Want to get into VR but not sure which headset is right for you? Here’s our guide for the best VR headset, with different options breaking down the pros and cons of the Oculus Quest 2, HP Reverb G2, PlayStation VR and the Valve Index.
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Best VR Headset: Standalone vs Tethered
If you’re completely unfamiliar with VR, you may want to start with our VR FAQ. Provided you know the basics, headsets can be broken down into two large categories — standalone headsets and tethered headsets.
Standalone headsets work right out of the box — everything you need is included and these headsets have their own content ecosystem delivered directly the device itself, a bit like a phone app store or a console’s games store. For a lot of people, this will make these types of devices the best VR headset.
They’re completely wireless, and have the benefit of being an all-in-one solution that is easier to set up and completely portable. All of the components are in the headset itself, so the trade-off is that they do tend to be a bit heavier and less comfortable than other options, but there are ways of mitigating this. Oculus Quest 2 is the highest-selling standalone headset at the time of this writing.
Tethered headsets require another piece of equipment to be attached to them at all times to operate, which is usually a wire running to a PC or a console. These headsets do not come with everything you need in the box — they all require a separate gaming PC or console to connect to, which runs the content and sends it to the headset. No content is stored on the headset — everything is downloaded, stored and run from your computer or console. This means you can get better-looking experiences than what’s possible on standalone, but the wire will be a problem for some.
Tethered headsets can be lighter, because they don’t have as many components in the device itself, but they end up costing more in total dollars when you factor in the cost of the gaming PC or console it connects to. PC VR headsets like Valve Index and HP Reverb G2 are tethered to a compatible PC, and the PlayStation VR headset is tethered to a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5 console.
Oculus Quest 2 — Best VR Headset Overall & Best for Newcomers
The Quest 2 is one of the most versatile headsets available on the market.
For $299, you get a full standalone headset that requires no other equipment, with a selection of some of the best experiences and games on any platform. However, the big trade-off is that you need to log in to a Facebook account to even use the headset. If you’re an existing Oculus user, you’ll need to merge your Oculus and Facebook accounts together — all your content, and your access to the headset, will be dependent on your Facebook account. If you want to get rid of your account for reasons outside of VR, all of your content will go with it.
If you’re ok with that though, then the Quest 2 has some huge benefits. You can take it anywhere, use it anywhere and let anyone else try the headset in a matter of seconds. The Quest 2 provides the least friction of any headset available at the moment.
Most experiences on Quest 2 use the two Touch controllers, pictured below, which come included. However, you also have the option to use controller-free hand tracking, which uses the Quest’s cameras to track the position of your hands and display them in VR, allowing you to interact with VR content with your own two hands. If you’re interested, check out this list of our favorite hand tracking experiences available on Quest.
All Quest 2 base models, available for $299, now come with 128GB of storage as of mid-2021 — an upgrade over the original Quest 2 base model which shipped for the same price with just 64GB of storage. This is a pretty significant upgrade, considering that big Quest games like Medal of Honor and Resident Evil 4 VR will take up 40-45GB and 10-12GB, respectively.
But that’s not all – if you do have a VR-ready PC, the Quest 2 can be connected as a PC VR headset too, allowing you to enjoy PC VR content streamed from your computer to the headset. This can be done through Oculus Link, which uses a USB C cord that connects your PC to your Quest, or through Air Link, a wireless solution that streams the content from your VR-ready PC to your Quest over your local network, provided your router can handle it. The Quest offers the best of both worlds. Read more about how to play PC VR content using Link and Air Link on Quest 2 here.
Because Quest 2 is a standalone headset, all of the components are in the headset itself. This makes the headset front-heavy and not super ideal for long play sessions. That being said, we’ve found that the optional Elite Strap offers the best and most comfortable experience over the standard strap included. If you have the money to shell out for the strap, we highly recommend it.
Providing you’re ok with signing into Facebook, the Quest 2 is our choice for the overall best VR headset for most consumers, especially those who are just dipping their toes into VR. It’s the cheapest option that offers a premier standalone experience, with the option to branch out into PC VR content as well.
Valve Index — Best PC VR Headset, Most Immersive Headset
While the Index is our pick for best PC VR headset, it does come with some big disclaimers and things you should be aware of before buying.
The Valve Index is Valve’s first VR headset (the original HTC Vive was a collaboration between Valve and HTC) and offers what many consider to be a premier PC VR experience for a very high price – $1,000 for the full kit plus the PC to run it.
The Index offers a series of fine adjustments to the HMD’s optics that allows it to maximize its field of view as well as a new type of controller that straps to the hand and allows full release. The FOV and the refresh rate on the Index beat out all other headsets on this list, however in 2020 the screen resolution falls behind the Quest 2 and the Reverb G2. It uses lighthouse sensors for outside-in tracking and all-around offers one of the best VR headset experiences – if you can afford it.
The full Valve Index kit, including the headset, the two controllers and the two lighthouse sensors, costs $1,000. That’s a gigantic increase over other options. The lighthouse tracking system also needs to be set up in one spot and kept there, which limits portability. PC VR headsets that use inside out tracking are only limited by the requirement to be connected to a PC. With the Index, you’re also limited to one play area, as the tracking system requires a relatively large amount effort to take down and set up again.
You can read our full Index review for more information, however keep in mind that a lot has changed since that review, and more options, such as the Quest 2 above and the Reverb G2 below, did not exist at the time of writing. Valve Index may no longer have the top of the line specifications, but it’s still worth your consideration.
HP Reverb G2 — Best Visuals, Best For Simulators
Like the Index, the Reverb G2 is a tethered PC VR headset that finds itself in a tricky situation. At $600, it’s more expensive than a $300 Quest 2 (which can work as a PC VR option) and less expensive than the $1000 Index. While it has some serious benefits over both of those headsets, it also has some big drawbacks too.
At its core, the G2 is a great PC VR headset with bad controllers, particularly when it comes to controller tracking.
The headset has the best screen on the market right now, with higher resolutions than both the Quest 2 and the Index. In terms of visuals, it’s best in class. It also has great off-ear speakers (the same ones found in the Index, as the G2 is a collaboration between HP and Valve).
However, the controllers and their somewhat unreliable tracking really lets the headset down. The G2 sports redesigned WMR controllers, but they’re not as reliable or consistent as what you’ll get with other systems. It uses inside out tracking with four cameras (two more than the original Reverb), which is pretty reliable when the controllers are used directly in front of headset, in clear view of the cameras. When you move them to a position slightly out of view, such as by your waist or close to the headset, you’ll see the headset struggle to maintain consistent controller tracking.
This might be a deal-breaker for some people. For others, it might not matter. The high visual fidelity in Reverb G2 is perfect for simulators, especially ones where you’ll be using external peripherals and not the Windows MR controllers that come with the headset.
However, if you’re looking for a full VR experience to play the best PC VR games for the first time, then the controller inconsistencies will probably be more of an issue. Technically, the Reverb G2 is the best consumer VR headset, but it’s also proof that the headset itself isn’t the only important part of a VR setup.
PlayStation VR — Best Games Library
When it comes to a library of VR games, PlayStation VR is the clear winner, even if the device itself is far from the best VR headset. It has a bunch of fantastic exclusives on the system, such as Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Wipeout Omega Collection, Iron Man VR, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Firewall: Zero Hour, Dreams, Blood & Truth and many more.
PSVR is still a tethered headset, but instead of a PC it connects to your PS4 or PS5. And while it does have the best exclusive games, the PSVR hardware is already quite dated. Compared to every other headset on this list, PSVR is the oldest and the furthest behind in terms of technology. While you’re buying into a fantastic games ecosystem, you’ll be playing those games on a headset that has a much older screen with a much lower resolution than other options, plus an outdated and clunky tracking system.
The tracking system uses a PlayStation camera sitting below or above your TV, and is simply not up to par with other more modern tracking systems. It still works, but it’s definitely showing its age in 2020. The headset has a screen that feels woefully old in VR years, and so PSVR won’t offer the same graphic fidelity in games on other VR systems (even when playing on PS5, which does provide some visual enhancements for select games).
The bottom line is that PSVR is at the ends of its lifecycle. It was originally released for PS4, and is still compatible with PS5 through backwards compatibility, but Sony has confirmed that a next-generation VR headset for PS5 is on the way. It’s not a matter of if, but when. UploadVR even exclusively revealed the specs of the new headset in May, confirming an increase in resolution, inside-out tracking and much more.
So while we don’t have a release date for Sony’s next headset (except that it won’t arrive in 2021), we do know it exists and will release in the future. If you don’t already own a PS4 or PS5 (or even if you do), another headset might be a better (and cheaper) option right now if you want to future-proof your VR experience.
The PlayStastion VR Iron Man Bundle (which comes with the headset, the camera, the camera adapter for PS5, two Move controllers and a copy of Iron Man VR, but does not include a PlayStation console) is available on Amazon for $349.
Which headset are you interested in? What do you think is the best VR headset? Let us know in the comments below and make sure to follow us on YouTube for all the latest coverage.
Looking for more guides like this one? Check out the New to VR? section of our site.
This article was originally published in November 2020, updated in January 2021 and again in October 2021.