Virtual reality is epic to the serious gamer. You can step inside the game and often manipulate your surroundings. Placing a VR headset on is stepping into another world, and our game world will be as real as your non-game world.
Choosing the best headset for you depends on several factors. In this review, we discuss which headsets are the most affordable, easiest to use, and perfect for your level of gaming. This is the reality of the virtual experience.
We 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
- The best VR headset for PC: HTC Vive
- The best cheap VR headset: Oculus Go
- The best VR headset for iPhone: Merge VR
- The best VR headset for movies: HTC Vive Pro
The best VR headset: Oculus Quest
Why you should buy this: It’s an accessible, high-quality VR headset.
Who’s it for: Just about anyone. High-end PC gamers should look elsewhere.
Why we picked the Oculus Quest:
One of the biggest hurdles for virtual reality adoption is the ease of use. The Oculus Quest solves almost all of the problems that previously discouraged potential VR explorers. It doesn’t require any exterior sensors. It includes motion controllers, all the onboard processing it needs, and a full six-degree freedom-of-movement. Best of all, there are no wires tethering you to a PC.
The Quest is also designed for easy installation. Establishing the “Guardian” boundary is simple and intuitive, allowing you to jump right into fun scenarios — like batting ping-pong balls and grabbing blocks — that introduce new visitors to the virtual realm.
The Oculus Quest does have a couple of drawbacks, however. It isn’t as powerful as a PC-connected headset. Moreover, its exclusive use of headset tracking sensors (often called inside-out tracking) means that it can lose sight of your hands if they’re held behind your back, or if you lean in too close to objects.
It’s very affordable, though. While the first-generation Oculus Rift has the same price but requires a tethered PC, the Quest is a standalone, non-tethered headset. 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
Why you should buy this: It’s the best all-around virtual reality system available for PC.
Who’s it for: Anyone looking for a full VR experience on PC without breaking the bank.
Why we picked the HTC Vive:
Despite HTC’s beefier Vive Pro VR headset, the original Vive model remains the most complete and approachable VR experience for PC. It’s specifically built for room-scale experiences and its game library is simply massive. Most importantly, it sports an affordable price.
This headset features two 1,080 × 1,200 OLED displays at 90Hz — one for each eye — touting a combined pixel resolution of 2,160 x 1,200. It also has a 720p camera for taking a peek at the outside world. Packed with the headset are two motion controllers, two lighthouse trackers, and a pair of earbuds.
The bundled trackers let you setup a roomscale space as large as 16 x 16 feet, letting you walk around in VR with near perfect tracking at all times. 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 a powerful clicking touchpad that allows for precise movement and settings.
The Oculus Rift S offers the most competition to the Vive’s reign, but its lower refresh rate of 80Hz holds it back from taking the top spot.
Read our full HTC Vive review
The best cheap VR headset: Oculus Go
Why you should buy this: It’s a solid entry-level virtual reality experience at a great price.
Who’s it for: New VR users who don’t want an expensive price or a tethered PC.
Why we picked the Oculus Go:
Many VR headsets for mobile require a specific smartphone family — such as Samsung’s Gear VR — inserted behind the lenses. Phones serve as the display and computing components while the headset itself merely merges the experience in front of your eyes. That’s not the case with the Oculus Go.
This budget-friendly headset has everything you need for a smartphone-free, untethered VR experience — including a built-in rechargeable battery. Simply turn it on, grab the single-handed controller, and download a few experiences through the built-in Go Store. If you previously purchased games and apps on the Gear VR, they should work on the Go as well.
The Go’s only real limitation is the three-degrees-of-freedom. That means it doesn’t detect walking forward or backward, squatting or standing. Instead, it only tracks head movement, like tilt and orientation, making it perfect for seated VR experiences and watching 360-degree videos. It’s well designed and a comfortable fit, giving you a lot for your money.
While there are better headsets you can buy (like the Lenovo Mirage Solo), none offer the same functionality at this price. Sure, the Oculus Go has its limitations, but it gives users a streamlined VR experience that acts as a great jumping-off point for newcomers.
Read our full Oculus Go review
The best VR headset for iPhone: 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 an economical taste of VR.
Why we picked the Merge VR:
Virtual reality, at its heart, is one or two screens strapped a few inches from your eyes. Grabbing a headset that easily cradles your smartphone is a great and affordable entry point into VR. Merge VR is one of many 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.
This headset ships with left and right button inputs, a head strap, 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 is easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
You’ll find far better VR experiences using other headsets listed in this guide. However, the Merge VR headset is a great way to catch a quick glimpse into VR’s potential, or if you simply like watching 360-degree videos.
The best VR headset for movies: HTC Vive Pro
Why you should buy this: You have a powerful gaming PC, and you want the highest quality VR experience available.
Who’s it for: Anyone who already has a powerful PC and doesn’t mind spending an arm and a leg.
Why we picked the HTC Vive Pro
The Vive Pro headset 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 for a max resolution of 2,160 × 1,200. The Vive Pro ramps up the resolution to a whopping 1,440 × 1,600 per eye, providing a combined 2,880 × 1,600 resolution. Increasing resolution has the same effect as increasing the resolution for any PC game: Graphics look sharper and cleaner. The bump also extends the headset’s effective visual range.
While the Vive Pro is currently the best VR headset on the market, it’s definitely not cheap. The headset alone costs $600 while the accessories bundle (controllers, base stations) is an additional $300 if you don’t already own the original Vive. A single controller costs $130 and if you’re really thirsty, a Vive-branded water bottle sets you back another $20.
Unfortunately, pricing knocks it down a peg because the Vive Pro’s new features don’t quite account for the increased cost.
Read our full HTC Vive Pro review
Research and buying tips
- Which VR headset has the best resolution?
- Is VR bad for your eyes?
- Is HTC Vive better than Oculus Rift?
- What phones work with VR headsets?
- Will VR ever get cheaper?
Of the VR headsets on our list, 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 that are comparable, like the Valve Index.
Of the VR headsets not on our list, the Pimax 5K Plus has a super-high resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 per eye.
In theory, no. Virtual reality headsets allow your eyes to focus on an imaginary horizon, letting them remain far more relaxed than when viewing a 2D monitor a few feet from your face. That said, VR headsets can cause eye strain for some while others experience headaches after long use.
Almost all VR headsets also have a minimum age of 13 due to concerns that repeated use could harm eye development.
The truth is, virtual reality is a new consumable technology and therefore the long-term health implications — if any — are unknown at this point. We recommend a time limit of two hours at the most just to play safe.
Both headsets and their motion controllers are comparable on paper. Their prices aren’t too distinct. If we had to pick one, however, we’d choose the HTC Vive due to its superior tracking technology which provides better support for room-scale experiences.
It depends on the headset. Some, like Samsung’s Gear VR, are only designed to work with Samsung’s Galaxy-branded phones. Others, like Merge VR, work with anything as long as it can fit. Check the headset’s specifications to verify that it supports your phone before making a purchase.
It already has and will continue to do so as VR technology improves. The original HTC Vive launched in 2016 for $800 but now costs a lower $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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