In some cases, that outside device is a smartphone; other VR headsets are powered by a computer or a game console. The first decision to make when purchasing a virtual reality headset is which type will work best for you.
With the help of specially enabled apps and games, you can explore virtual environments to your heart’s content. When browsing wireless VR headsets, remember that the cost of the smartphone is not included.
Wired headsets typically have superior image quality, although they are significantly more expensive than wireless units (even before the cost of the computer or console). Similarly, tethered VR headsets start around $300, but the required computer or console quickly bumps the total cost up by several hundred dollars.
Once you’ve purchased a VR headset and all the necessary supporting hardware, there is also the cost of software to be considered. Virtual reality games and apps range anywhere from $4 to $50, and should be factored into the total cost of ownership.
Crafting apps, including the ultra-popular Minecraft, have been so successful on VR platforms they’ve become their own category. Whether you’re into casually building your own virtual empire or designing objects that can be 3D-printed in the real world, there’s a VR app for that.
If you’re showing virtual reality to a friend or loved one, give them plenty of physical space if it’s their first time. If you experience any of these symptoms while using a VR headset, discontinue use immediately and consult a physician.
Some wireless VR headset phone units are meant to work only with specific smartphone models. Pick up a case for all of your VR gear to keep your investment safe, and ensure enjoyment for years to come.
Regular pauses can prevent you from getting headaches or feeling dizzy, cramped, or even dehydrated. While some people claim to prefer marathon, all-day, uninterrupted VR sessions, your best bet is to prioritize your health: take breaks when you need to, drink water frequently, and get up and stretch regularly.
They offer more and more immersive ways to explore new worlds, letting you move freely and get a real sense of scale in your games. With advanced tracking and 6DoF (six degrees of freedom), your movements are accurately translated into the game world, letting you feel like you're truly there (for better or worse). Quality VR headsets can be seriously demanding though, with some packing so many pixels and such a fast refresh rate that you'd need a beastly gaming PC to run them.
We've rounded up our top picks of the bunch, so you can find a quality VR headset that'll offer the life-like gaming experience you're looking for. See It Platform: Standalone, PC Resolution (per-eye): 1,832 × 1,920 Refresh rate: 90Hz Field of view: 100-degrees Tracking: 6DoF Weight: 1.1 poundsThere's a new VR champ on the block, and it's the Oculus Quest 2 (read our review).
This new headset upgrades just about every aspect of the original Oculus Quest that had previously held our top spot. The PlayStation VR (read our review) gives PS4 owners a way to dive deeper into games than ever.
The PSV is a somewhat humble system, not boasting the highest resolution displays and not going for wild, room-scale tracking. The headset itself is one piece of the puzzle, as there's also a separate camera and motion controllers that can unlock even more immersive gameplay.
There's even a free adapter available for the PlayStation Camera, showing a commendable commitment by Sony to continue supporting its VR headset. Platform: PC Resolution (per-eye): 1,280 × 1,440 Refresh rate: 80Hz Field of view: 110-degrees Tracking: 6DoF Weight: 1.2 pounds Oculus Rift made a splash as the first consumer VR headset for PCs, and Facebook’s Oculus Rift S is a welcome refresh.
While the Rift S isn’t the most powerful headset out there, it’s probably the best bang for your buck given its relatively low price. That increased sharpness exceeds even the Valve Index and helps cut down on the screen-door effect, albeit not eliminating it outright.
The display uses small LCD panels that run at 90Hz for the smooth playback required in VR. The headset offers a comfortable, halo-style headband that makes it easy to wear and take off momentarily. But, what really helps set the Five Cosmos apart is its continued support for HTC's official Wireless Adapter, which delivers a high-fidelity, low-lantency stream of your VR content, so you can go truly tetherless.
It's effectively possible to switch which version of the Cosmos you're using by swapping out the face plate, controllers, and any tracking base station, making this a wildly versatile headset. Platform: PC Resolution (per-eye): 1,440 × 1,600 Refresh rate: 120Hz (144Hz experimental mode) Field of view: 130-degrees Tracking: 6DoF Weight: 1.79 poundsValve’s Index headset is the latest and greatest in PC-based VR that will fill each of your eyeballs with 1,440 × 1,600 pixels at a refresh rate of 120Hz.
For reference, two 1440p displays is 88% of the way to 4K in terms of pixel count, and there's not a lot of hardware out there running games in 4K at even 60fps. See It Platform: PC Resolution (per-eye): 2,160 × 2,160 Refresh rate: 90Hz Field of view: 114-degrees Tracking: 6DoF Weight: 1.1 poundsDespite not getting a lot of attention, Windows Mixed Reality headsets are still a thing, and the HP Reverb Professional Edition is arguably the best out there right now.
It offers significantly a higher resolution picture of 2,160 × 2,160 per-eye, which translates to noticeably better graphics in-game. There are some setbacks with this headset though as tracking and controllers aren’t as good as the Rift or Five. However, if resolution is king, and you have the graphics card to drive it, the Reverb offers some of the sharpest picture quality you’ll find right now.
The new model has improved controls that aren't the clunky Windows Mixed Reality controllers of yesteryear, and it includes integrated headphones for precise audio with a slightly changed design over the previous model. These upgrades to the HP Reverb G2 are solid, especially when considering that the headset features one of the sharpest displays on the market. That makes for a full image that packs more pixels than 4K and runs at 90Hz, so it'll take a serious gaming PC to power.
Other headsets, like the Oculus Go or the smartphone-based Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, support fewer degrees of freedom, only tracking the swivel and tilt of your head rather than following you as you move around. Other systems, like the HTC Five and Valve Index, require you to place a few base stations around the room to track your movements.
The bestir headsets usually require a wire connected to your PC, while standalone solutions allow you to roam freely. Being wired up isn’t the worst thing in the world by any means, especially if you’re only going to play in one room anyway, and you'll see the best resolution and image quality possible.
With a headset and motion tracking, VR lets you look around a virtual space as if you're actually there, or play a game like you're really in it. It's been gaining traction in recent years thanks to some very compelling games and experiences, though it still seems very much in a state of flux, with headsets coming and going fairly rapidly.
Oculus is focusing its efforts on a standalone VR headset, the Quest 2, but providing the option to use it as tethered to a PC with a cable. The cable makes them a bit unwieldy, but putting all the actual video processing in a box you don't need to directly strap to your face means your VR experience can be a lot more complex.
Either external sensors or outward-facing cameras on the headset provide full 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) movement tracking for both your head and your hands thanks to motion-sensing controllers. The least expensive tethered options are currently around $400, and that's before you address the processing issue; the Five Cosmos and Valve Index need pretty powerful PCs to run, while the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4.
Standalone headsets offer the greatest physical freedom by completely removing the cables and not requiring any external device to handle processing. It doesn't have the same processing power that a separate, dedicated gaming computer, but its high-end mobile processor can still push some pretty detailed, smooth graphics.
It's bowing out of the dedicated tethered VR headset, though, discontinuing the Rift S in favor of focusing entirely on the standalone Quest 2. This doesn't mean you can't enjoy PC VR on the company's new headset; you'll just need to get an accessory cable for it.
There are some excellent games on PS VR like Moss, Red Infinite, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Five Nights at Freddie's: Help Wanted. The Five Cosmos works with Steamer just like the Oculus Quest 2, and has its own VR software store in the form of Viewport.
Those are hard prices to swallow, even if the Index sports a notably higher 120Hz refresh rate than most of its competitors (with an experimental 144Hz mode), and the controllers feature an advanced grip system for more natural, precise interaction. Also, the Windows Mixed Reality store doesn't have as many compelling VR experiences as the Rift and Steamer stores, though you can use Steamer games on Windows Mixed Reality headsets, again with some software wrestling.
You might have seen some other famous visual headsets pop up over the last few years, including the Microsoft Holocene and the Magic Leap One. Basically, these AR headsets have transparent lenses that let you look at your surroundings instead of completely replacing your vision with a computer-generated image.
You can make a web browser pop up in the middle of a room, for instance, or watch animals run around your coffee table. That brings us to the second biggest reason the Holocene and Magic Leap One aren't on this list: They aren't consumer products.
Both devices are purely intended as development hardware, so AR software can be made for their platforms. Considering each headset costs several thousand dollars, you shouldn't expect a large library of AR experiences for a while.
Outside specific enterprise and education uses, AR headsets are an early adopter playground at best, and not for most users. With that in mind, we'll continue to track the best new VR headsets here as they are released, so make sure to check back soon for updates.