VR headsets have gotten really impressive over the past few years. They offer more and more immersive ways to explore new worlds, letting you move freely and get a real sense of scale in your games. They’re also the only way to experience some amazing new games, including the recent masterpiece Half-Life: Alyx.
Getting a great VR experience takes a bit more than slotting your smartphone into a plastic holder, though. While those phone-based solutions were an interesting entryway at one point, the experience from a dedicated headset is on another level. With advanced tracking and 6DoF (six degrees of freedom), your movements are accurately translated into the game world, letting you feel like you’re truly there (for better or worse).
Quality headsets can be seriously demanding though, with some packing so many pixels and such a fast refresh rate that you’d need a beastly gaming PC to run them. Fortunately, there’s a bit of something for everyone. Some more affordable models can run on modest hardware, and there are even a few that offer a compelling experience without needing a separate machine to run them.
We’ve rounded up our top picks of the bunch so you can find a quality VR headset that’ll offer the life-like gaming experience you’re looking for.
These are the Best VR Headsets:
1. Oculus Quest 2
Best VR Headset
If you’re not entirely sure what you’re after from a VR headset, you can stop right here. There are some crazy powerful options below, but the Oculus Quest 2 is going to deliver a phenomenal experience for just about anyone. It’s got such impressive flexibility, there’s little reason to look elsewhere, and its shocking price makes it pretty hard to consider anything else.
The headset has sharp visuals thanks to a high per-eye resolution that helps make the screen-door effect a thing of the past. The headset also runs at a smooth 90Hz refresh rate like the original Oculus Rift CV1, but Facebook has been toying with faster refresh rates that users who demand more can experiment with. Not only does the Quest 2 offer some of the best experiences in a completely standalone format running on its Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chipset but it can also link up with a powerful gaming PC to run desktop experiences, and it can do it over a wired or wireless connection. It’d be a hard headset to beat even if it weren’t $300.
2. PlayStation VR
Best VR Headset for Console Players
Virtual reality has gotten more accessible than ever, particularly for PC gamers, but console gamers aren’t left out in the cold of normal reality. The PlayStation VR gives PS4 owners a way to dive deeper into games than ever. The PSVR is a somewhat humble system, not boasting the highest resolution displays and not going for wild, room-scale tracking. But, while it may lack those extreme features, it makes up for it with quality experiences. Many of the best VR games have come out on PSVR.
The PSVR has a 960 x 1,080 per-eye resolution but does offer a 120Hz refresh rate to keep experiences smooth. And, a 100-degree field of view is sufficient for immersion. The headset itself is one piece of the puzzle, as there’s also a separate camera and motion controllers that can unlock even more immersive gameplay. And, even though the PSVR was built for the PS4 and PS4 Pro, Sony ensured it’ll also run on the PS5. There’s even a free adapter available for the PlayStation Camera, showing a commendable commitment by Sony to continue supporting its headset.
3. Oculus Rift S
Best VR Headset for PC
While headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 and Valve Index show off the limits of VR capability, the Oculus Rift S (read our review) still offers an experience that has its niche. Since the Quest 2 launched, the Rift S has come down in price to match, making it the PC-connected counterpart to that system. Though you can link a Quest 2 to a PC, the Rift S is purpose-built for PC connections, so you’ll have more robust cabling with lower latency and higher bandwidth than you’d get if you’re not careful with your cables on a Quest.
The Oculus Rift S has a reasonably sharp resolution and offers fluidity with an 80Hz refresh rate. It also lets you see more of the virtual world around you thanks to its 110-degree field of view. Unlike the original Oculus Rift (CV1), this model uses inside-out tracking, which means you don’t have to set up external cameras and deal with the major fuss calibrating those can be. And, since this headset is now just $300, you’re getting a really solid value.
4. HTC Vive Cosmos
Best Wireless PC VR
HTC came onto the virtual reality scene strong with the first-generation Vive and the eventual Vive Pro, but the HTC Vive Cosmos is the latest vying for our virtual attention. The new model offers up a sharper resolution for each eye, delivering 1,440 x 1,700 on per eye for a combined 2,880 x 1,700. That increased sharpness exceeds even the Valve Index and helps cut down on the on the screen-door effect, albeit not eliminating it outright. The display uses small LCD panels that run at 90Hz for that smooth playback requires.
The headset offers a comfortable, halo-style headband that makes it easy to wear and take off momentarily. It also includes attached headphones for spatial audio. This new headset also dumps the old wands of the original Vive in favor of the more controller-like style seen on many other headsets. But, what really helps set the Vive Cosmos apart is its continued support for HTC’s official Wireless Adapter, which delivers a high-fidelity, low-lantency stream of your VR content so you can go truly tetherless. HTC also offers different versions of the Cosmos series, including the Cosmos Elite, XR, and Play, which have different tracking and camera setups as well as different controllers. It’s effectively possible to switch which version of the Cosmos you’re using by swapping out the faceplate, controllers, and any tracking base station, making this a wildly versatile headset.
5. Valve Index
Best High-End VR Headset
The Valve Index is the latest and greatest in PC-based headset that will fill each of your eyeballs with 1,440 x 1,600 pixels at a refresh rate of 120Hz. The Index also employs new base stations supporting a larger play area, and a new set of controllers that support full finger tracking.
In other words, it’s better than the last generation’s Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in just about every way…except the price. The Index currently costs $1,000 for the whole kit, but—thanks to the versatility of SteamVR—you can mix and match components from the older, less expensive Vive if you want to save money.
Only interested in finger tracking? Pair the Index controllers with a Vive headset and go to town. Prefer the high-res headset? Buy the Index headset on its own and use it with your old Vive setup. Or buy it all together for the best experience possible—it isn’t cheap, but if you want the absolute best graphics the PC has to offer, this is it right now.
6. HTC Vive Pro 2
Best High-Resolution VR Headset
If clarity is what you crave, you’re going to want the HTC Vive Pro 2. This VR headset is built on top of the long-standing prowess that HTC has established, but it’s packing in some display refinement that’ll push your experience further than ever. With a resolution of 2,448 x 2,448 per eye, the HTC Vive Pro 2 will let you forget all about the screen-door effect.
Naturally, this high-end headset comes with some extra perks beyond resolution. That same, sharp display also runs at a smooth 120Hz, and it provides a 120-degree field of view — two things that’ll help you feel that much more immersed in whichever virtual realm you enter. The headset also includes Hi-Res Certified headphones for quality audio piped directly into your ears. It’ll take a powerful PC to make the most of the HTC Vive Pro 2, but if you’re after the supreme experience, you’ve probably already got that part of the equation sorted.
7. Pimax 5K Super
VR with a Wide Field of View
If you’re willing to accept a true monster of a headset in order to get maximum immersion in VR, then you’ve probably seen Pimax in your peripheral vision while shopping headsets. The Pimax 5K Super is an extreme headset that won’t be for just any casual gamer. Its high starting price is enough to make some shy away, and its specs should be enough of a warning that only those with the beastliest computers need apply.
The Pimax 5K Super effectively runs two 1440p displays side by side, and they run at a 180Hz refresh rate. That’s twice as fast as the older Pimax 5K XR. The crisp resolution and high refresh rate will make for clear visuals if you have a machine that can handle running games that fast. For reference, two 1440p displays is 88% of the way to 4K in terms of pixel count, and there’s not a lot of hardware out there running games in 4K at even 60fps. But, if you’ve got the rig, this headset will be a powerful accomplice in your virtual endeavors, and its 200-degree field of view will wrap you up in your virtual worlds.
8. HP Reverb G2
Best Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Some of the other headsets on this list might have more exciting gaming features or offer more advanced tracking, but the HP Reverb G2 is an extremely comfortable VR headset that will go easy on both your head and your eyes. The Reverb G2 is higher resolution than every other headset on this list with a 2,160 x 2,160 display per eye for a total of 4,320 x 2,160. The headset also has a physical IPD slider to help line everything up perfectly with your eyes to eliminate focus issues. Combine that with the sharp displays eliminating screen door effect, and you’ve got superb eye comfort.
The headset display offers a smooth 90Hz refresh rate that may not be as fast as others, but there aren’t many computers that could run faster than that at this resolution anyway. The headset also uses inside-out tracking, making setup far simpler than systems like the Valve Index that rely on external base stations to track the movement of the headset and controllers. That also helps it keep the price far lower than the Valve Index. HP even tops off the experience with built-in headphones akin to those found on the Valve Index.
What to look for in a VR Headset
These aren’t the only headsets on the market, and they won’t be the last—there are more on the horizon (including HTC’s upcoming Vive Cosmos). When deciding which VR headset is right for you, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Platform: The best VR headset is the one you can actually use. If you already have a beefy gaming PC in your house and it’s in a room large enough for room-scale VR, grab a SteamVR headset. If you’re more likely to play a standalone system despite the lower graphical quality, don’t second-guess that instinct—go with the Oculus Quest.
In addition, if there are any exclusive games you want to play, keep that in mind as you narrow down your platform of choice—PSVR games will be limited to the PlayStation, and Oculus has some exclusive games for its headsets as well. SteamVR is pretty open, so it’ll work on pretty much any PC-based headset. Some Oculus exclusive games may be playable on SteamVR devices with Revive, but it’s no guarantee.
Resolution and refresh rate: When your eyes are right up against the screen, resolution matters. A lot. The lower the resolution, the more likely you are to get the “screen door effect,” where you can see the space between each individual pixel—like you’re looking through a screen door.
Note, however, that resolution isn’t the sole indicator of visual quality. The Oculus Quest, for example, has lower quality graphics than the HTC Vive, despite its higher resolution. It just has less of that screen door effect. (Within a given platform, though, resolution can give you an idea of which headsets are going to look better than others.)
Don’t neglect frame rate, either—high resolution may be nice, but if the refresh rate is lower than 90Hz, things may look a bit choppier, and may even induce serious motion sickness for some—though this can vary largely from person to person. (I found the 72Hz Oculus Quest more than smooth enough, for example.)
Stationary vs Room-Scale play: The best VR experiences involve room-scale play, which allows you to walk around your play space, crouch down, jump, and turn your head in any conceivable way—this level of motion tracking is known as “six-degrees of freedom.” Most of the headsets on the list above fall into this category.
Other headsets, like the Oculus Go or the smartphone-based Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, support fewer degrees of freedom, only tracking the swivel and tilt of your head rather than following you as you move around. If you’re only watching movies or playing seated games in VR, those cheaper headsets are fine, but for the best experience, you want something that supports room-scale play.
Tracking system: Some recent headsets, like the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, and HP Reverb, support “inside-out” tracking—that is, you can achieve room-scale play without any external sensors or cameras. Other systems, like the HTC Vive and Valve Index, require you to place a few base stations around the room to track your movements. These systems can be more accurate than inside-out systems for discerning players, but they’re also a bit more obtrusive, so you’ll have to weigh which makes the most sense for your living space.
Wired vs Wireless: Finally, you’ll want to consider how “tethered” you’re willing to be in a space. The best VR headsets usually require a wire connected to your PC, while standalone solutions allow you to roam freely. (The HTC Vive and Vive Pro also have an optional wireless adapter for untethered PC-powered VR.)
Being wired up isn’t the worst thing in the world by any means, especially if you’re only going to play in one room anyway, and you’ll see the best resolution and image quality possible. Going wireless makes tripping one less thing to worry about, but it also adds the constraints of battery life.
VR is still in its relative infancy, but it’s come a long way in a few short years. No VR headset is perfect for everyone just yet, but with these things in mind, you should be able to find one that suits you nicely. Just be careful not to put your arm through the wall or anything.
Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for 10 years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.