It’s finally happened. The Half-Life franchise is being revived. It isn’t the Half-Life 3 or Episode 3 players have been seeing in the stars for over a decade now, but it’s the first time Valve has released a title in the era-defining franchise since the launch of the original Portal.
So what’s the catch? Well, Half-Life: Alyx, as it’s known, is a virtual reality-only game, sending those who doubted VR’s longevity without a killer app into an angry tirade. It’s almost as if Valve is calling back to the days when Half-Life 2 demanded a top-tier rig to run. But you don’t need a luxury VR headset to run Half-Life: Alyx. Almost any will do. But you will still need a PC that meets the game’s minimum requirements.
There are far more VR headsets available on PC than just the HTC Vive, Valve Index, and Oculus Rift, and the Windows Mixed Reality platform’s failure to catch on has caused these once expensive third-party headsets to come crashing down in price. The timing couldn’t be better. Assuming you don’t want to experience a return to Half-Life with Valve’s fancy finger controllers, here are some of the cheapest VR headsets you can buy for Half-Life: Alyx.
1. HP Windows 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. 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 1,440 x 1,440 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.
2. 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.
3. Oculus Rift CV1
Originally releasing without any motion controller to speak of and for an eye-watering price, the original Oculus Rift (ignoring the dev kits) is still a solid purchase if you’re looking to get into VR on a tighter budget. The standard Oculus Rift package now comes with the titular headset, its then-revolutionary Touch controllers, a bonus sensor for messing around with room-scale VR setups. The original Rift has plenty of cables coming from it, making the setup process quite a bit more involved than newer headsets on the market, but it will get the job done given enough time.
You’re not going to be blown away by the OLED screen on this thing due to the distracting smearing the panel technology introduces. And light refraction from its lenses can irk those sensitive to visual anomalies, but the original Rift is still a powerful and convincing step into VR today. If you’d rather pony up the extra cash for a device with the Oculus software backing it up but can’t stretch a little further to the Rift S or Quest, the original Oculus Rift can be picked up for a price that should make VR a little softer on the old wallet.
4. Dell Visor
If your vision of the future was influenced by The Jetsons, the Dell Visor may 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 Oculus’ current flagship device — if you know where to look. Like the rest of them, the Dell Visor featured inside-out tracking to make setup a breeze. 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.
At this point, it’s enough to wonder why every major name in the PC business put out the same headset with a different shell. If the idea wasn’t clear enough already, the secret to getting into Half-Life: Alyx for as cheap as possible is to shop around the internet looking for the best deal you can find on just about any Windows Mixed Reality headset. You’ll still need a PC built with gaming in mind from the last few years to power it, but if you already have one sitting on your desk, the VR barrier really starts to just look like your average racing wheel or Xbox One Elite controller. Is it expensive? Yes. But you can use it for far more than just Half-Life: Alyx after the fact.
5. Oculus Quest
While far beyond the cheapest way into Half-Life: Alyx, the new Oculus Quest has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Oculus Quest racks up a $400 price tag, curiously landing it at the same price as the Oculus Rift S — the company’s supposed flagship device. The original selling point of the Oculus Quest was that it could offer VR experiences on the go thanks to its built-in Snapdragon 835 SoC, making it a truly stand-alone (and wireless) VR experience. Of course, that meant the Oculus Quest was limited to running games essentially built for Android, relying on VR developers to port their experiences over to the platform.
All that changed recently, however, as Oculus announced Oculus Link, allowing the Quest to run PC-based VR titles by tethering to a capable system through a USB-C cable. Again, it’s no cheaper than getting a brand-new Rift S, and you’ll be dropping that 90Hz sweet spot down to 72Hz, but if you need time to save for VR-capable PC, the Oculus Quest’s built-in hardware can give you a taste of popular VR titles like Beat Saber long before Valve decides to deliver their long-awaited killer VR app. It’s also set to get hand tracking through a 2020 update. No other headset has that right now.
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