The best VR headsets offer an immersive experience that effectively blurs the line between real life and simulated reality, allowing wearers to occupy computer-generated spaces and interact with media in a variety of new and unique ways. Thanks to their ability to model three-dimensional environments, virtual reality headsets are the perfect companion tool for gaming, entertainment, and productivity, and they even show promise as a medical tool for correcting certain vision problems.
For most users, buying the best VR headset initially comes down to whether you plan to use it as a standalone device or as a PC-connected peripheral. Most modern VR headsets are primed for gaming and entertainment right out of the box, but there consists a wide spectrum of visual fidelity, user-friendliness, and ergonomics that factors greatly into overall cost. In this article, we’ll cover the best VR headsets for gaming, entertainment, PC use, and console gaming, and we’ll also cover a few things to consider before taking the incredible plunge into virtual reality.
How We Picked the Best VR Headsets
We narrowed down our list of the best VR headsets for the most common use scenarios by comparing specs and using a few key criteria to make our ultimate selections.
Price: VR headsets are expensive pieces of tech, and while this list definitely reflects that reality, we took care to represent a wide price range to make sure that there’s a good option for everyone from the most casual user to the uncompromising techie.
Brand: There are very few big players in the niche VR headset market at the moment, and many of them are even collaborating on development and designing similar products side-by-side. All of the brands on this list — Valve, Oculus, HP, HTC, and Sony — are longstanding tech companies with a record of innovation.
Visual Fidelity: A VR headset is only as good as its visual performance, and we took care to limit this list to headsets with resolutions of at least 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye (with the exception of the Sony Playstation VR) and refresh rates of 90Hz. Anything less than this can negatively impact immersion and lead to a less-than-impressive VR experience.
Compatibility: In an effort to represent options for the widest number of users, we made sure to include PC-compatible, console-compatible, and standalone-functioning VR headsets on this list. The Oculus Quest 2 is both compatible with PC and functional as a standalone unit.
Related: Go deep with the best VR games.
The Best VR Headsets: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Valve Index
Why It Made The Cut: The Valve Index offers a perfect balance of comfort, performance, and value that makes it one of the most well-rounded VR experiences available today.
— Resolution: 1440 x 1600 per eye
— Maximum Refresh Rate: 144Hz
— Field of View: 130 degrees
— Offers highest refresh rate on the market
— Unique controller design for best-in-class immersion
— Integrated audio sits away from ears to mitigate overheating
— Complex assembly and setup requirements
— Lacks wireless support
— Narrow focus “sweet spot” requires precise adjustment to get right
Whether judged as a full system or by its individual components, the Valve Index has a combination of flexibility, design, and value that make it an equally appealing VR option for both casual and frequent users alike. The Index features an incredibly comfortable headset that boasts best-in-class specs like a wide 130-degree field of view for unmatched visual immersion and a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz that helps gamers stay competitive while greatly reducing the risk of developing motion sickness during use. It also sounds fantastic thanks to its crystal-clear built-in microphone and two swiveling open-back earpieces that sit away from users’ ears to minimize overheating without sacrificing low-end bass response.
Perhaps the most intriguing and unique piece of the Valve Index ecosystem is its controller, which features a capacitive touch bar and adjustable straps that allow users to register individual finger gestures, perform fine motions, and even open their palms completely without dropping the controller. This results in a very high level of tactile immersion that can’t be matched by other systems; in fact, it’s not uncommon for other VR headsets to offer compatibility with Valve Index controllers for this reason.
Because the Valve Index uses an “outside-in” design that relies on external tracking sensors, it does require a fair bit of time and effort to set up. It offers no wireless operation either, so adequate space and safe cable management practices are a must for getting the most out of the system. The headset also has a relatively narrow “sweet spot” when it comes to calibration and focus adjustment, which can add to the setup time. If you prefer the portability and simplicity of a wireless system you should look to the Oculus Quest 2 or the HTC Vive Pro 2 with a wireless adapter.
Best for PC: HP Reverb G2
Why It Made The Cut: The HP Reverb G2 requires little setup and can be upgraded with Valve controllers, making it a great choice for flexibility.
— Resolution: 2160 x 2160 per eye
— Refresh Rate: 90Hz
— Field of View: 114 degrees
— Developed alongside and shares design features with the Valve Index
— Easy-to-find visual “sweet spot” with little adjustment required
— No beacons required; four headset cameras for improved tracking
— Lacks eye relief adjustment
— Inconsistent controller tracking depending on distance from headset
— Below-average field of view
The HP Reverb G2 is a great VR headset option for general PC use thanks to being easy to set up and highly expandable. It has a generous 2160 x 2160 per eye resolution and a 90Hz refresh rate that make it suitable for use in productivity, entertainment, and all but the most intensely competitive gaming. As an “inside-out” design, the Reverb G2 requires no external tracking beacons, relying instead on its array of four built-in headset cameras to detect head and controller orientation. This makes it a particularly convenient option for users who require access to high-resolution VR in a portable package yet don’t want to constantly tear down and set up tracking beacons.
Because it was developed in collaboration with Valve and Microsoft, the HP Reverb G2 also boasts an edge over the competition in both design and compatibility. It’s the first Windows Mixed Reality-compatible headset to feature four tracking cameras, making it the most responsive option for that ecosystem to date. The Reverb G2 is also fully compatible with Valve’s Index controllers, which allows users to expand their system at will for even better immersion. Out of the box, the Reverb G2 occupies a sweet spot between value and versatility; its camera-only tracking design offers simple plug-and-play functionality, but it doesn’t perform as well as beacon systems when it comes to accuracy. It also doesn’t require any eye relief adjustment thanks to its large visual sweet spot, but that comes at a sacrifice in field of view size. Still, thanks to its great visual specs and compatibility with Valve controllers, the HP Reverb G2 is a solid mid-tier choice for just about anything you throw at it.
Best High Resolution: HTC Vive Pro 2
Why It Made The Cut: The Vive Pro 2 features the highest resolution currently available on the VR headset market, allowing it to deliver crisp and clear visuals with very little artifacting.
— Resolution: 2448 x 2448 per eye
— Maximum Refresh Rate: 120Hz
— Field of View: 120 degrees
— Incredibly sharp and detailed 5K display
— Compatibility with Steam VR peripherals
— New square lenses for higher FOV than previous generation
— Subpar microphone sound and performance
— Includes previous-generation controllers that feel outdated
— One of the most expensive options on the market
If you’re looking for the absolute best in visual fidelity from your VR headset with plenty of room to upgrade, look no further than the Vive Pro 2 from HTC. The headset features a maximum refresh rate of 120 Hz and boasts an astoundingly high 5K resolution that delivers incredibly crisp and detailed imagery without the common “screen-door” effect that can often break immersion in lower-resolution headsets. This second-generation model also has a higher field of view than the original Vive Pro thanks to the implementation of a new square lens design. The Vive Pro 2 is available as a full system or as a standalone headset, the latter of which is fully compatible with Valve’s Index controllers and base stations as well as both generations of HTC’s base stations. This makes it a great upgrade for users who want to push past the resolution of their existing HTC or Valve VR setup without purchasing an entirely new bundle of equipment.
The most obvious drawback of the Vive Pro 2 is its price point, with a headset that alone costs nearly as much as the Valve Index’s entire bundle. It also doesn’t include its compatible wireless adapter, which will set you back even further should you want access to the headset’s wireless capability. Apart from that, other smaller quirks to keep in mind include the Vive Pro 2’s rather low-fidelity microphone that falls far below the caliber of the headset’s visuals, and its continued packaging with the original controllers from the first-generation Vive, which haven’t been refreshed since 2016. The headset’s compatibility with Valve’s superior controllers remedies this, but that’s just another example of why the Vive Pro 2 is best suited for users who are willing to put in time, effort, and money for a premium experience.
Best for Playstation: Sony Playstation VR
Why It Made The Cut: Despite lacking the resolution and tracking quality of newer VR headsets, Sony’s Playstation VR system offers solid value and access to an exclusive library of games.
— Resolution: 960 x 1080 per eye
— Maximum Refresh Rate: 120Hz
— Field of View: 100 degrees
— Library includes desirable, high-quality game exclusives
— Only option for VR in the console market
— High refresh rate limits likelihood of motion sickness
— Introduced in 2016 and due for an upgrade
— Requires extra adapters for PS5 connectivity
— Limited to PS4 game versions, even on new consoles
Recently, Sony announced that Playstation VR will be seeing a next-generation update for the PS5 sometime in the near future, which is great news for a system that has remained unchanged since its introduction in 2016. In the meantime, last-generation’s Playstation VR is still a solid choice for console gamers looking to take the plunge into virtual reality. Playstation VR also remains the sole option on the market for VR gaming on consoles at this time, and because it allows users to play Sony’s roster of exclusive games at a price that matches our budget pick, it’s incredibly hard to beat in the value department.
Due to its last-gen status, the Playstation VR does bear a few design limitations. The headset itself has a relatively paltry 960 x 1080 resolution per eye that’s a fraction of what can be found on similarly-priced headsets, but this is offset somewhat by the headset’s competitive 120Hz refresh rate that keeps visuals running smoothly. It’s also fully backwards-compatible with PS5, but it requires an adapter that users can request from Sony at no cost. Perhaps most disappointingly, Playstation VR limits users to playing older PS4 versions of games, even on PS5. If you’re willing to look past these signs of the system’s age, it’s still a great value and an unmatched option for immersive console gaming while you’re waiting for the new Playstation VR2 to drop.
Best VR Headset: Oculus Quest 2
Why It Made The Cut: The Oculus Quest 2 is a feature-rich and easy-to-use VR headset with an incredibly low price point, making it a fantastic introduction to the world of virtual reality.
— Resolution: 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye
— Refresh Rate: 90Hz
— Field of View: 90 degrees
— Fully standalone wireless design for easy setup
— 50 percent more pixels than previous generation
— Offers wired compatibility for use with PC setups
— Requires a Facebook account and consent to data collection
— Internal smartphone processor offers lower visual fidelity than PC
— Low field of view compared to other headsets
The Oculus Quest 2 is an incredibly robust VR headset that’s surprisingly affordable and capable of standalone use without a PC or external tracking sensors, making it a good choice for anyone looking to step into the world of VR without breaking the bank. The second-generation Quest includes two controllers and a headset with an impressive display resolution 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye, a 50 percent increase over that of its predecessor. While its budget design limits the Quest 2 to a max refresh rate of 90Hz and a rather small 90-degree field of view, the unit shines thanks to its overall user-friendliness and access to a sizable library of content via the Oculus Quest Store.
Being a Facebook-developed product, the Oculus Quest 2 requires users to log into a Facebook account and consent to data collection before using the headset. Doing so doesn’t take much effort and can help developers improve the product, but this fact may turn off users who have privacy concerns or who don’t use Facebook at all. It should also be noted that the headset’s 90-degree field of view and beacon-less tracking aren’t quite up to speed with more expensive options, and this can adversely affect immersion in some cases. Finally, the Oculus Quest 2’s ability to run in standalone mode is incredibly convenient and unique, but it can only run for about two to three hours on a full charge.
Things to Consider Before Buying a VR Headset
Standalone v. Portable
Most VR headsets only provide the visual and motion tracking elements of the virtual reality experience while relying on the graphics processing of an external device, like a PC or a gaming console. If you require your VR headset to operate independently, you’ll need to go with something like the Oculus Quest 2, which uses its own built-in processor to allow for standalone and portable use.
It’s not uncommon to develop motion sickness symptoms while wearing a VR headset, and if you’re prone to doing so, you’ll be better off using a design that features a high maximum refresh rate like the Valve Index. Higher refresh rates cause a screen’s image to update at a greater frequency, which improves the smoothness of motion, visual fidelity, and responsiveness to user interaction.
Level of Immersion
All VR headsets are built to immerse users in a simulated environment, but the magnitude of the experience can vary dramatically depending on the design and specifications of the VR system being used. Headsets like the HTC Vive Pro 2 with higher resolutions and wider fields of view offer the most detailed level immersion available on the market, especially when paired with comfortable and ergonomic peripherals like the Valve Index Controllers.
Space for Your VR Setup
VR headsets are broadly divided into two categories of motion tracking design. The most streamlined designs solely rely upon some combination of the headset and controllers to track motion, but they sometimes fail to accurately interpret finer movement details. Other VR systems use external wired beacons to triangulate and track movement in three dimensions with a much higher accuracy, but these designs require setup, calibration, and a fair bit of free space to function properly.
Q: What is VR?
VR is short for “virtual reality,” which is essentially a computer-assisted simulation that gives users the experience of inhabiting and interacting with an artificial environment. At bare minimum, a fully-functioning VR setup consists of a wearable headset containing digital display lenses and handheld controllers that aid in tracking users’ actions and grant a level of tactile control over the simulated environment.
Q: How much does a VR headset cost?
The best VR headsets cost anywhere from $300 for stripped-down budget models like the Oculus Quest 2 to above $1,000 for complete high-end kits like the HTC Vive Pro 2. While there are many affordable so-called “VR headset” products on the market that require users to use their own smartphone as a VR screen, these products are more of a novelty and are hardly capable of pushing the immersion, fidelity, and performance of true VR headsets.
Q: Is VR bad for your eyes?
VR isn’t bad for your eyes across the board, but it can pose some difficulties for the small percentage of users who are prone to visually-induced motion sickness or seizures. VR headsets can also cause eye strain in some users; as a good rule of thumb, it’s important to take 10 to 15 minute breaks every half hour to minimize the risk of developing discomfort. Notably, VR technology has recently shown promise as a potential treatment option for ophthalmological conditions such as lazy eye and low vision.
Q: How do VR headsets work?
VR headsets work using a combination of built-in displays and lenses that allow users to focus on images at a very close range. The image displayed within the headset follows the user’s head orientation to create an immersive sense of space thanks to a unique motion tracking component, which can be either built into the headset or achieved using external beacons depending on the specific design.
Q: Is my PC VR-ready?
The best way to ensure that your PC is VR-ready is by checking manufacturers’ hardware and OS requirements before making a purchase. Generally speaking, PCs need at least a dedicated graphics card and a solid mid-tier CPU to run a VR headset, but the reality is much more nuanced and specific to each system. If you’re not sure of your computer’s specs or have a less powerful system, a standalone unit with its own processor like the Oculus Quest 2 is a good option that requires no PC at all.
Final Thoughts on the VR Headsets
The Valve Index is the best VR headset overall for immersion in games and other PC-based media, with the HP Reverb G2 constituting a similarly designed alternative with a slightly higher resolution and less setup requirements. If you’re going for maximum visual fidelity and immersion, the HTC Vive Pro 2 is a costly but incredibly high-res option that can be made even better by pairing with the Valve Index Controllers. Console gamers are still limited to the aging Sony Playstation VR, but the arrival of the next-gen Playstation VR2 seems to be just around the corner. For all other users who might opt for a more casual approach to VR or require a completely standalone device, nothing beats the affordable Oculus Quest 2.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.