Virtual reality is a fascinating way to travel using nothing more than the power of technology. With a headset and motion tracking, VR lets you look around a virtual space as if you’re actually there, or play a game as though you’re really in it. It’s been gaining traction in recent years thanks to compelling games and experiences, though it still seems very much in a state of flux, with headsets coming and going fairly rapidly. We’re tracking the best vr headsets of what’s currently on the market here.
Choosing the best VR headset for your needs can prove difficult. There are VR headset options for PCs and phones, as well as standalone options that put everything you need right on your head.
This makes selecting the best VR headset for you a case of figuring out what device you want to use the headset for and what type of VR experience you wish to have.
There are myriad VR headsets available these days, and they’re paired with increasingly impressive gaming titles. Luckily for you, we’ve gotten the chance to test out some of the best ones. From standalone goggles to full-room immersion, the limits of your imagination have never been more limitless.
5 Best VR Headsets of 2021:
The Oculus Quest 2 both improves on the specs sheet of the original Quest and delivers it for cheaper. With a new LCD at 1832 x 1920 per eye, the Quest 2 offers exceptional clarity for an entry-level headset, through which you can enjoy a slew of games either purpose built for the standalone headset, and thus rendered by the onboard Snapdragon XR2 chip, or beamed from your PC using Oculus Link and a compatible USB Type-C cable.
Thanks to Oculus Link, the Quest 2 becomes more than a standalone VR headset. It becomes an all-in-one VR Swiss army knife, capable of great on-the-move VR and gaming across SteamVR and Oculus Rift compatible titles. It’s now capable of up to 90Hz refresh rate, thanks to a recent update, making it all that much a sweeter deal. There’s even chatter on the airwaves about a possible 120Hz update, but we’ll have to wait and see.
It’s also one of the quickest headsets to setup on this list. With Inside-Out tracking and hand tracking built-in, you can go from unboxing to up-and-running in VR in just a couple of minutes.
There’s only one hitch in the Oculus Quest 2’s plan for virtual world domination: compulsory Facebook account login. The Oculus Quest 2 requires a Facebook account login. Not great. If you’re not a fan of Facebook’s practices then you’d best scroll further down the list for a VR headset worth investing in, starting with Gabe’s superb…
- Superb resolution
- Improved graphics
- Great price
- A single AA battery goes a long way
- Easy setup and tethering
- Mandatory Facebook login
- Strap requires a lot of fiddling to sit correctly
The original Oculus Rift was one of the best VR headsets around for connecting to a PC and enjoying immersive gaming. The Oculus RIft S builds upon that. The headset itself is a lot sleeker than before and it now has a 1280 x 1440 resolution display with a fast 80Hz refresh rate. And it’s rather light as well, which makes it ideal for long sessions of VR gaming, whether you’re sitting at your desk or enjoying VR in a larger space. It also has a rather neat feature in the form of speakers that are integrated in the headband, avoids the need to use the original Rift’s onboard headphones;the audio results are fairly impressive.
Thanks to Oculus Insight tracking tech, the Oculus Rift S can deliver room-scale VR without the need to place external sensors around the place. And it comes with the impressive Touch Controllers that nearly track movements and help make VR feel a lot more kinetic and immersive.
And the Oculus Rift S comes with an impressive library of games all on the Oculus Store, with notable highlights including Beat Saber, Superhot, Job Simulator. Overall, the Oculus Rift S is the best VR headset for folks looking for a PC-based system that plays a huge library of great games for a decent price.
- Built-in room tracking
- Great game library
- Included touch controllers
- Not a huge upgrade over original Oculus Rift
- PC required
After partnering with HTC to help build two previous VR headsets, gaming giant Valve has ventured directly into its own hardware, producing the first VR headset under its own brand, the Valve Index — the best VR headset in its class in terms of raw specs and features. First, you’re getting a display that offers an unprecedented field of view, thanks to a new dial on the front that allows you to move the lenses right up to your eyes, thereby improving your peripheral vision.
While the 1440×1600-pixel displays are only LCD, rather than OLED, we suspect this is a deliberate design choice on Valve’s part, since LCD pixels are subtler and minimize the screen door effect — something that would otherwise be a glaring problem when the lenses are crammed up to your eyeballs. The Index starts at 120Hz but also features an “experimental” 144Hz mode. At any rate, the net gain is not only a gorgeous and immersive VR experience but the ability to game for longer without concern for eye fatigue.
Two base stations provide a 10×10 gaming field, although these are only modest improvements over the HTC Vive versions, with which the Index is also compatible. The two controllers that come with the Valve Index are also a huge step forward, offering the ability to track each of your fingers individually, and even the difference between simply closing your hand or squeezing it. That said, you’ll still need a fairly powerful PC with a decent GeForce or Radeon GPU, but no more than any other premium VR headset. After extensive testing, Emily heaped praise on the Index, largely for its superwide, crisp display.
- Minimal screen door effect
- Up to 144Hz
- Individual finger tracking
- Requires a beefy GPU
Because this is the PlayStation VR, you should expect gaming to be at the forefront of the experience. Over the years, Sony has developed a pedigree for great exclusive VR games like Iron Man VR. PSVR has tons of exclusives, including big names like Blood & Truth, Resident Evil VII, and Astro Bot: Robo Rescue, to name a few.
The PSVR sports a crisp 1080p display that runs at an impressive 120hz, allowing you to play with some of the absolute smoothest visuals on the market. Like most console experiences, the PSVR is plug-and-play. The initial wiring might seem a bit complicated at first, but Sony has done a great job of labeling everything you’ll need to plug-in.
What’s more, the headset itself is adjustable and super comfortable, with padded eye sockets that even allow those who wear glasses to play for long periods. The OLED display delivers the vibrant, beautiful colors that you’d expect from your PS4 games, and the included earbuds are a great way to hear what’s happening in 3D space.
The headset is wired, and while most games do a great job of keeping you from getting tangled up, it does present some limitations that totally wireless headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 don’t have. Sony’s controllers also don’t have any joysticks or touchpads on them, which can limit movement in some games.
- Beautiful OLED display
- 120Hz refresh rate
- Lots of exclusive games and experiences
- Unique gun controller for shooter games
- Works on PS4 and PS5
- Wires can be tricky to avoid
- Controllers can limit movement
- Doesn’t support full roomscale VR
5. HTC Vive
Following in the footsteps of the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive showed what game company Valve could do when working in partnership with a tech company. The result was a stellar VR headset that delivered a virtual reality experience that really had you moving around rather than sitting in one place and looking around. Valve’s Lightroom technology allows you to map out a space that you will walk, crawl or tiptoe through, depending on the game, while Chaperone ensures you don’t walk into a wall or trip over a beloved pet.
The controls are a high-point too, at the time offering a more revolutionary feeling of being able to literally reach out and grab something, albeit by pulling a trigger than gripping with your hands. The virtual experience is still pretty awe-inspiring, despite other VR headset catching up with the HTC Vive.
The only thing to bear in mind here is that it requires external tracking sensors, a powerful PC to run, and a good degree of set up and space. So for people in small apartments it might not be the best VR headset for them.
- Smooth graphics with little latency
- Touch controllers are easy to use and highly adaptable
- Large game library
- Requires a lot of space and electrical outlets to use
- No built-in audio
VR Headsets Buying Guide
Virtual reality is here to stay, and the impressive variety of virtual reality headsets on the market means that it isn’t just for hardcore gamers with money to burn anymore. You’ve probably at least heard of the big players, including Facebook’s Oculus, HTC’s Vive, and maybe Valve’s Index, but dozens of others have their own take on the technology, including mobile virtual reality headsets that are designed to work with your smartphone.
If you’ve never tried virtual reality before, it’s worth giving the technology a shot at least once. Some people experience uncomfortable motion sickness, but the technology is game-changing for just about everyone else. The combination of a stereoscopic display and motion tracking combine to help transport you into a virtual world in a way that you’ve never experienced before.
How We Tested
As VR has matured, we’ve continued to test new models against old favorites. In an initial round of testing in 2016, we set up and tested the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and then had four VR beginners (with gaming experience levels ranging from zero to expert) use each system too. In 2018, we tested the standalone Oculus Go and the Lenovo Mirage Solo against mobile VR headsets. We also tested the Vive Pro against the Rift. In 2019, we added the Oculus Quest to our testing lineup and pitted the Rift against the Rift S. We tested the Oculus Quest 2 and Vive Cosmos Elite in 2020.
Though we used to have separate picks for PC, standalone, and mobile VR headsets, we’ve grown convinced over the years that cordless headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 are the best option for anyone looking for their first headset. As a result, while we continue to test and discuss the latest PC-connected and mobile headsets, we no longer recommend them for most people.
Before buying a VR headset, consider these tips:
- If you’re showing virtual reality to a friend or loved one, give them plenty of physical space if it’s their first time. Most first-time users move around quite a bit as they get used to VR, so keep anything fragile out of their path.
- Most VR headsets include one or more hand-held controllers for navigating virtual environments. Before starting a VR session, learn what each button on the controller does.
- Virtual reality sickness can be very real: some people get symptoms of motion sickness while using VR headsets, even when there is no motion. If you experience any of these symptoms while using a VR headset, discontinue use immediately and consult a physician.
- Some wireless VR headset phone units are meant to work only with specific smartphone models. Before buying a wireless VR headset, confirm that your phone is supported.
- If your headset has any padding or soft surfaces, periodically clean or deodorize the soft parts to keep them smelling fresh.
- Most VR headsets don’t come with protective cases. Pick up a case for all of your VR gear to keep your investment safe, and ensure enjoyment for years to come.
If you want the best VR experience currently available, an incredible balance of visual quality, extra features, and library size, pull the trigger on the Valve Index. For an affordable, completely standalone headset, the Oculus Go is perfect for those who crave a VR experience without the clutter and cables.