Hopeful enthusiasts waited years for virtual reality (VR) to be fit for home use. Today, with many of us suddenly stuck at home more, the idea of 'leaving' it behind and entering a virtual world is even more appealing.
But it's not just boredom making VR more enticing; it's also the tech. Many things had to come together before VR and VR gaming at home was realistic. Vendors had to improve head-mounted displays (HMDs) so that gaming wasn't nauseating. We also needed headsets that were at least somewhat affordable. Of course, games, like Half-Life: Alyx, and apps that make VR worthwhile are crucial. It's now fair to say that VR gaming has all but arrived.
VR has grown so much that there are various ways you to get into VR gaming. There are HMDs that connect to gaming PCs / gaming laptops, smartphones, as well as the PlayStation VR (PSVR), which connects to a gaming console. There are even standalone headsets, aka HMDs that don’t need to connect to anything at all. Just strap it on, and you're in VR.
So to help you pick, below are the best VR headsets that are actually worth escaping realityfor. And if the VR headset you're after doesn't include a great set of headphones, be sure to check out our Best Gaming Headsets page, so that sound quality and isolation isn't the weakest link in your VR immersion.
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 Rift S.
Best VR Headsets You Can Buy Today
The Oculus Quest 2 is the best VR headset for most, offering a great upgrade over the original Oculus Quest. Qualcomm’s modern Snapdragon XR2 (Snapdragon 865) SoC proved to be a powerful chip bringing a fantastic VR experience even without any tethering to a powerful PC or even a smartphone. If you want, however, you can buy an Oculus Link cable for a PC connection
Oculus bumped the Quest 2’s resolution up to 1832 x 1920 per eye compared to the Quest’s 1440 x 1600 per eye. There’s also a unified panel here instead of one for each eye, as well as the ability to hit up to a 90 Hz refresh rate or 120Hz via an experimental feature, once supporting apps are available.
But while the HMD is an upgrade over the last generation, the new Touch controllers accompanying the Quest 2 are not. Due to their bulky shape, these Touch controllers are hard to grip and lack balance. Additionally, the Quest 2 is sporting a brand new color, but unfortunately that white gets dirty easily.
Oculus is so sold on standalone VR that it’s discontinuing the Rift lineup of PC-only HMDs, including the Oculus RIft S. So if you want to get into VR, the Quest 2 is the easiest and best way to do it -- and for a good price too.
Read: Oculus Quest 2 review
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.
Read: Valve Index review
If you want the ultimate HMD and have one of the best graphics cards to push it, the Piimax Vision 8K X is the best VR headset for you. It has a horizontal FOV of up to 170 degrees and can hit a resolution of up to 3840 x 2160 per eye, which is the highest resolution of any headset we’ve ever tested. That led to fantastic image quality without any screen door effect.
While you don’t get OLED-level blacks, we enjoyed colors that looked bright alongside sharp, detailed edges. When dropping down to 2560 x 1440 resolution, the image looked more washed out and less sharp, but image clarity was still high compared to other HMDs we’ve tested.
The Vision 8K X is a complex HMD with multiple settings available and a high price, making it best reserved for VR enthusiasts. Plus, if you want to hit the headset’s max refresh rate of 90 Hz, you’ll need an RTX 3000-series GPU, which are all hard to find and expensive.
More: Pimax Vision 8K X review
The HP Reverb G2 is the best VR headset is you're seeking optimal image clarity. But as Windows Mixed Reality (MR) headset, it struggles to compete with the other headsets on this page.
HP’s Reverb G2 does boast some nice improvements over the original HP Reverb, such as the move to antimicrobial materials and a boost in audio quality, thanks to HP using the same speakers found in the Valve Index. However, Windows MR tracking is still lacking. HP upgraded the HMD with two more cameras, but it still can’t match the tracking on other PC-connected HMDs, such as the Oculus Rift S. During testing, the headset would lose sight of our controllers if they were close to our chest or moving rapidly.
The plus side is that the Reverb G2 has fantastic image quality with very high per-eye resolution that makes things from games to text easy to enjoy. If image quality is top of mind, the Reverb G2 tops the list. But for gaming and other apps where the ability to track controllers is imperative, you’ll want to look at other headsets on this list.
For enterprises, there's also the HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition, which offers advanced biometrics, like face tracking.
Read: HP Reverb G2 review
While the Oculus Quest 2 is more attainable for the masses, the HTC Vive Focus 3 is the best VR headset we’ve tested that doesn’t need a connection to any PC or system. Sadly, it’s geared toward businesses, and it’s price confirms the niche. But it’s still an impressive HMD, delivering the greatest FOV we’ve ever seen in a standalone headset, plus high resolution. It’s an example of the direction we’d like to see consumer-facing VR headsets go.
Quality of life features include a Micro SD slot for cards up to 2TB, a replaceable battery and even moisture-proof fabrics. The 1.7 pound weight is well-balanced, meaning wearing it for long training sessions isn’t a pain.
The Vive Focus 3 uses a Snapdragon XR2 (Snapdragon 865) SoC with 8GB of RAM and a 90 Hz refresh rate. While it’s not meant for gaming, we played a mobile game on it, and it looked just as good as when playing on the Quest 2, but easier to see enemies, thanks to the greater FOV. If you need a headset that makes it easy to navigate business and training apps and the like, the Vive Focus 3 will deliver comfortable, feature-rich performance.
More: HTC Vive Focus 3 review
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics
Discounts on the Best VR Headsets
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