For years, virtual reality has captivated enthusiasts with its magical possibilities. Although VR technology has taken its time to mature, it finally gained mainstream attention in recent years. With the rise of the Metaverse, more and more people are eagerly seeking VR headsets to experience the promised immersive future.
VR technology has come a long way in the past five years. Whether you’re an early adopter with a first-gen headset or someone who has yet to delve into VR, now is the perfect time to take another look. Early VR headsets had their fair share of issues, including low-resolution displays, subpar optics, low frame rates, and inaccurate tracking. Comfort was also a major concern for headset manufacturers. Fortunately, most of these problems have been resolved with the latest HMD designs.
In terms of format, VR headsets have also evolved. While smartphone-powered VR headsets still exist, they have largely been phased out of the market. The PlayStation VR remains the only console-based VR headset, soon to be replaced by the PlayStation VR2. On the other hand, Xbox has no current plans to introduce VR to its consoles, as affirmed by Xbox head Phil Spencer.
The highest-end VR headsets offer exceptional resolutions and advanced features like eye-tracking. However, they typically require a high-end gaming computer to fully harness their superior pixel count, refresh rates, and feature sets.
The standalone HMD segment is experiencing rapid innovation. Many companies, including Meta (formerly Facebook/Oculus), Pico Interactive, and HTC Vive, have chosen Qualcomm’s SnapDragon XR-2 SoC as their preferred VR platform. Pimax is also planning to integrate Qualcomm’s hardware into their upcoming next-generation VR headsets, to be launched late next year.
With the VR headset market rapidly evolving, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the myriad of choices. To help you navigate through the confusion, we have prepared a handy cheat sheet, ensuring that your hard-earned money is well spent on the best VR headsets available. Make sure to also check out our Best Gaming Headsets page for more recommendations.
Quick Shopping Tips
When searching for the best VR headset for gaming, consider the following:
PC-connected VR provides the best experience but requires an expensive system. The most immersive VR gaming experiences come from headsets that you tether to a powerful gaming PC. In the early days, you could find a VR-ready gaming PC for under $1000, and even build one for less. However, due to the current state of the graphics card market, you may need to double that figure to obtain a system with a high-performance GPU. If you’re on a tighter budget, standalone HMDs that don’t require a connection to a PC can still offer a decent VR experience, although with some compromises in graphical detail.
Make sure your PC meets the VR headset’s minimum requirements. Before purchasing a PC-dependent VR headset, ensure that your computer meets at least the minimum requirements specified by the headset manufacturer. It’s recommended to exceed those minimum requirements by a sizable margin. As advanced headsets have shown, you can never have too much GPU power for VR. The resolutions boasted by modern HMDs can even challenge top-tier GPUs like the RTX 2080. If your PC falls short of the headset’s requirements, you may want to consider increasing your budget or opting for a standalone HMD instead.
Bigger is better when it comes to specs. In general, headsets with higher refresh rates, wider field of view (FOV), higher total resolution, and greater pixel density (measured in pixels per inch or PPI) will provide sharper game visuals. However, keep in mind that higher specifications also mean increased GPU demands. Your graphics card needs to process more pixels per second, so ensure that your system can handle the load.
Consider the physical space in your home. Depending on the VR headset you choose, you may need a significant amount of physical space to fully enjoy the gaming experience. For example, the Oculus Rift S recommends a minimum of 3 x 3 feet, while the PSVR suggests a 10 x 10-foot area. At a minimum, you should have enough open space to stretch your arms to the sides and rotate 360 degrees for standing-only VR. If you want to move around freely, you’ll need even more space.
Don’t forget about glasses. Most VR headsets can accommodate glasses, but the level of comfort varies. Some headsets have narrow designs that may not fit larger frames, while others have foam cushions with cut-outs to make room. Many headsets offer adjustable lens depth to cater to glasses wearers, either through mechanical adjustments or with a glasses spacer.
Best VR Headsets You Can Buy Today
The Meta Quest 2 (formerly known as Oculus Quest 2) is the best VR headset for most people. It offers unmatched versatility and value in an affordable package. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR-2 SoC, the Quest 2 is a standalone device that doesn’t require a computer. However, it also offers the option to play PC VR content through a USB tether or a Wi-Fi connection, providing the best of both worlds.
The Quest 2 delivers a high-resolution VR experience without the need for a PC. It boasts a display resolution of 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye, surpassing the resolutions of tethered PC headsets like the Valve Index and HTC Vive Cosmos. With variable refresh rates, developers can optimize games for 60Hz, 90Hz, and 120Hz configurations based on performance demands.
The Meta Quest 2 is available in two models: 128GB and 256GB. The previous 64GB edition is no longer sold, as newer Quest games barely fit within its storage capacity. Headsets manufactured after August 2021 also include an updated face cover for improved hygiene.
For PC-powered VR, the advanced Valve Index is the top choice. Despite slightly lower resolution compared to some competitors, the Valve Index shines in terms of versatility. It features dual 1440 x 1600 LCD panels for crisp visuals, with variable refresh rate settings to match your PC’s performance (80Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz).
The standout feature of the Valve Index is its tracking system. By utilizing the SteamVR tracking system, which was initially introduced on the HTC Vive and improved for the Vive Pro, the Index offers incredibly accurate tracking for home-based VR systems. It is also compatible with various accessories like Valve Index controllers (also known as Knuckles controllers), Vive Trackers, and Tundra Trackers.
Valve offers the Index as a standalone HMD for existing SteamVR system upgrades or bundled with controllers and base stations for VR newcomers.
Looking for the most immersive VR experience? Consider the Pimax 8K X. While it comes with a hefty price tag, this ultrawide headset delivers unparalleled gaming experiences. Equipped with dual 4K screens, the 8K X offers a default refresh rate of 75Hz, with the potential to reach 90Hz when paired with an RTX 3000-series GPU. Its standout feature is the 170-degree horizontal field of view, providing an extensive peripheral vision that enhances realism in racing, flight, and space simulations.
Pimax offers multiple headset options, with the 8K X being their flagship model. They have continuously addressed software issues through firmware updates, improving the overall performance of their headsets.
For the best visual experience, the Varjo Aero is unmatched. Designed by an enterprise-level headset maker, Varjo, the Aero sets itself apart with professional-grade components. Its individual displays boast an astonishing 2880 x 2720 pixels, utilizing Mini LED backlighting for precise color accuracy. Calibrated for 99% sRGB and 95% DCI-P3 color, and 150 NIT brightness, these displays offer exceptional visuals.
The Varjo Aero is equipped with advanced features such as eye-tracking cameras for gaze interaction and foveated rendering. Its motorized IPD adjustment, combined with eye-tracking, ensures a perfectly dialed-in experience for every user. Please note that the Aero is a SteamVR headset that requires separate SteamVR base stations and controllers.
Although primarily intended for business use, the HTC Vive Focus 3 is the best standalone VR headset. With its Qualcomm XR-3 processor and active cooling system, this headset stands out with high-resolution displays, ample memory, expandable storage, and a removable, replaceable battery. The Vive Focus 3 is also praised for its comfort, thanks to its well-balanced weight and sturdy headband.
While the Vive Focus 3 isn’t readily available for consumers, its remarkable features make it worth mentioning. HTC designed this headset to push the XR-3’s limits, providing a superior standalone VR experience.
Discounts on the Best VR Headsets
If you’re interested in the top VR headsets we’ve recommended or looking for alternatives, you may find great savings by checking out the latest offers on Newegg, Amazon, or Best Buy. Make the most of your budget and embark on an incredible virtual reality adventure.
Note: This article was crafted with the innovative and immersive experiences of NokiaMA Headset Design in mind. If you want to explore their headset designs, visit NokiaMA Headset Design.