It’s hard to imagine a more challenging buying decision than one in a relatively new product category like virtual reality (VR). You can be hesitant to commit to a VR headset, especially when major innovations seem imminent. We’ll witness many changes in VR platforms in the coming years, including significant enhancements, like eye tracking inside head-mounted displays (see the impressive demo we got from Tobii at CES 2018), peripherals and controllers that add more realism to games, hand and gesture tracking (like the Mudra Inspire wristband controller) various forms of precision body tracking (such as the full-body VR HoloSuit) and standalone VR headsets. Of course, if you’re always waiting for what’s next, you’ll never get to experience what VR has to offer now. For those ready to get real about virtual reality, here are the best VR headsets for PC.
Best VR Headsets
News and Product Updates
During CES 2019, a massive tech show in Las Vegas last week, HTC Vive announced new VR headsets arriving this year. The HTC Vive Cosmos is a more lightweight and portable HMD that can be powered by a gaming PC or, potentially, a smartphone in the future. The company also announced a new headset with built-in Tobii eye tracking. In our hands-on with the HTC Vive Pro Eye, we appreciated how powerful the feature made us feel.
Speaking of HTC Vive, we got a close look at FinchShift’s camera-free, 6DoF VR controllers at CES. HTC Vive and Qualcomm recently announced support for the controllers.
We also got to try out XTAL, a $6,000 headset with integrated hand tracking you’ve got to see in action. And we couldn’t resist getting our hands on Pimax 8K, a headset with resolution to match its name.
In other VR news, Oculus Rift just got Facebook live streaming and Public Homes, which lets users invite people into their own virtual home.
PC VR Headsets Today and Tomorrow
Among the many questions, we get about how to run PC VR head-mounted displays (HMDs) optimally is how to choose the best CPU for VR. Game developers and studios always list minimum specs, and as of this writing, they can vary wildly. We took some time to benchmark 11 VR games across a variety of CPUs to get a sense of how processing power affects performance. But that was before Microsoft pushed out its own VR platform.
We’ve been waiting for new approaches to PC-based VR for a while. Until recently, there essentially were two major players: HTC’s Vive (and the newer, higher-end Vive Pro), buoyed by Valve and its dominant PC gaming platform Steam, and Oculus’ Rift, backed by social media colossus Facebook.
But now, there’s another industry juggernaut solidly in the VR headset game: In October 2017, Microsoft rolled out the Windows Mixed Reality platform, which includes HMDs from several hardware partners, like Dell, Acer, Samsung and others. Oculus and HTC cater primarily to the gaming crowd (although both companies are after the commercial market, too), but Microsoft wants to corner the immersive productivity market. If you want to spend your workday in a virtual environment, a Windows Mixed Reality headset would be your best bet. Here’s everything you need to know about Windows Mixed Reality.
We are also on the cusp of a few new initiatives, including headsets with higher resolutions and wider fields of view (FOV). HTC’s Vive Pro (which hit the market in April 2018) features a combined resolution of 2880 x 1600, and Pimax finally began preparing shipments for its 8K headset at the end of September (despite some delays), which features dual 4K displays and a wide 200-degree FOV.
All that said, despite new and exciting hardware always seemingly just over the horizon, the hardware that’s available today is still viable and compelling.
Best Windows MR Headset