And what’s the difference between the top players? These are some of the important questions you need to ask if you’re considering investing in some VR hardware. And, fortunately for you, we have the answers right here.
Whether it's called the Quest 2, Quest Lite, or Quest S, it seems like a certainty for 2020 – which is good given how hard it is to find a Valve Index these days...
But first up, if you’re questioning whether you should bother with a VR headset, we’re here to tell you there's nothing quite like VR for entertainment at the moment. For sheer immersion, you can't beat virtual reality and your experience will only be enhanced when you have a set-up that suits you, your budget and the space you have available at home.
We've picked what we think is the best VR headset, but the most important thing is to recognise what you want to get out of it. If you're after a budget VR headset as a cheap entry point to VR technologies, you’ll need a different headset than if you’re looking for the smoothest performance possible, or something that's conveniently portable (say, without any trailing wires to trip over).
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Right now, there are four main players when it comes to mainstream VR headsets you can use at home – Oculus, PlayStation, HTC and Valve, which released its own first-party headset called the Valve Index last year.
If you're dead-set on a specific VR game you've heard a lot about – cough, Half-Life: Alyx, cough – you'll need to make sure you're buying a headset that supports that title. Most VR hardware models have distinct (if often overlapping) libraries and content services, so it's crucial you don't get caught out there.
Take a quick look at the design and specs and it’s not easy to figure out which one is right for you. Don't worry. We've tried them all, and can now offer definitive advice on each and every model. So, without further ado, read on for our pick of the best VR headsets for a whole range of setups and budgets.
Best VR headsets at a glance:
- Best VR headset: Valve Index
- Best standalone VR headset: Oculus Quest
- Best console VR headset: PSVR
- PC runner up: Oculus Rift S
- Best mobile VR headset: Samsung Gear VR
There’s little doubt that the Valve Index is the next-generation VR headset people have been clamoring for: it has an ultra-crisp display that runs fairly well even with older GPUs, a wider field of view, a higher refresh rate and Valve’s 'knuckle' controllers, which can track the movement of every finger.
Around the house, there’s no doubt the Valve Index will be our default VR headset going forward. It’s a significant upgrade to the HTC Vive, and runs much smoother than the Vive Pro, a powerful VR headset that really struggled to deliver on the promise of high-end, room-scale VR.
And yet, while the Valve Index is the best VR headsets yet released, it’s brought some of VR’s most annoying aspects along for the ride.
Setting it up can be painful, updates can cause connection issues, and you may find a new error the next time you go to use it. But, if you can look past those issues, this is a really good VR headset. Its higher-resolution screen and better refresh rate allowed us to use it for longer periods of time without discomfort, and the Index Controllers are a real step up from the ones that ship with the Vive.
It's expensive, yes – and stock can be frustratingly hard to come by – but for the gamers who want next-level VR, the Valve Index is the only way to go.
Read the full review: Valve Index
If you're sitting at home and have the equipment to run it, there's no better option than the Valve Index. But if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to be bound by cables or sunk by the debt of building a gaming PC and a $999 VR headset, the Oculus Quest is a stellar alternative.
Simply put, Oculus Quest signals a new age for virtual reality, one that doesn't need a smartphone or PC to run excellent experiences. It has an OLED display panel with 1440 x 1600 per eye resolution, and is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor.
Unlike other headsets that require additional equipment, external sensors or a lengthy set-up process, once the Quest is charged up you can be up-and-running within a few minutes thanks to an easy set-up within the Oculus mobile app. Even better, if you have Oculus games in your library already, some can even be played on the Oculus Quest - though, that's not always the case.
Oculus Quest isn't perfect, however – in addition to some minor light leakage through the bottom (right where your nose is), Oculus says you can expect the Quest to last 2 to 3 hours after a full charge, depending on whether you're watching media or playing games. That means you'll probably have to charge the Quest in between sessions - which can be a hassle if you forget. That said, for those looking for a standalone, it's the best option on our list.
Read the full review: Oculus Quest
There's no getting around the fact that in order to run either the HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro or the Oculus Rift you need a pretty high-end gaming PC, which is not an insignificant investment for most people.
Considering the sizeable difference in power between the PS4 and PC, the PlayStation VR is a surprisingly competent VR headset. Its refresh rate is responsive, and we've had no issues with the reliability of its head-tracking.
Thanks to Sony's backing, the collection of PlayStation VR games is also impressive. There were dozens available at launch, and many more have followed over its first year on sale.
Sony has addressed one of our biggest objections with the PlayStation VR – that its accessories are sold separately – by offering a variety of packs and PlayStation VR bundles with devices like the PlayStation Camera included. However, PlayStation Move controllers, while included in some bundles, aren't in every one.
While you have to be aware of the additional cost involved, depending on what bundle you opt for, recent price cuts have made the PlayStation VR even more affordable. It may not be the best VR headset, but the PSVR is certainly making a strong case to users and some will find it's the best for them at this moment in time. And if you're thinking about going PlayStation in the next generation, the PS5 is going to support PSVR too.
Read the full review: PlayStation VR
Virtual reality has come on leaps and bounds since Oculus founder (and controversial VR poster boy) Palmer Luckey first introduced the world to the Oculus Rift back in 2012. Now owned by Facebook, the Oculus Rift S should represent the next leap forward for the company’s high-end, PC-based virtual reality experiences - but, unfortunately, it's more of a baby-step.
Like the Oculus Rift, the Rift S works in tandem with a PC to deliver virtual reality experiences. It connects to your PC over a USB 3.0 port and a DisplayPort connection, and is tethered to the machine by a lengthy cable that’s more than enough to accommodate the ‘room-scale’ experiences that Rift S is capable of delivering. It’s more limiting in terms of free movement than the superb wireless Oculus Quest, but the trade off here is that, by being powered by your PC, it’s capable of powering more detailed and dynamic experiences.
The good news for early adopters is that, to reduce frustration, Oculus is making the Rift S completely backwards compatible with the original Rift titles, and making the Rift forward compatible with the vast majority of games released for the Rift S and Oculus Quest with some minor exceptions.
In many key respects, it betters the original Oculus Rift. It’s easier to set up, potentially more comfortable to wear, has a much more robust games library than it did at launch, and an improved resolution. But, unfortunately, Oculus has had to sacrifice greater audio and refresh rate to do that.
Read the full review: Oculus Rift S
Samsung Gear VR has always been a respectable smartphone-powered VR headset, but now that it has a motion controller, it might be the best VR headset option for mobile users.
In addition to the new controller, the updated Gear VR is lighter and more streamlined than before, and features a USB-C connector that connects directly to a Samsung Galaxy phone.
The included motion controller has hints of the HTC Vive controller design, with a touchpad and trigger button, which aren't bad things. It's with the controller that the Gear VR really comes into its own, allowing you to interact with the VR worlds in front of you in a way previously impossible without it.
Of course, being powered by a smartphone, the headset's performance is entirely tied to the phone you've slotted in, though in our experience this isn't a problem considering the power within Samsung's higher-end handsets. However, if you're using an older Galaxy phone, your experience could be noticeably affected.
Since Oculus launched the Oculus Go standalone headset, the question of where smartphone-powered devices like Gear VR fit in only becomes more relevant. But since the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR share an app and game library, you can expect support for the Gear VR to continue for quite some time.
Read the full review: Samsung Gear VR
Which VR headset should you buy?
Honestly price and platform will make most of the decision for you—there aren't any headsets for console gamers besides PlayStation VR and, if you need a standalone headset, you're basically stuck with the Oculus Quest.
At the moment, the four best on the market – the Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR – are unsurprisingly the most expensive of all the mainstream VR headset offerings, but there are some less expensive options if you'd rather dip your toes into VR before spending your entire pay check.
Each headset has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and if you're not aware of these before you buy, it could be a very costly mistake to make. But that's exactly why we put this guide together.
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The problem with VR at this stage of the game isn't that there's too few VR headsets on the market or that there's not enough content, but that there are way too many to pick from, especially now that there are more and more headsets hitting the streets like the Oculus Quest, Valve Index and HTC's Vive Cosmos.
With many offering different experiences, different hardware, different requirements and a lot of fantastic deals, it confuses matters even more.
The good news for those serious about getting the best VR headset experience is that the industry has made real strides in terms of making standalone headsets almost as powerful as their premium PC counterparts and, thanks to increased competition between the three big headset makers, have made most of their headsets much more affordable than they were three years ago. Translation? Choosing the best VR headset that’s right for you is now easier than ever.
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