Many tech enthusiasts waited years for virtual reality (VR) to not only get worthwhile consumer apps and games, but to be offered in a reasonable and relatively affordable fashion. By 2019, VR fans have been rewarded with quite a few options, including head-mounted displays (HMDs) powered by connecting to gaming desktops / laptops, smartphones or consoles, as well as standalone headsets that don’t need to connect to anything.
To help you reach your optimal VR gaming experience, we’ve broken down the best 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 PC-connected headsets. But a sufficient gaming PC starts at around $900 for a laptop, or a couple hundred less if you build your own desktop. For a less-expensive VR experience, consider headsets that run off a smartphone or standalone headsets that don’t need to connect to a 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. Steam also offers a free test for checking if your PC is VR-ready. If your PC or smartphone doesn’t meet the standards, factor upgrading into your budget or consider a standalone headset.
- When it comes to specs, bigger is better. Generally, 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 you have sufficient square footage. Depending on the product, you may need a notable amount of physical space to properly use the headset. 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 wearers than others. 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 Go or Oculus Rift.
- New standalone headsets are coming this year. We’re eagerly awaiting two upcoming consumer standalone headsets. The Oculus Quest ($399) is supposed to offer Oculus Rift-like image quality without the cords, while the HTC Vive Cosmos (price TBD) will be HTC Vive’s first foray into consumer, tether-free VR. The Quest debuts this spring, while Vive Cosmos developer kits should arrive soon with general availability info coming 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 offers top-level display resolution, plus an amazingly comfortable and adjustable head strap. But running this pro-level HMD gets pricey.
Second, in addition to the headset’s already hefty $800 / £800 price tag, its necessary base stations and controllers are sold separately for $300 / £320. That’s a total of $1,100 / £1,120 to start, not including the cost of your PC.
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 immerse yourself in VR, since 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 3-degrees of freedom (3-DoF) instead of 6-DoF, so you’re not meant to walk around while wearing it. In other words, don’t expect the same level experience as you would from a PC-connected headset, like the Go’s more capable sibling the Oculus Rift.
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
Despite its lower PPI, barring standalone headsets, the PSVR is the most value-oriented way to get into premium VR gaming if you don’t already have a VR-ready PC. PSVR also scores exclusive game titles, including Resident Evil 7 biohazardandBorderlands 2 VR.
If you opt for PC-connected with, for example the Oculus Rift (arguably the best PC VR value), you’ll spend $349 / £349.00 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) costs $1,000, bringing your VR total to $1,350.
Meanwhile, the PSVR requires a PlayStation 4, which starts at $300 / £298.95. The headset ($200), plus required PlayStation camera ($45) and controllers ($100 for 2) cost $345 if purchased individually. However, there are bundles containing the headset, camera, controllers and a game or two, starting at $325 at Walmart. That means you can get PSVR-ready for as little as $625.
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
With the same resolution and PPI as the HTC Vive Pro, the Samsung HMD Odyssey is our favorite Windows Mixed Reality (MR) headset. It packs premium components and build quality and is also good for productivity apps. (Note, you can often pick up the updated version for less.)
However, when we tested the HMD, the screen-door effect was present, 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 choose it over the HTC Vive for gaming.
Read Review: Samsung HMD Odyssey
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