Hopeful enthusiasts waited years for virtual reality (VR) to become attainable for their at-home tech arsenal. And now with so many of us suddenly stuck at home, the idea of 'leaving' the home and entering a world of VR is becoming much more appealing.
But it's not just boredom that's made VR more enticing; it's the tech behind it too. A lot of things had to come together before at-home VR was plausible. Vendors needed to improve the experience of head-mounted displays (HMDs) so that VR gaming didn't automatically lead to nausea. We also needed headsets that were somewhat affordable and accessible. Of course, games and apps that make the next-gen tech worthwhile, like the recently released Half-Life: Alyx are also crucial. Today, it's fair to say that VR gaming has all but arrived. With the right VR headset, you can enjoy incredible, immersive games and experiences right at home. We're here to help you find the best VR headset for you.
Believe it or not, VR has grown so much that there are various ways you to get into VR gaming. There are HMDs that connect to gaming desktops / gaming laptops. We have headsets that plug into smartphones, as well as the PlayStation VR (PSVR), which connects to a gaming console. There are even standalone headsets, or HMDs that don’t need to connect to anything at all -- just strap it on, and you're in VR. Plus, with distance learning becoming more important, adding VR into the mix can help keep lessons immersive and engaging.
Below are the best VR headsets for PC and gaming that are actually worth escaping reality to enjoy.
Quick Shopping Tips
When looking for the best VR headset for gaming, consider the following:
- PC-connected VR has the best experience but requires an expensive system. The best VR gaming comes from headsets that you tether to a PC. But a VR-ready gaming PC starts at around $900 for a laptop, or a couple hundred less if you build your own PC. For more wallet-friendly VR, consider standalone HMDs that don’t connect to any system or alternatives that connect to your smartphone.
- Is your PC / smartphone powerful enough for VR? Before buying a VR headset that relies on a PC or smartphone connection, you should ensure your device meets the headset's minimum requirements. Steam has a free test for checking if your PC can handle VR, and we also test this in our gaming laptop reviews. If your PC or smartphone doesn’t meet the headset's requirements, you might want to increase your budget or buy a standalone HMD instead.
- When it comes to specs, bigger is better. In general, the greater the headset's refresh rate, field of view (FOV), total resolution and pixel density (measured in pixels per inch or PPI), the smoother and sharper games will look.
- Make sure your home has enough square footage. Depending on the headset, you may need a notable amount of physical space to properly game. For example, the Oculus Rift S recommends a 3 x 3-foot space minimum, and the PSVR recommends a 10 x 10-foot area.
- Mind your glasses. You can usually wear glasses in VR, but some HMDs make this more comfortable than others. Check the headset’s IPD (interpupillary distance, the distance between the pupils in millimeters), which may be adjustable. Better yet, opt for an headset with a glasses spacer, like the Oculus Go or Rift S.
- More options are coming. The HP Reverb G2 and XRSpace Mova are coming out this year. We're still waiting for the HTC Vive Cosmos Play, a cheaper version of the HMD, to arrive this spring. And at CES 2020 in January, we saw upcoming HMDs hardcore enthusiasts may want to consider. The $450 Pimax Artisan is finally available, and we're waiting for the 8K resolution Pimax Vision 8K X to exit pre-order and more news on the enterprise-focused, but incredibly interesting, Pico VR Glasses. The XRSpace Mova is also supposed to debut this year. And if you're eagerly anticipating the PlayStation 5, note that the PSVR will work on the console, as Road to VR reported.
Best VR Headsets You Can Buy Today
The Oculus Quest is the best VR headset for most shoppers. There are more premium and powerful headsets available; however, the Quest strikes the best balance between price and performance. It's also easier to setup than some other headsets, which is great for people new to VR.
The Quest is a standalone headset, so you don't have to connect it to a powerful PC or smartphone. Plus, you don't have to set up base stations around your room, like some other, more premium headsets require. Ultimately, this HMD is a quick and easy path into quality VR. In fact, when we gamed on it, we found it to be as immersive as a pricier PC-connected, room-scale VR system, like the Oculus Rift S. Magically, games like Superhot VR looked just as good as their desktop versions.
Oculus today added a gaming-friendly feature to its Oculus platform. Travel Together lets you virtually travel with friends across 12 different games, including Arizon Sunshine. And great for working from home, Public Parties is a group voice calling feature for up to eight.
If you're interested in potentially using this with a PC, check out our hands-on with the Oculus Link software beta.
If you’re looking for the best possible VR experience at home, you should get a HMD that tethers to a PC. Today, the best VR headset for PC is the Valve Index. It comes from Valve, the company behind Steam and the Lighthouse tracking system used by the HTC Vive Pro and HTC Vive. The Index also uses Lighthouse base stations (including those Vive owners would already have), but is a step up for consumers from the Vive Pro.
The Index experience is quite customizable with canted lenses that allow for FOV adjustments of up to 10 degrees. There’s also mechanical IPD control. But the Index is less comfortable than the Vive Pro due to a less balanced distribution of its slightly heavier weight (1.8 pounds versus 1.7 pounds) and a bulky data cable.
Gaming on the Index offers your choice of refresh rate, allowing for up to 144 Hz as an experimental feature. This means you can pick your refresh rate based on your system’s capabilities, but you’ll need a pretty powerful graphics card to surpass 90 Hz. The most exciting part of the kit is the long-anticipated Index controllers, which secure to your hand with various adjustments and allow open-hand movements for in-game actions like picking something up. Additionally, the Index controllers have capacitive touch sensors for finger movements and pressure sensors that can tell a game how firm or light your grip is.
While this is still a great headset, Oculus recently announced that it's discontinuing the Oculus Go. Since the Go won't be getting any new features or apps after December 4, it's remaining life is limited. However, Oculus will keep providing this budget-friendly headset with security updates until 2022. If you're looking to futureproof, the Oculus Quest listed above is your next best option for more affordable VR.
A quick, easy and affordable way to get into VR, the Oculus Go is the best VR headset for maintaining your budget. Like the Oculus Quest, the Go doesn't need to connect to a PC or smartphone to work. Bonus: it's great for glasses-wearers too.
On the other hand, the Go is the only headset here that has only 3-degrees of freedom (3-DoF) instead of 6-DoF. That means you’re not meant to walk around with it. In other words, don’t expect the same quality or level of immersion as you'd get from a PC-connected headset, like the Go’s more capable sibling the Rift S.
This HMD is currently on sale from $199 to it's lowest price ever, $149 on Amazon.
Keep in mind that the follow-up to this headset, the HP Reverb G2, is scheduled to arrive this fall. The new headset will have lenses and speakers made by Valve. If you can wait, it'd be wise to see what sort of improvements this brings, as it's specifically geared toward gamers, unlike the current Reverb.
But if you need to enter Windows Mixed Reality (MR) headset now, the HP Reverb is the best VR headset for you. Its display resolution is a noticeably higher than the Valve Index, Rift S, HTC Vive and even the Vive Pro. As a result, menu text never looked more clear. Plus, the Reverb is shockingly comfortable and easy to set up.
But you may have noticed that the Reverb has the lowest rating on this page. That's because it's limited by Windows MR, which generally suffers from poor tracking of hand controllers. With the Reverb, our controllers floated all over the screen if we left the tracking’s narrow FOV. Only buy the Reverb over the other headsets here if you have a need to prioritize higher resolution over good controllers (or are committed to Windows MR).