The best VR headsets of 2019

Getting into VR is spendy. Which headset is truly worth your hard-earned cash?

The best VR headset is the Oculus Quest. It offers the best balance of image quality, design, and value, in an incredibly accessible package. But if you’re a PC gamer or a mobile user, there are some other worthy options too.

Further reading

We’ve tested all the major VR headsets, evaluating them on performance, usability, and important features. Virtual reality may need more development before it goes truly mainstream, but the Oculus Quest is the most mainstream headset we’ve seen yet.

The best VR headsets at a glance

The best VR headset: Oculus Quest

oculus quest headset gets me into vr ces 2019 op  5

Why you should buy this: It’s the accessible, high-quality VR headset we’ve been waiting for.

Who’s it for: Just about anyone. High-end PC gamers may want to look elsewhere, though.

Why we picked the Oculus Quest:

One of the biggest hurdles for virtual reality adoption is ease of use. The Oculus Quest solves almost all of the problems we’ve faced getting people to buy their own VR headset. It doesn’t require any exterior sensors, it has the full six degree freedom-of-movement; it has motion controllers, it has all the on board processing it will ever need, and there are no wires tethering you to a PC. It’s almost perfect.

The Quest is also designed for easy set up. The boundary designation “Guardian” process is simple and intuitive and you’re immediately thrown into joyful scenarios involving batting away ping pong balls and grabbing blocks that help new users dive right into the virtual realm.

The Oculus Quest does have a couple of drawbacks, namely that it isn’t as powerful as PC-connected headset, and its exclusive use of headset tracking sensors (often called inside-out tracking) means that it can lose sight of your hands if you put them behind your back or lean in too close to something. But apart from what are rather niggly issues for the target audience for this headset, it’s easy to see why the Oculus Quest has become our favorite VR headset.

It’s affordable too. Although you can get a first-generation Oculus Rift for the same cost with all the power of a modern PC behind it, you don’t need to pay for a gaming PC with the Quest. That, combined with all of its innovations, makes it the best VR headset you can buy.

Read our Oculus Question review

The best VR headset for PC: HTC Vive

HTC VIVE

Why you should buy this: It’s the best all-round virtual reality system available for PCs.

Who’s it for: Anyone looking for a full VR experience without breaking the bank.

Why we picked the HTC Vive:

Even with the Vive Pro out there, HTC and Valve’s original virtual reality headset is still the most complete and approachable VR experience available on PC. It’s specifically built for room-scale experiences and its library of games is massive. Most importantly, it does it at an affordable price.

The twin OLED displays tout a combined pixel resolution of 2,160 x 1,200, with a 90Hz refresh rate and a 720p camera for tracking and obstacle detection. The headset also includes a pair of motion controllers, two lighthouse trackers, and a pair of earbuds.

The tracked space starts at 5 x 6.5 feet, and reaches 16 x 16 feet with the two bundled sensors. You can walk around freely in the space, and even crouch down and lean around corners for a closer look at what’s around you. It’s incredibly immersive, and it also sidesteps many of the issues early headsets had with motion sickness. The Vive’s motion controllers are incredibly intuitive as well, equipped with just a few buttons and powerful clicking touchpad that allows for precise movement and settings.

The recently announced Oculus Rift S offers the most competition to the reign of the Vive, but we won’t know for sure until we test the headset out ourselves.

Read our full HTC Vive review

The best cheap VR headset: Oculus Go

Oculus Go Review

Why you should buy this: It offers a solid entry-level virtual reality experience at a great price.

Who’s it for: New VR users who don’t want to be tethered to anything.

Why we picked the Oculus Go:

Most mobile virtual reality headsets need some form of smartphone of a specific brand, type, or size to act as screen and processor, but not the Oculus Go. It has all of that built-in and offers hours of completely untethered virtual reality for much less than the mainstream offerings on PC and console.

Its only real limitation is the three-degrees-of-freedom, which means it can’t track you moving forward and backwards or up and down. But it can track tilt and orientation, making it perfect for seated VR experiences and watching 360 degree video. It’s a comfortable fit and well designed, giving you a lot for your money. While there are better headsets out there (like the Lenovo Mirage Solo), none of them offer that sort of functionality for this sort of price.

The Oculus Go may have its limitations, but it gives users a streamlined virtual reality experience that acts as a great jumping off point for VR newcomers.

Read our full Oculus Go review

The best VR headset for iPhone: Merge VR

virtual reality on the cheap merge vr

Why you should buy this: It’s a simple, affordable starting point for mobile VR.

Who’s it for: Smartphone users who want to get an economical taste of what VR is like.

Why we picked the Merge VR:

Virtual reality is at its heart, a screen or pair of screens strapped a few inches from your eyes, so grabbing a headset that you can slip your smartphone into is a really easy and affordable way to give it a try. Merge VR is one of a number of companies that offer such a headset, but at this price and durable quality, there aren’t many that can compare.

Merge VR offers a headset that’s compatible with both iPhones and Android devices, supporting anything that measures between 123mm and 158mm. If you’re still unsure, you can always use VRTestNinja to find out.

It comes with its own headstrap, left and right button inputs, an adjustable IPD for the bundled lenses and a 96-degree field of view. Made from a flexible, rubberized material, Merge VR is also incredibly durable, water resistant, and can easily be cleaned with a damp cloth.

You’ll find far better VR experiences with the other headsets in this guide, but if you want to get a quick glimpse of the potential VR has, or just like watching 360 degree videos, the Merge VR headset is a great place to start.

The best VR headset for movies: HTC Vive Pro

HTC Vive Pro review
Why you should buy this: You have a powerful gaming PC, and you want the highest quality VR experience out there.

Who’s it for: Anyone who already has a powerful VR PC, and doesn’t mind spending an arm or a leg.

Why we picked the HTC Vive Pro

The Vive Pro is the best but priciest VR headset on the market. The headset alone costs $800, and if you need the controllers and sensors — which you will if you don’t already own an HTC Vive — you’re looking well over $1,000 all-in. For that money you do get an exceptional VR experience, though.

The Vive Pro improves on the original Vive in almost every area. It’s more comfortable, it’s better balanced, but most importantly, it features two high-resolution displays that deliver much greater detail with a drastically reduced screen-door effect.

The original Vive features two 1,080 × 1,200 displays — one for each eye — for a max resolution of 2,160 × 1,200. The Vive Pro ramps up the resolution to a whopping 2,880 × 1,600 — or 1,440 × 1,600 per eye. Increasing resolution has the same effect as increasing the resolution for any PC game. Graphics look sharper and cleaner. The resolution bump also extends the effective visual range of the headset.

As we mention in the review, the Vive Pro is the best VR headset on the market right now, but its pricing knocks it down a peg because the new features the Vive Pro offers don’t quite make up for the increased cost.

Read our full HTC Vive Pro review

Research and buying tips

Which VR headset has the best resolution?

Of the VR headsets on our list above, the HTC Vive Pro and Oculus Quest are both tied for the highest resolution, at 1,440 x 1,600 pixels per eye. However, there are alternative options out there that are comparable, like the Valve Index. Some headsets offer even greater resolutions too, like the Pimax 5K Plus, which has a super-high resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 per eye.

Is VR bad for your eyes?

In theory, it shouldn’t be. Virtual reality headsets allow your eyes to focus on an imaginary distant horizon, letting them remain in a far more relaxed state than they would if you were looking at a 2D monitor a few feet from your face. That said, VR headsets have been known to cause eye strain for some and some users have experienced headaches after long use.

Almost all VR headsets also have a minimum age of 13 over concerns that repeated use could harm eye development.

The truth is, that virtual reality headsets haven’t been a consumer device for long enough for anyone to know if there are any long-term health implications. We’d recommend not using one for more than an hour or two at a time, just to play safe.

Is HTC Vive better than Oculus Rift?

Both headsets and the motion controllers they support are pretty comparable on paper and their prices aren’t too distinct. If we had to pick one, though, we’d choose the HTC Vive, due to its superior tracking technology which provides better support for roomscale experiences.

What phones work with VR headsets?

It depends on the headset. Some, like Samsung’s Gear VR, are only designed to work with Samsung phones. Others, like Merge VR work with anything as long as it can fit. Make sure to check the specifications of any headset you plan to buy to make sure your phone is supported.

Will VR ever get cheaper?

It already has and will continue to do so as the technology improves. The original HTC Vive launched in 2016 with a price of $800 and can now be had for just $500. The Oculus Quest is the best VR headset on our list, and it’s only $400 for the base model. There are other decent headsets available for just $200. Prices will come down in the years to come.

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