Buying a new VR headset isn’t the same as looking for a new phone or TV because there are only a handful of brands creating VR headsets and even fewer models available. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It can be tricky to figure out which kind of VR headgear you need. For example, do you want a wire-free VR headset, like the Oculus Quest 2? Or do you want the power of a wired VR system that needs to be hooked up to a PC, like the Valve Index? This guide will help you figure out which VR headset is the best for you.
There are four main brands you need to know about when it comes to the best VR headsets. There’s Oculus, which most recently released the Oculus Quest 2 and is rumored to be working on the Oculus Quest 3. PlayStation, which has the PSVR headset that works with PS4 and PS5 consoles, and may soon bring out the PSVR 2. HTC, the brand behind the Vive and Vive Pro. And Valve, which released the Valve Index in 2019.
These aren’t the only companies created VR headsets, but at least right now, they’re the ones that have the most mainstream appeal when it comes to features, price and availability.
But how do you decide which VR headset is right for you? All of these options offer users fantastic experiences, whether you’re a complete virtual reality beginner or a VR veteran. You need to find the best VR headset for you, which takes into account a number of different considerations, including the space you have, your budget and the VR games that you want to play.
In our guide below, we’ve selected the best VR headsets for different kinds of users. Maybe you want a wire-free experience for a small space, the cheapest VR headset you can buy because you’re not sure VR is right for you, a headset that works well with your next-gen PS5 console to make the most of it or a PC-powered number one VR device that’s the best money can buy. Below you’ll find the right virtual reality headgear for you.
What is the number one VR headset?
This depends on your priorities. If you want ultimate freedom and hassle-free VR, a wireless headset will suit you the best, the Oculus Quest 2 is currently the best option.
However, wired headsets do offer the very best graphics and refresh rates, so if it's top performance you're after, they'd be number one for you – if you have the PC to power them and the budget to afford them, of course.
It's also worth considering the games you want to play. Some VR games are only available on certain PC-powered devices. Having said that, VR software libraries do have plenty of overlap across devices and some wire-free headsets can optionally be linked up to a PC over a cable to expand the titles they have access to.
Which VR headset should you buy?
Choosing the best VR headset for you will mostly depend on the price, the platform and your preferences. For example, 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 or Quest 2 – but that's not a bad thing.
At the moment, the four best VR headset ranges on the market – the Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Quest 2 and PlayStation VR – are unsurprisingly the most expensive of all the mainstream VR headset offerings.
Although it's worth noting it might not always be that way. The Oculus Quest 2 saw a downward trend on its price compared to its predecessor, suggesting that as the scale of the VR audience ramps up, the price of the hardware will slowly come down, too.
Each of the best VR headsets 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.
Best VR headset 2021
The Valve Index is an excellent VR headset and represents a next-gen system compared to its predecessors. We found it has a 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.
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. However, it isn't without its snags. During our testing, we found setting it up can be tricky, updates can cause connection issues and there are often errors. You'll also need one of the best laptops – this isn't a standalone headset like others in this list.
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.
Although we think this is the best VR headset for 2021 and our top pick for PC owners, it's worth mentioning the Valve Index can sometimes be hard to track down as manufacturing slowed down during the pandemic.
- Read the full review: Valve Index
The Quest 2 will be the best VR headset people for most people. It doesn't need to be wired to an expensive PC, offers movement and freedom, and it's easy to set-up and use.
It’s a significant improvement over the original Quest, with a more responsive experience thanks to improved RAM and chip specs, as well as a higher resolution display that’s 50% sharper than its predecessor.
Developer have the option to make their games run at 90Hz (important for increased comfort and realism while playing), and the headset itself is lighter than before, too. Hand tracking – which came to the original Quest via a firmware update, but is baked into the Quest 2 from the off – is also impressive.
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of wirefree VR. Games like Robo Recall and Beat Saber should still amaze, and turning YouTube VR or BigScreen VR into your own personal cinema screen is a welcome distraction from the madness of the outside world.
The original Oculus Quest is still a great choice if you're looking for an untethered VR headset. The Quest 2 might bring a significant upgrade, but the original still boasts an OLED display panel with 1440 x 1600 per eye resolution, and is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor. Expect to see an Oculus Quest 3 before long, too.
- Read the full review: Oculus Quest 2
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. The collection of PlayStation VR games is also impressive.
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. So 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.
We don't know when or in what form a PSVR 2 model will emerge, so the original headset is still the best VR headset option for 2021.
- Read the full review: PlayStation VR
Virtual reality has come a long way since Oculus founder (and controversial VR poster boy) Palmer Luckey 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 has made 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 July 2021 Oculus announced that the Oculus Rift S is now no longer available to buy. At the time of writing, you can still get stock at some retailers that haven't sold out already but it's officially not being sold anymore after it was discontinued earlier in the year.
- Read the full review: Oculus Rift S
- HTC Vive Pro vs HTC Vive: should you upgrade to the high-end headset?
Other VR headsets to consider
There aren’t lots of different VR headset brands to choose from – at least not right now – like there is if you needed a new smartphone or pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Instead, there are a few core brands with immersive reality teams, hardware know-how and software smarts to create truly wonderful virtual reality experiences. That means, if you’re not choosing one of the VR headsets above, it makes sense to look at previous headsets launched by the best VR brands instead.
You won’t necessarily still find all of these headsets to buy on the company website. But many are still available to buy new via tech retailers or second-hand, via sites like Ebay.
The successor to the Oculus Quest, the Oculus Quest 2, is one of our best VR headsets of 2021. But that doesn’t mean the Oculus Quest isn’t still a viable VR option if you want to try a standalone headset that offers a truly mobile experience.
What’s more, the Oculus Quest 2 might be the superior headset, but upgrades between the first and second model weren’t as significant as you might expect. With the Quest you still get an all-in-one VR system that works straight out of the box and offers six-degrees of freedom and a huge selection of apps and games.
Upon release, the Oculus Rift felt like a game-changer. One of the first VR headsets to prove that VR could be a highly immersive and enjoyable experience – one that even people with the right PC set-up could experience at home.
That’s changed now the original Oculus Rift is nearly five years old and has since been surpassed by the Oculus Rift S. Although the Rift S is already following in the original Rift's footsteps after being discontinued.
Although since the launch of the original Oculus Rift there have been a number of competing virtual reality headsets launched, including headsets by Oculus itself, like the Oculus Rift S or standalone Quest and Quest 2, the original Oculus Rift is still a very capable VR headset for gaming, and now it’s no longer officially available from Oculus, you can find some tempting deals.
First launched in 2016, the HTC Vive was one of the earliest premium VR headsets available to consumers. And, for a long time afterwards, it was the king of consumer VR tech.
Fast-forward to 2021 and a lot has changed. Now, there are multiple VR headset options you could buy right now. Since the launch of this original HTC Vive, HTC has also launched a number of new VR headsets, including the HTC Vive Cosmos and HTC Vive Cosmos Elite.
What’s more, there’s likely to be an upgrade to the HTC Vive we’re reviewing here right around the corner. A top HTC official said the company plans on producing a new wireless, standalone VR headset in 2021 that is “probably better than what’s out there from any vendor today”.
But that doesn’t mean to say that the original HTC Vive isn’t still a solid option for starting your VR journey – it’s just worth considering it’s a good few years older than some of the newer models entering the market.
Which are the best mobile VR headsets?
Mobile VR is a term used to describe a VR experience powered by your phone. Generally speaking, you get an app on your phone, which shows you VR content and then you put your phone inside a mobile VR headset.
For many people, this is a quick, easy and very cheap way to try VR and can be a great first step in exploring what’s possible. If you’re not ready to commit to one of the best VR headsets – or not sure you’re even that interested in VR – consider mobile VR like the Samsung Gear VR or go really lo-fi with the Google Cardboard.
However, given the fact these VR experiences are powered by your phone rather than a fantastic piece of high-end hardware means they can’t compare to the experience you’d get with any of the best VR headsets above. That means if you’re looking for a cheap and easy way to try VR, they’re a solid option. But don’t let the simple experience and – sometimes – grainy pictures put you off VR for good.
Which are the best augmented reality headsets?
Right now, there are a number of augmented reality headsets on the market. But very few are aimed at regular consumers.
Many of the best augmented reality headsets, like the Microsoft Hololens 2, are available to buy but the focus seems to be more on augmented reality for an enterprise or business setting, like the Microsoft HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition, which is an untethered mixed reality device designed and tested for use in regulated industrial environments and the Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2.
But we predict this will change soon and you'll be able to get one of the best augmented reality headsets for casual use in your home – just like the best VR headsets in our list above.
One reason we're so sure about the future of augmented reality headsets is that major tech brands are currently pumping a lot of time, energy and resources into new AR offerings. Take Apple as an example, it's no secret Apple is working on an augmented reality and virtual reality product - referred to at the moment as Apple Glass and Apple VR.
- The best VR games to play on your VR headset