What’s The Best Virtual Reality Headset

VR may still be seen as a niche gaming hobby, but that might be changing fast. You’re best off spending as little as you can right now. The several-years-old Meta Quest 2, a self-contained headset that’s now back to $300, is still the best and most affordable option for most people, but the upcoming Meta Quest 3 could be worth waiting for. The Quest 3 is expected to have color cameras, a better processor and a smaller design. At this point in the year you might want to hold off for it to arrive, most likely this fall.

Sony’s $550 PlayStation VR 2, which was released earlier this year, delivers a great console VR experience for PlayStation 5 owners and includes eye tracking like Apple’s Vision Pro, but isn’t wireless and is still a relatively expensive accessory (it costs more than the PS5 itself). Still, it’s our second favorite VR headset available right now. But it’s possible Sony could offer a holiday bundle later this year, if you’re patient.

Meanwhile, Apple’s newly announced (and $3,499) Vision Pro headset – a self-contained, standalone VR/AR device that Apple is positioning as a full spatial computer – isn’t arriving until 2024, but it stands as the highest-priced and highest-resolution experience on the horizon. Based on an early first demo, the hardware definitely impresses, but the software remains more of an unknown. At this point, Apple’s device is very much a wait-and-see product, although its ability to run all sorts of iPad apps and have multiple 3D apps open at once could make it a unique option for someone with a giant wallet.

The Vision Pro isn’t the only mixed reality VR headset out there: Expect more in this category, which blends VR with video of your surroundings using color passthrough cameras that feels almost like augmented reality. Apple’s technology already looks to be the best, but the $1,000 Meta Quest Pro also has color cameras and eye tracking, although its passthrough cameras are far lower-res than the Vision Pro. And Meta’s less expensive upcoming Quest 3 promises to handle mixed reality even better, with added depth sensors. The $1,100 HTC Vive XR Elite is a similar type of product that’s even smaller, but doesn’t have included eye tracking and software that didn’t feel perfected when we tried one.

The cost of a new VR headset is going up these days, clearly. If price is your biggest concern, the Quest 2 still offers the best value in VR: a completely wireless experience, with access to a great library of fantastic games. It can also be connected to a PC to play games, such as Half-Life: Alyx, or to run a variety of PC VR applications. Meta keeps improving its software over time with added extras.

Anyone in the VR and AR industry who’s looking to explore next-gen face tracking or mixed reality ahead of the Vision Pro might consider the Quest Pro, but anyone else should wait for the Quest 3.

VR’s strongest applications tend to be gaming and fitness. For fitness, a standalone headset like the Quest 2 is practically mandatory, to avoid wire tangles and make sure you can move around.

The Quest 2 is still the best VR headset right now, but more headsets are already on their way.

Scott Stein/CNET

Qualcomm has been making headway on a wave of VR and AR headsets that plug right in to phones, but at the moment the software for these devices is a work in progress. Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro doesn’t work with iPhones yet, and is designed to be more of a home work device than something fully mobile.

Meanwhile, Samsung, Google and Qualcomm have announced a partnership for future products, suggesting a mixed-reality headset could be arriving in the next few years. If you want a phone-connected device, you probably should wait and see how Samsung and Google’s future products shake out.

If you’re a PC gamer, a PC-connected VR headset still offers the most versatile collection of software for an immersive VR experience, and it also lets you use that headset for creative and business tools. Note that a more powerful VR system will still be largely tethered to a desktop or laptop and may require external sensors. Valve hasn’t had any new VR hardware in a while, and it’ll be interesting to see if anything new gets announced anytime soon.

And what about console gaming? The aging original PlayStation VR still exists, but you’re better off getting the PSVR 2 if you have a PS5 and have the money to spend (and don’t mind a tethered cable).

We update this best VR headset list periodically, but note that prices are subject to change.

Also reviewed

How we test VR headsets

Even though mainstream VR headsets have been around for nearly a decade, the apps they run and the computers, phones and game consoles they work with keep changing. We run key apps and software on the headsets, using them mainly in standalone mode if they’re designed to be self-contained, or with a PC, game console or phone if they’re primarily meant as connected peripherals.

We use the headsets for a mix of work, gaming, fitness and creative uses, and stay attentive for where the headsets have pain points (moments of discomfort, feelings of disconnect, or sensations of nausea or distortion). Using technology like VR can often be a highly subjective experience, but by being attentive to details we find we can discover where each product is uniquely useful.

Comparison is also key: I’ve looked at pretty much every wearable AR and VR device of the last 15 years, and also covered a lot of the wearable tech, phone and computer landscape. How these devices work as game consoles, fitness devices, work accessories and social tools are all key areas. We also think about displays, audio, controllers and accommodations for eyeglasses.

VR headset FAQs

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