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The cheapest VR headsets for Half-Life: Alyx

It’s not Half-Life 3, but Half-Life: Alyx is the closest we’ll get. Breaking a nearly decadelong hiatus from game development, Half-Life: Alyx is a return to form for multibillion-dollar company that runs Steam.

Valve had a good reason to return, too. Not only does Alyx revitalize a series that fans have been waiting on for more than a decade, but it also offers a great excuse to buy into Valve’s high-end Index VR headset. One thousand dollars is what you’ll need to get started from scratch, and even if you have some old HTC Vive sensors kicking around, you’ll still need to spend $750 for Valve’s headset and fancy finger-tracking controllers (plus wait around two months for a unit to ship).

You don’t need a high-end HTC Vive or Valve Index to get started in Half-Life: Alyx, though. New options from Oculus are making VR cheaper than ever, and there are still plenty of support Windows Mixed Reality options on the secondhand market. We’ve rounded up five cheap VR headsets that work with Half-Life: Alyx so you can step into the shoes of Alyx Vance without emptying your wallet.

Further reading

Half-Life: Alyx system requirements

For this guide, we’re assuming your PC meets the minimum specs for Half-Life: Alyx. To refresh your memory, here’s what you’ll need:

  • OS: Windows 10
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-7500/AMD Ryzen 5 1600 or better
  • RAM: 12GB
  • GPU: GTX 1060/RX 580 or better — 6GB of VRAM

In addition to the specs above, you’ll need 67GB of free space to install the game. Valve only released minimum specs for Half-Life: Alyx, so although the hardware listed above will run the game, it may not run it optimally.

Ideally, you’ll want a more recent processor, such as the i5-10600K or Ryzen 5 3600X, and a more recent GPU. Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Super and AMD’s 5700 XT — two of the best graphics cards on the market —  should be plenty, though the more recent RTX 3080 and RX 6800 XT will perform better.

As well as a fairly new PC, you’ll need an Oculus, HTC, or Windows Mixed Reality headset.

HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset (around $200)

HP mixed reality headset

If you’re currently rocking a PSVR headset and enjoy its binocular-style design with a single halo strap clutching your skull, the HP Windows Mixed Reality headset might be a solid starting point. This relatively inexpensive headset comes in at around $200 for the full set on the secondhand market. With inside-out tracking and a pair of motion controllers that look like the original HTC wand and Oculus Touch controllers had a baby, we’re confident you’ll get a solid experience out of this muted piece of kit. Inside-out tracking means you won’t have to mess around with external tracking sensors — no more routing wires around the walls, then.

At 1440 x 1440 resolution per eye and a 90Hz refresh rate, this HP mixed reality headset had everything it needed to be a real contender in the VR arms race. Even now it has plenty of features top-tier headsets market themselves around, making it a brilliant option for getting into the VR game.

You’ll have to buy one secondhand, however. HP has moved on to bigger and better VR headsets, and the remaining stock of this mixed reality headset is dwindling. If you can find one new, you’ll likely need to spend $400 or more, and there are better options at that price.

Acer Mixed Reality Headset (around $220)

Acer mixed reality headset

Acer’s own Mixed Reality Headset looks like the second coming of the Nintendo Virtual Boy — which VR sort of is, really. Outside of toy-like design, the Acer Mixed Reality Headset is strikingly similar to HP’s own, making it a toss-up over which one to buy.

You will find the same resolution screen per eye as the competition, the same controllers, inside-out tracker, the flip-up visor motion, and a single head strap with rear adjustment dial. All we can say here is that unless you think someone will burst into your VR space and laugh at your headset’s Tonka design, get whichever is cheaper. You’ll have the same experience.

You will also find the same price and stock offerings for Acer’s headset. The few new models we could find near $500, while pre-owned units run for between $200 and $220. Like the HP before, this headset is really only a good deal at around $200. If your budget is higher, we recommend picking up one of the newer headsets from Oculus.

Oculus Rift S (around $400)

The Oculus Rift S is actually the VR headset we’d recommend in general for Half-Life: Alyx, not just for budget players. At $400, it’s undoubtedly in a different price tier than many of the pre-owned Mixed Reality headsets. However, Oculus is still selling the Rift S, so you can pick up a unit brand new, and it’s worlds ahead of any of the WMR offerings available.

The display clocks in at 1440p, with a 1280 x 1440 resolution in each eye. It has a slightly lower refresh rate than many of the WMR options at only 80Hz, though a much wider 115-degree field of view, as well as Oculus’ 2nd-gen hybrid Fresnel lenses, leading to fewer god rays and a reduction in the screen door effect.

Unlike the Oculus Rift, the Rift S doesn’t require any external sensors. The inside-out tracking on the headset is some of the best available, and although a dedicated tracking setup with something like the Valve Index is ideal, the Rift S’ inside-out tracking does a great job. Plus, it comes with fewer wires (you don’t want to trip when a headcrap is jumping on your face).

Oculus Quest 2 (around $300, plus $80)

The Oculus Quest 2 is a look into the future of VR, allowing users to experience virtual reality free of cables and without a PC. It’s just a look right now, however. The Quest 2 is an impressive piece of kit, but it can only run certain, very basic games wirelessly. For Beat Saber and Superhot, you can jump into VR whenever and wherever. For Half-Life: Alyx, you’ll need an Oculus Link cable.

At $80, the Oculus Link cable certainly bloats the price of the Quest 2 as a platform for Half-Life: Alyx. The Link cable allows you to connect your headset to your PC via a USB 3.2 Gen 1 port on your computer (USB-C). Any USB-C port will work on your computer, but newer standards have more bandwidth, which is the limiting factor with this type of setup.

You’re actually getting a slightly higher resolution on the Quest 2 than the Rift S with an 1832 x 1920 resolution for each eye, though you get a slightly slower refresh rate of 72Hz. At this price tier, the Quest 2 and Rift S are essentially equal. If you just need VR for Half-Life: Alyx and plan to only play on PC, go with the Rift S. However, if you want to dive into some simpler VR games, such as Beat Saber, the Quest 2 with a Link cable is a compelling offer.

Dell Visor (around $200)

Dell Visor mixed reality headset

If The Jetsons influenced your vision of the future, the Dell Visor might match your idea of a world where virtual reality is a clear possibility.

Yet another case for the burst Windows Mixed Reality bubble, Dell’s entry into VR can be had for around half the price of Oculus’ current flagship device. The key is knowing where to find it. We found that eBay and Mercari are your best bet. Similar to the rest, the Dell Visor featured inside-out tracking to make setup quick and easy. You get those all-too-familiar motion controllers, the flip-up visor design to quickly pull yourself out of the scary digital world, and a halo-style strap with ample padding.

Different from the other WMR headsets we’ve listed, you can find the Dell Visor new. Clearance units are priced around $300, which is adequate. Though we’d recommend the Oculus Quest 2 with a cable if you’re going to pay that much. The secondhand market is a bit chaotic. As of late 2020, we found pre-owned units for as low as $140 and as high as $400, the bulk were around $200 to $250.

Nowadays, it is common to wonder why every major name in the PC business put out the same headset with a different shell. If it’s still not making sense, the secret to getting into Half-Life: Alyx for as cheap as possible is to take your time to find the best deal on just about any Windows Mixed Reality headset. You will still need a relatively new PC built with gaming in mind to power it, but if you already have one sitting on your desk, the VR barrier truly starts to look like your average racing wheel or Xbox One Elite controller. While it is expensive, it will prove useful for far more than just Half-Life: Alyx after the fact.

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