With the launch of the Oculus Quest 2 and Valve's Half-Life: Alyx, 2020 was a great year for VR gaming, but 2021 has been promising for the medium too, which makes now as good a time as any to shop for the best VR headset. With the announcement of Resident Evil 4 in VR, the Quest 2 continues to hold down the fort as the best VR headset out there, capable of both wireless gaming and wired PC VR--and with Oculus Air Link, you can connect to your PC wirelessly as well. Of course, there are a lot of different VR headsets out there, and the Quest 2 might not be right for everyone. It's not quite as easy as picking a random headset and entering virtual reality.
Note: Earlier this year, the Quest 2 was temporarily unavailable for purchase while Facebook addressed reports of skin irritation from the headset. The Quest 2 recently relaunched with a new 128GB model alongside the 256GB model. So now you're getting twice the storage as the previous base model for the same price.
Finding the best VR headset for you
The first thing that's important to know before buying a VR headset is that some VR games are exclusive to specific headsets. Oculus and PlayStation VR both have their own storefronts that offer unique games, unavailable to HTC, Valve, and other companies' headsets. Of course, you can still get an impressive experience with the Valve Index or HTC Vive line of headsets, especially considering the great library of VR games on Steam. Each VR headset has its advantages and unique qualities, such as high resolutions, AMOLED displays, and built-in speakers.
The Oculus Quest 2 is a powerful mobile VR headset that gives you great experiences without connecting to a PC--no sensors required. The Valve Index requires you to connect to a PC and use sensors, but it also provides the most high-end VR experience available today. And of course, there's PlayStation VR, which has the benefit of being compatible with Sony's first-party lineup of VR games. Each headset has its unique features and benefits, so you'll need to decide which one is the best for you, based on your price range.
The best VR headset for 2021
Whether you're looking for a VR headset you can play anywhere (and want something better than Gear VR), a high-end headset for the most immersive experience and motion controls on your gaming PC, or something in between, there are plenty of VR goggles to choose from. While the early days of VR gaming made us choose between the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Gear VR, more companies have entered the space. Valve stepped out on its own with the Index, Samsung created a Windows Mixed Reality headset with the Samsung HMD Odyssey+, and Sony released its PlayStation VR, which has proved fairly popular among PS4 players and will be compatible with PS5. Check out some of our top picks for 2021 below.
- Completely wireless VR experience
- Capable of wired connection for PC VR
- Easy to set up and use
- Experimental features tease exciting future
- Larger Touch controllers
- More comfortable strap and face shield
- Affordable price for VR
- Requires Facebook account
The Oculus Quest 1 is a fantastic VR headset that shows you don't need a gaming PC for compelling VR experiences--and thanks to Oculus Link, you can still connect to a gaming PC and enjoy everything PC VR offers as well. Now, Facebook has improved on the original standalone headset design in some great ways, making the Oculus Quest 2 the definitive version of the company's VR headset. Unfortunately, you do have to log into a Facebook account to use it.
In addition to an increased resolution of 1832x1920 per eye, Oculus plans to implement 90Hz support for games in the near future--at launch, you'll be able to interact with system software like the Home hub and Browser in 90Hz as an experimental feature. You also get a headset equipped with a faster Qualcom Snapdragon XR2 processor and 6GB of RAM, up from 4GB. The new fast-switch LCD displays may not be OLED, but they still look fantastic once you've adjusted the comfortable new backpack-like strap and selected one of three interpupillary distance settings--I felt that my IPD was slightly off at first, and while your experience may still vary, I was able to solve my issue after adjusting the headset and strap.
The Oculus Quest 2 is an improvement on the original in almost every way, but if you're upgrading from the Quest 1, you may not be as blown away by the newer Oculus VR machine. That speaks to the quality of the Quest 1 more than anything, as it's still an excellent headset that won't leave its owners feeling left out. The Quest 2 is more of a smart iteration on the original than a true next-gen VR headset. There are also a lot of great games coming to the Quest platform, all of which will be compatible with both headsets, and the Quest 1 will receive continued support for the foreseeable future.
After "relaunching" following a brief hiatus due to some users experiencing skin irritation, the Oculus Quest 2 is available again in 128GB ($300) and 256GB models ($400).
See our Oculus Quest 2 review for more.
- Sensor-free, inside-out tracking
- Access to Oculus's store and exclusive games
- No wireless option
- Feels slightly unnecessary next to the Quest
The Oculus Rift S is the company's PC-powered headset, which means it lacks the versatility of a standalone VR headset like the Quest. However, you still don't need to worry about sensors. Oculus has gone all-in on inside-out tracking, so all of its headsets are free to roam any space that has enough room--or that the Rift S's cable is long enough to reach.
The Rift S comes with its own Touch controller set and has access to the Oculus Store's VR apps, in addition to any other compatible game or app from any storefront on PC. This includes the vast majority of SteamVR games. The resolution comes in at 2560x1440 with a refresh rate of 80Hz.
The big question is, why would you go with the Rift S if the Quest can connect to a PC, do everything the Rift S can, and also live as a standalone headset? Well, the main reason is that the Quest's Oculus Link is still in beta and, while impressive, is not always the most stable experience, especially if you step outside of the Oculus ecosystem of apps. If you want a perfectly stable PC VR experience right now and access to the Oculus Store's apps, then the Oculus Rift S is one of the best VR systems you can get.
- Up to 144Hz refresh rate
- Widest field of view
- Compatible with Vive controllers and base stations
- Includes free copy of Half-Life: Alyx
In terms of pure technical prowess, the Valve Index is without a doubt the best gamer-oriented VR headset on the market. It doesn't increase the resolution past 2880x1600 on its LCD display, but the Index nails VR where it's most important: refresh rate and field of view. Boasting a max 144Hz refresh rate and a field of view of 130-degrees, it makes for the best, smoothest-feeling experience in virtual reality. With the higher field of view, you can see more of the game at any one time, as opposed to the relative tunnel vision found in other headsets. An Index and a good gaming PC will provide the optimal VR experience, assuming you're okay with a few wires and spending big on a PC gaming rig and the tethered headset experience.
Another key aspect of the device is its unique motion controller, which features individual finger tracking and is a step up from something like the Oculus Touch. There aren't a lot of applications for this yet, but finger-tracking is a great way to make your virtual reality experience more immersive--games like Boneworks use it well. And while it's absolutely usable in seated or stationary settings, it excels most with room-scale VR. Thus, gamers without a lot of space may find it hard to push the Index to its full potential.
The Valve Index also needs to be powered by a PC with a wired connection. At the moment, there is no option for wireless use, as the Vive Wireless Adapter--made for HTC's Vive headsets--is incompatible. However, the Valve Index is compatible with the HTC Vive's controllers and base stations, so Valve offers the Index headset on its own and in a kit. Additionally, the Valve Index's controllers and base stations are compatible with HTC's Vive headsets.
The Valve Index VR kit comes with the headset, controllers, a powerful pair of built-in speakers that make it easy to enter the virtual world without totally disconnecting from the real one, and base stations. Every purchase of the Index kit, headset, and controllers also comes with a complimentary copy of Half-Life: Alyx on Steam, letting you continue the story of that character right away.
- Beautiful AMOLED high-resolution display
- Capable of wireless VR with separate adapter
- Compatible with Valve Index controllers
The successor to the original HTC Vive, the HTC Vive Pro is another high-end VR headset, and while the Valve Index features a higher refresh rate and wider field of view, the Vive Pro boasts something no other headset does: an AMOLED display. This means you'll see brighter colours and better contrast than the Valve Index. The Vive Pro is more expensive than the Valve Index, so you'll need to decide if that outweighs the Index's high refresh rate and 130-degrees field of view.
One thing that's great about the Vive Pro is that the Index's unique hand controllers will work with it (and the original Vive), so you don't have to drop the cash to upgrade to the full Index kit--you can simply spend $279 to get the Index controllers. And if you want to go wire-free, HTC does feature a capable wireless adapter--though it is sold separately for $300. That said, the regular Vive controller set is still solid.
Every purchase of a new HTC Vive series headset comes with a six-month subscription to Viveport Infinity, which is a service that gives users access to a library of VR games and apps. Being able to test a bunch of different VR headset experiences before making any purchases is extremely valuable, especially if you're new to the technology. For example, it can be difficult to know how you'll be able to handle certain games and different types of locomotion.
- Sensor-free, inside-out tracking
- Capable of wireless VR with separate adapter
- Headset flips up for easy removal
- Removable faceplate allows for mods...
- ...but there's only one mod for external tracking
- Very expensive
The Vive Cosmos is HTC's answer to Oculus's line of VR headsets. Like the Quest and Rift S, it utilizes inside-out tracking, which means no sensors are necessary. However, it does feature greater specs than the Rift S, boasting a 2880x1700 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate--for reference, the Rift S features a 2560x1440 resolution and 80Hz refresh rate.
Another thing the Vive Cosmos has on the Rift S is its modular capability. Its front face-plate can be removed and replaced with different mods, though there is only one announced at this time: the External Tracking Faceplate, which lets you use the Vive's controllers and base stations with your Cosmos. And like the Vive Pro, the Cosmos can also make use of HTC's wireless adapter.
One of the greatest conveniences with this Vive VR device is the ability to flip the head-mounted display upward, freeing your view for the real world. VR can be an isolating experience, so being able to easily flip it up when your smartphone starts ringing or someone knocks on your door is a feature that's easy to appreciate.
Unfortunately, the Cosmos comes at a much higher price than its closest competition, the Oculus Rift S. The Cosmos costs $699, $300 more than the Rift S's $399 price tag. That price includes a six-month subscription to Viveport Infinity.
- Sensor-free, inside-out tracking
- Beautiful AMOLED display
- Often discounted
- Can be uncomfortable to wear, especially for long sessions
- Only recommendable when on sale
Windows Mixed Reality combines virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into one headset, though the vast majority of its applications are in VR. The best of the mixed reality headsets (which also includes devices like the Microsoft Hololens) is definitely the Samsung HMD Odyssey+, however.
The Samsung HMD Odyssey+ features dual AMOLED displays, which produce vibrant colours. Additionally, it boasts a combined resolution of 2880x1600, 110-degree field of view, and refresh rate of up to 90Hz (which is a lower Hz refresh rate than other wired headsets). Like the Rift S and Cosmos, it utilizes sensor-free, inside-out tracking and must be powered by a PC. It's compatible with the vast majority of SteamVR games, in addition to Microsoft's own Windows Mixed Reality software.
Unfortunately, it's not the most comfortable to wear, and the headset and motion controllers don't feel as well-made as, say, the HTC Vive VR headsets. It's a hard sell at the regular price, especially when the Oculus Rift S and Quest (64GB) can be picked up for cheaper. Thankfully, Samsung's HMD Odyssey+ is regularly discounted. We've seen it for as low as $230, which is an excellent deal for what you get. If your heart is set on the HMD Odyssey+ and you're patient, then it's worth picking up at that lower price.
- Great library of exclusive games
- Extremely comfortable
- Compatible with all PlayStation Cameras and PS5
- Low resolution and pixel density causes screen-door effect
- Tracking can be non-responsive at times
The PlayStation VR headset is compatible with the PS4 as well as backwards-compatible PS4 games on PS5, though Sony has also confirmed that a next-gen PSVR headset specifically for PS5 is in development.
As of now, PlayStation VR is the lowest-end headset in terms of specs: 1920x1080 combined resolution, 90-120Hz refresh rate, and a 100-degree field of view. The low resolution and pixel density cause a significant screen-door effect--you see the black space between each pixel. It makes it look like you're viewing the game through a screen door. This can be frustrating for experienced VR users, but with no other VR headset on the PS4, it's an issue you just have to deal with. But where PSVR falls short in its specs, it makes up for in its exclusive games. These titles feature some of the best experiences in VR and are well worth playing if you own Sony's VR headset. The PlayStation Move controllers are required for some games--like Farpoint and Concrete Genie--but there are plenty of great titles that use the DualShock 4, including Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Unfortunately, PSVR is the only platform on this list that isn't compatible with Valve's Half-Life: Alyx, one of the best VR games in recent memory.
The PSVR requires the PlayStation Camera for tracking, but thankfully it's included with the headset in most bundles. And if you already own a PlayStation Camera for the PS4, then you're ready to go no matter which version of it you have. The tracking isn't up to par with PC VR options, especially when turning your face away from the camera, though it does work fine for most gaming. Thankfully, wearing the headset is extremely comfortable, which makes longer sessions much more manageable.
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