Now that virtual reality (VR) has proven to be a mainstream form of entertainment – not just an overpriced tech fad for early adopters – there are lots of different ways to get your home decked out for the best VR headset.
But the problem is that picking a VR headset isn’t easy, especially now that there are more and more headsets hitting the streets like the new Valve Index and HTC's Vive Cosmos, slated for a mid-to-late 2019 release. 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 is that premium headsets built specifically for PC gaming are now much more affordable thanks to permanent price drops. The bad news is that these discounts make it even trickier to choose the best VR headset that’s right for you.
- Take advantage of Amazon Prime Day 2019 to find great deals on the best VR headsets.
In addition to price drops, more advanced VR headsets have come to the fore, like the HTC Vive Pro. On the flip side, of course, are the mobile headsets, namely the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View.
Then there's a whole new category of standalone VR headsets. The Oculus Go led the charge, and in September Facebook unveiled its successor, Oculus Quest. Unlike the Go, the Quest will offer six degrees of freedom tracking, and will launch with a host of new games early next year.
The VR space got even more of a shake up after CES 2019, with HTV teasing the HTC Vive Cosmos, a wired VR headset that is also expected to work with your mobile at some point too. This could be a headset that transcends the wired and wireless space and makes VR more accessible than ever.
But it’s too early for the Cosmos, so let’s stick with the VR headsets you can get your hands on – and head into – right now.
- The best VR games to play on your headset
Check below for in depth explanations of our choices for the best VR headset available now. It's important to note that permanent price cuts have brought the so-called traditional VR headsets more closely in line with one another.
At the moment, the four best on the market – the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro and PlayStation VR – are unsurprisingly the most expensive of all the mainstream VR headset offerings.
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.
And, if you want less expensive fare, we’ve also included a few mobile VR headsets for your consideration as well.
When originally released, the HTC Vive was miles ahead of its nearest competitor, the Oculus Rift. It supported room-scale tracking right out of the box, and came with two motion controllers that offer much more immersion.
Now, however, the gap for the best VR headset has narrowed. Today the Oculus Rift matches much of Vive's functionality and includes two motion controllers of its own.
But the Vive still edges out the Oculus because, for our money, the room-scale tracking is that much better. This feature allows you to walk around a space up to 4.5 x 4.5m, adding another dimension to the experience while using it; you're not just pressing up on an analog stick, you're using your legs to walk.
That's if you have enough space in your real room, of course.
The headset contains two 1080p screens which makes for a very crisp image. Unfortunately, it's not quite high enough of a resolution to prevent you from being able to discern individual pixels when you wear it, and the HTC Vive Pro, with its 78% increase in dots per inch, offers a sharper screen in addition to built-in audio, which the original Vive lacks.
However, despite not being the latest and greatest Vive, where the original HTC shines is in its price.
Though it's still more expensive than Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive Pro has a few shortcomings that won't quite justify its high price. For the regular user who doesn't have the funds to buy an HTC Vive Pro, the HTC Vive offers a still-excellent experience for less cost.
Read the full review: HTC Vive
Simply put, Oculus Go signals a new age for virtual reality, one that doesn't need a smartphone or PC to run excellent experiences. But forget the grandiose statements – you want to know what it's really like to use, right?
Oculus Go is a standalone headset that rivals Oculus Rift in more than just its affordable price; the quality of VR on offer is nearly as good as that of a tethered VR headset.
With impressive visuals, limited screen-door effect and a cozy fit (one that's front-heavy, to be sure), you're in for tons of fun with the Oculus Go.
Its content library is already extensive with over 1,000 apps, games, movies and experiences available at launch, and that should only grow since the headset is compatible with Samsung Gear VR content. The headset comes with two storage options, 32GB or 64GB, so you can take your pick of how much memory you'll need.
Oculus Go isn't perfect – in addition to sitting heavy on the face, light leaks through the bottom (right where your nose is), which could prove anywhere from mildly annoying to downright distracting to you. But for those looking for a standalone, it might just be the best VR headset out there.
Read the full review: Oculus Go
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.
That's not the case with Sony's PlayStation VR, which requires little more than a PS4 console to run.
Considering the sizable 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 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.
Read the full review: PlayStation VR
The current VR arms race all started with one man: Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. As a teenager, Luckey gathered VR tech, fascinated with making his own headset in his garage. Numerous prototypes and a $2 billion Facebook buyout later, Oculus is still the biggest name in VR.
It's seen a few decent upgrades over the years thanks to the inclusion of the Touch controllers (which we'd argue is slightly better to the Vive's), and a couple of key price drops.
Yet, compared to the HTC Vive's room-scale technology, the Rift isn't quite up to the task. The reason is that while the Vive is designed to let you move around in any direction, the Rift requires you to place its two sensors in front of you. This means that the tracking is more single-sided, and you can't let yourself get turned around, otherwise the sensors will lose track of you.
The experience is a bit different when you add a third sensor to the mix, but if you're comparing apples-to-apples, we still believe the Vive does room-scale a heck of a lot better.
That being said, by being cheaper than the Vive, the Oculus Rift offers a very compelling mid-range virtual reality option for those with less space to spare.
Read the full review: Oculus Rift
The newest high-end VR headset in town comes packed with a lot of impressive specs. Take, for instance, the HTC Vive Pro resolution of 2880 x 1600, offering a 78% increase in DPI over the HTC Vive.
This means ultra-crisp visual fidelity that lets you experience textures and shadows in a way previously unavailable in VR.
But the HTC Vive Pro perks don't end there. There's also the addition of built-in headphones and new nose guards that are better at blocking out light than the HTC Vive. All told, the HTC Vive Pro is a clear improvement in both design and tech on the older HTC Vive.
However, for all its shiny updated specs, new navy-blue color and a game library that's sure to grow, the HTC Vive Pro does have some serious flaws.
The main one is obvious: it's expensive. It costs the same as the HTC Vive did at launch, and it doesn't come with any accessories in the box. That's right: you'll have to buy controllers and sensors separately.
Setup can be a challenge with the Vive Pro because all of the firmware has to be as up-to-date as possible. Even then, you may run into some challenges, which might deter the average user from jumping into the Vive Pro experience.
Because of its high price, challenging setup and the fact that the still-excellent HTC Vive is now much more affordable, the HTC Vive Pro is likely best suited for VR enthusiasts and arcade owners. It's still an awesome headset, if not the best VR headset, just one that's probably not for everyone.
Read the full review: HTC Vive Pro
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.
Compatible phones, as expected, include the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus, as well as the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus (if you have the latest Gear VR headset).
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
If you own an Android phone (that's not necessarily a Galaxy) and want to get into VR without spending a fortune on a headset and computer set up, then consider the Google Daydream View (2017) a viable option.
What makes this headset compelling is its price; it's less than $100 / £100, and a recent discount through some retailers has made it even cheaper, at least for the time being.
It's also an easy headset for just about anyone to use. Not only does it just installing an app on your phone, but once you're inside the VR world, navigating to and fro is easy with the included controller.
You won't get the deeply immersive worlds of a higher-end, PC-powered VR headset with the Google Daydream View, but you will get a device that's made of a nice material, works with many of the best Android phones, and, did we mention how inexpensive it is?
The content on offer isn't very compelling – there's not a ton to draw you back for multiple play sessions – but it is varied and offers a little something for everyone.
This isn't the best VR headset on the market, by far, but it is an easy way to get into VR for Android phone owners. And that, really, could be all you need to know.
Read the full review: Google Daydream View (2017)
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