The battle for the best VR headset has never been more fierce. With untethered headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 pushing up against the quality of PC-based systems like the Valve Index, it’s a showdown between titans.
That means if you’re looking for the best VR headset 2021, there isn’t an easy answer. Although this can make the decision of which VR headset to buy rather difficult, the silver lining is that nearly all of them are great in some aspect or another. It’s just about finding the best VR headset for you, your home, your needs and your budget.
Right now, there are four main players when it comes to mainstream VR headsets you can use at home. There's Oculus, which recently released the new Oculus Quest 2; PlayStation, behind the PSVR headset; HTC, behind the Vive and Vive Pro; and Valve, which released its own first-party headset called the Valve Index in 2019. We're already hearing rumours of what to expect from a PSVR 2 headset as well as an Oculus Quest 3, too.
Not all VR headsets are created equal, and not all virtual reality games or experiences are available across every headset. If your heart is set on playing a specific VR game you've heard a lot about, like Half-Life: Alyx, you'll need a headset that hooks up to a PC, for instance – and you'll need that high-end PC in the first place, too.
VR software libraries do have plenty of overlap across devices, however, and some wire-free headsets, like the Oculus Quest 2, can optionally be linked up to a PC over a cable to expand the titles they have access to.
You'll also have to factor price into your decision (which can make the PlayStation VR look awfully appealing) and you'll have to consider where in your house – or even outside your house, potentially – you want to use the headset.
There's a lot to consider then, but we're here to help. TechRadar has tested all the best VR headsets and can help you decide which is right for your Matrix-living dreams. We’ve selected each of the top virtual reality headsets below for different kinds of tech-lovers, whether you want the best VR headset for wireless virtual experiences with a small space, and a small-ish budget, a PS5 VR experience to match your new next-gen console or the best-of-the-best PC-powered device that knows no bounds.
UPDATE: If you have an Oculus Quest or Quest 2 already – or you're considering buying one – you don't want to miss this.
Oculus will soon be running its first ever VR gaming showcase. Called, unsurprisingly, the Oculus Gaming showcase, the event will take place on April 21 at 3pm PT (6pm EST, 11pm BST, and April 22, 8am AEST) and will be streamed on Twitch, Facebook and YouTube. It will be the first event to exclusively focus on gaming titles on the platform, rather than including other apps, software, firmware, and hardware updates.
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Best VR headset 2021
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. That's why, at least right now, it's our best VR headset for 2021 and our best VR headset for PC owners.
There’s little 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 one of 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. You'll also need one of the best laptops for VR – this isn't a standalone headset like others in this list.
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 is expensive, of course, and stock can be frustratingly hard to come by. Valve CEO Gabe Newell has stated that necessary components for the headset manufactured in Wuhan, China haven't been readily available during the pandemic, so that doesn't look to be changing anytime soon.
For gamers who want next-level VR, though, and don't mind waiting until supply picks up, the Valve Index is a decision you likely won't regret. Otherwise, we recommend checking out one of the other options below...
Read the full review: Valve Index
If you’re looking for a VR headset that doesn’t need to be wired up to an expensive PC and offers a lot of movement and freedom, then the Quest 2 is the best VR headset for you.
In fact, for the majority of people, this is the best VR headset on the list for a whole range of reasons. It’s a significant improvement over the original Quest, with a more responsive experience thanks to improved RAM and chip specs, and a higher resolution display that’s 50% sharper than its predecessor.
Developers now 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, in an age of social isolation, turning YouTube VR into your own personal IMAX screen is a welcome distraction from the madness of the outside world.
Although the Oculus Quest 2 is our top pick for the best VR headset that's wire-free and standalone, the original Oculus Quest is still a great choice if you're looking for an untethered VR headset that doesn't need an expensive computer to power it. 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
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.
Though it's been announced, 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 on in 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, this is the best VR headset if you have a PC – it even 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
Best VR headset 2021: which should you buy?
Choosing the best VR headset for you will mostly depend on the price, the platform and your preferences. 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 – not that that's a bad thing.
At the moment, the four best VR headset range 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.
However, there are some less expensive VR options if you'd rather dip your toes into virtual reality before spending your entire paycheck on one of the best VR headsets above. It's also worth noting that the Oculus Quest 2 saw a downward trend on its price compared to its predecessor too, 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.
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With many offering different experiences, different hardware, different requirements and a lot of fantastic deals, choosing the best VR headset for you can confuse 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. Thanks to increased competition between the three big headset makers, they 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.
Other VR headsets to consider
The VR headset space is more like the games console space than say the headphone or phone space. What we mean by that is there aren’t tens (or even hundreds) of different brands to choose from creating VR headsets – 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 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.
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