Tech enthusiasts waited years for virtual reality (VR) to not only get desirable consumer apps and games, but to be accessible in a reasonable and relatively affordable fashion. Come 2019 and VR fans' patience has paid off with quite a few options. That includes a variety of head-mounted displays (HMDs) that can be powered by either connecting to a gaming desktop / gaming laptop, smartphone or console, plus standalone headsets that don’t need to connect to any device.
To help you reach your optimal VR gaming experience, we’ve broken our favorite consumer VR headsets available today that are actually worth escaping reality to enjoy.
Credit: Shutterstock / leungchopan
Quick Shopping Tips
When choosing a VR headset, consider the following:
- PC-connected VR is best but requires a pricey system. The best VR experiences come from headsets that connect to a PC. However, a sufficient gaming PC starts at around $900 (£800) for a laptop, or a couple hundred less if you build your own desktop. For less-expensive VR, consider headsets that connect to a smartphone or standalone headsets, which work without connection to another system.
- Is your PC / smartphone powerful enough for VR? If you want PC- or smartphone-connected VR, make sure your system meets the HMD’s minimum requirements. PC users can use Steam's free test for checking if a PC is VR-ready. If your PC or smartphone doesn’t meet VR's standards, you'll either need to increase your budget to include the cost of a new PC or buy a standalone headset instead.
- When it comes to specs, bigger is better. In general, the greater the refresh rate, field of view (FOV), resolution and pixel density (measured in pixels per inch or PPI), the smoother and sharper the gaming experience.
- Make sure your gaming space is big enough for your headset. Depending on the product, you may need a notable amount of physical space to properly use the HMD. For example, the Oculus Rift recommends a 3x3-foot space minimum, while the PlayStation VR recommends a 10x10-foot area.
- Mind your glasses. You can typically wear glasses in VR, but some headsets are more comfortable for glasses users than others. If you're concerned, check the headset’s IPD (interpupillary distance, the distance between the pupils in millimeters), which may be adjustable, or opt for an HMD that includes a glasses spacer, like the Oculus Rift or Oculus Go.
- New standalone headsets are coming this year. We’re eagerly awaiting two upcoming standalone headsets for consumers. The Oculus Quest ($399/£350-400) is supposed to offer Oculus Rift-like image quality (better than the Oculus Go) without the cords or connected devices. And the HTC Vive Cosmos (price TBD) will be HTC Vive’s first foray into consumer, tether-free VR. The Quest debuts this spring, while general availability info on the Vive Cosmos should arrive later this year.
Best Virtual Reality Headsets for Gaming and PC
1. HTC Vive Pro
Best Overall VR Headset
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor's Choice)
Connectivity: PC | Display: 2x 3.5-inch AMOLED | Per-eye Resolution: 1440x1600 | PPI: 615 | Refresh Rate: 90Hz | FOV: 110 degrees | Weight: 769g
Pros: Extremely comfortable • Excellent build quality • Ready for next-generation tracking • Best-in-class image quality
Cons: Headphones lack bass response • Pricey • Foam cushions not moisture-proof
The HTC Vive Pro is the premium VR headset available to consumers today. It has top-level display resolution, as well as an amazingly comfortable and adjustable head strap. But running this pro-level HMD gets expensive.
In addition to the headset’s already large price tag ($800 / £800), its necessary base stations and controllers are sold separately for $300 / £320. That’s a total of $1,100 / £1,120.
And that's before counting the cost of your PC, which will require a higher-end graphics card - an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 / Quadro P5000 or better, or an AMD Radeon Vega RX 56 or better - to run the Vive Pro.
Read Review: HTC Vive Pro
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2. Oculus Go
Best Budget VR Headset
Rating: 5/5 (Editor's Choice)
Connectivity: Smartphone | Display: 1x 5.5-inch low-persistence LCD | Per-eye Resolution: 1280x1440 | PPI: 538 | Refresh Rate: 60-75Hz (depending on the app) | FOV: ~100 degrees | Weight: 485g
Pros: Great price • Lightweight • Tons of content • High-quality build
Cons: No spatial tracking • Longer charge time than run time
The Oculus Go is a quick, easy and affordable way to immediately dive into VR without the fuss. It's a standalone headset, meaning you don’t need to connect it to a PC or smartphone. All the computing power is built into the HMD itself, and it’s great for glasses wearers too.
However, the Go is the only headset on this page that offers just 3-degrees of freedom (3-DoF) instead of 6-DoF. Therefore, you're not meant to walk around while wearing it. In other words, don’t expect the same level of immersion as you would from a PC-connected headset, like the Go’s more powerful sibling, the Oculus Rift.
Before buying this Oculus though, note that this spring Oculus is releasing a more expensive standalone headset, the Oculus Quest, with better image quality for $399 /£350. Oculus is also replacing the Rift this spring with the Oculus Rift S, a PC-connected headset with inside-out tracking, meaning external sensors aren't needed, also for $399 / £350.
Read Review: Oculus Go
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3. PlayStation VR (PSVR)
Best Gaming Value
Connectivity: PlayStation 4 | Display: 1x 5.7-inch low-persistence OLED | Per-eye Resolution: 960x1080 | PPI: 386 | Refresh Rate: 90Hz, 120Hz | FOV: ~110 degrees | Weight: 610g
Pros: Relatively affordable • Comfortable • Great for glasses • Vibrant display
Cons: Fragile mechanical adjustments • Confusing bundle SKUs
If you don't already have a VR-ready PC, the PSVR is the most value-oriented way to get into VR gaming, barring standalone headsets. It has a lower PPI, but the PSVR scores desirable exclusive game titles, such as Resident Evil 7 biohazard and Borderlands 2 VR.
If you opt for PC-connected VR with, for example, the Oculus Rift (arguably the best PC VR value), you’ll spend $349 / £349 for the headset, plus the cost of a gaming PC (if you don’t already have one). Our favorite budget gaming laptop, the Dell G7 15 (with a 1050 Ti graphics card) is $1,000 / £1300, bringing your VR total to $1,350 / £1,650.
The PSVR requires a PlayStation 4, which starts at $300 / £298.95. The headset ($200 / £218), plus required PlayStation camera ($45 / £45) and controllers ($100 / £70 for 2) cost $345 /£333 if purchased individually. However, there are bundles containing the headset, camera, controllers and a game or two, starting at $300 at Walmart (£240 in the UK from Amazon, but you'll need to purchase the controllers separately). That means you can get PSVR-ready for as little as $600 / £609. Bonus: the PSVR will be compatible with the PlayStation 5.
Read Review: Sony PlayStation VR (PSVR)
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4. Samsung HMD Odyssey
Best Windows MR Headset
Connectivity: PC | Display: 2x 3.5-inch AMOLED | Per-eye resolution: 1440x1600 | PPI: 615 | Refresh Rate: 60Hz (with integrated GPU), 90Hz (with discrete GPU) | FOV: 110 degrees | Weight: 644g
Pros: Best-in-class resolution and image clarity • Integrated 3D audio • Ergonomic controllers • Adjustable lenses
Cons: No flip-visor • Earphone, forehead, rear foam not replaceable • Fixed tether cable
Boasting a resolution and PPI equal to those of the HTC Vive Pro, the Samsung HMD Odyssey is our favorite Windows Mixed Reality (MR) headset. It features premium components and build quality and is also good for productivity apps. (Note, you can sometimes get the updated version for less.)
However, when we tested the HMD, it suffered from the screen-door effect, albeit looking more like a haze than a grid. While the Samsung tops Windows MR headsets and is great for games with a lot of text-based menus, we still wouldn’t pick it over the HTC Vive for gaming.
Read Review: Samsung HMD Odyssey
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics