The best VR headset is all about fully immersing you in to another world with as little headache as possible. This means VR headsets that are easy to use, affordable, and comfortable will be at the top of the list. The options out there can be a bit daunting, especially when comparing headset specs without context. But don’t worry; I got my hands on all the popular headsets from Valve, Meta, HTC, and more to let you know which ones are worth your hard-earned cash.
Because of inflation, the price for the best VR headset, Meta Quest 2, has risen by $100 (opens in new tab). Even with the price hike, it still provides the best wireless premium VR gaming experience. So, if you hate the idea of being tethered to a PC, Meta’s headset is the answer to your prayers. If money is no object and you want the most over-the-top VR setup, the Valve Index is the closest thing to having a holodeck in your office.
Once you’ve secured one of the best VR headsets, the next step is figuring out the best VR games. Half-Life: Alyx (opens in new tab) shows what VR is capable of, but it’ll push your PC majorly. There are plenty of other sci-fi titles to enjoy that aren’t as intense, such as No Man’s Sky (opens in new tab) (you’d do best to sit down for that one). Check out the best VR games on PC (opens in new tab) if you want to build your VR gaming library.
Up until the recent $100 price increase (opens in new tab), the Meta Quest 2 (previously the Oculus Quest 2) improved on the specs sheet of the original Quest and delivered it for cheaper. Now, at the same price, the Meta Quest 2 takes a small knock to its prowess, but it’s still the best VR headset available right now. With a new LCD at 1832 x 1920 per eye, the Quest 2 offers exceptional clarity for what is priced like an entry-level headset, but is much more than that.
First off, yes, this is the same headset as the Oculus Quest 2. Meta owns Oculus, and with its big rebranding from Facebook it took the Oculus brand down with it. For the most part, the name has fully transitioned to the Meta Quest 2 listed some places today, though you can still find Oculus mentions while Googling your way to the headset. Why Meta decided to make the change, who can say. I personally preferred Oculus, for what it’s worth.
The Quest 2 becomes more than a standalone VR headset with Oculus Link.
But let’s talk about the Quest 2. So long as you keep the headset at a decent level with your eyes in the centre, the Quest 2 delivers a crisp and clear picture. Powering that is the Snapdragon XR2 System-on-Chip (SoC) from Qualcomm, which is a marked improvement over the Snapdragon 835 SoC used in the older Quest model. That also now comes with 6GB of RAM, a step-up from the 4GB on the original model.
You can either play games 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. We’ve used the official Oculus Link cable, although it is really pricey. You can absolutely use a cheaper cable, but bear in mind that some won’t deliver the length, bandwidth, or power that pricier cables can. That can be a bit of an issue, but not always.
The Quest 2 becomes more than a standalone VR headset with Oculus Link. 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 120Hz refresh rate, thanks to a recent update, making it an even sweeter deal.
The official Oculus Link cable is really nice but so expensive. (Image credit: Future) (opens in new tab)
There are technically two storage options to choose from: 256GB and 128GB. There is also a 64GB models, however, as this was all the storage cheaper option launched with. Meta replaced that with the 256GB model for the same price, so we don’t recommend picking the 64GB model up unless it’s going much cheaper than MSRP.
The less capacious unit of the three is what I’ve been testing, but even with significantly less space you’ll have no issue keeping a half-decent catalogue of VR games, experiences, and apps installed.
The Quest 2 is one of the quickest headsets to get up and running 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. The first time setup process will have you removing your headset, memorising Wi-Fi passwords, putting the headset back on again, and then waiting around for a couple of updates. It’s a little fiddly, but you need only do it once and it’s relatively quick to complete.
There is a major hitch with recommending the Oculus Quest 2, however: its plan for virtual world domination via compulsory Facebook account login. The Oculus Quest 2 requires a Facebook account, though researchers have managed to bypass it (opens in new tab). The company says it’s to better serve you, the customer, with services and products, although for a good while there the only discernible ‘benefit’ was direct to feed screenshots. Not great. Meta did seemingly look to be rid of this mandatory login, but it’s currently still in place.
If you’re not a fan of Meta’s (née Facebook’s) practices then you’d best scroll further down the list for a VR headset worth investing in.
If it doesn’t bother you, the Quest 2 is a quick and easy device to jump into VR. Most tethered headsets require the use of an external sensor, or two. The Oculus Quest 2 is a self-contained unit capable of tracking controller, hand, and headset movement without further kit, as did its predecessor. The inside-out tracking on the Quest 2 manages to keep up exceptionally well, and without fear of falling out of eyeline with the sensors.
The standalone experience is admittedly still hampered by the low-power silicon, and there’s no getting around that. The Quest 2 not only deals with the processing onboard, but it’s also trying to conserve battery power to ensure a half-decent run. That’s roughly around two hours of battery life for gaming.
As an all-round VR headset for a wide range of uses, the Quest 2 is simply unparalleled. The fact that it’s also the cheapest VR headset we recommend is just icing on the cake.
The best VR headset for a premium experience on a gaming PC
Resolution: 2880 x 1600
Refresh Rate: 120Hz, experimental 144Hz mode
Field of View: ~130 degrees
Controllers: Index Controllers
Connections: DisplayPort, USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Reasons to buy
Best in class hardware
Comfortable to wear
Virtually no SDE
Reasons to avoid
Setup is awkward
Limited support for finger-tracking
The Valve Index boasts some of the best visuals of any mainstream, commercially available VR headset, with a display resolution equalling the Vive Pro, Quest, and Odyssey+ but paired with a 120Hz refresh rate (up to 144Hz in a currently unsupported, experimental mode). The FOV, at 130°, is also best-in-class, and there’s virtually no detectable screen door effect inside the headset.
All sound good? Yeah, the Valve Index is the granddaddy of VR headsets.
If the specs list wasn’t enough, the Valve Index feels great to wear. It’s a bit heavier than the Rift S—enough that the weight was noticeable in our side-by-side comparison—but the shape of the head strap better distributes that weight around your head. Not to mention it’s built from carefully selected, high-quality materials, with top-notch weight distribution. The strap materials feel quality too—more like a padded extra-soft t-shirt than standard foam padding—never bothering me during extended play sessions.
But most importantly, the Index is comfortable because of how it delivers audio.
Built-in near-field speakers hover just next to your ears, powered by speaker drivers instead of the ones usually found in headphones. What this means is the Index’s speakers offer outstanding three-dimensional surround sound, somehow also delivering a level of aural isolation without shutting yourself off completely to external noises. With zero pressure on your ears, there’s less fatigue from staying in VR for an extended period of time, and they somehow don’t bleed audio into the rest of the room, either.
The Valve Index is the granddaddy of VR headsets.
The other hallmark feature of the Index is its new controllers, which double as both typical motion controllers and hand/finger trackers. The Index controllers strap to your hands—meaning you can release your grip entirely without worrying about dropping them.
Finger tracking is one of the distinguishing features of Valve’s Index, but there aren’t many impressive implementations yet. The best use so far is the Aperture Hand Labs (opens in new tab) tech demo, which has you waving to, high-fiving, and playing rock-paper-scissors with a collection of quirky Portal-style robots. Where previous touch controllers could only articulate grip, the Index controllers let me give a thumbs-up, point with finger guns, or even offer a Vulcan salute.
Not a whole load of games use finger tracking right now, which means outside of Aperture Hand Labs and Half Life: Alyx, the feature can feel a little gimmicky. Still, there’s a great deal of potential there for future games.
The Valve Index also boasts some impressive technology and handy convenience features like USB passthrough in the slot hidden behind the front panel. There are tons of cool third-party mods for this slot, including cooling kits.
(Image credit: Future) (opens in new tab)
The Index is a roomscale VR experience, which means it requires two base station sensors positioned around your play area. The HTC Vive and Vive Pro, as well as the last-gen Oculus Touch controllers, all use base stations. But the competition is fierce. The Quest 2 and Vive Cosmos (opens in new tab) use inside-out tracking—that is, sensors on the headset instead of placed around your room. After growing accustomed to that more streamlined experience, setting up sensors for the Index was frustrating.
It does deliver a more responsive experience than any of the inside-out options, though; there’s a reason the more recent Vive Cosmos Elite (opens in new tab) goes back to prioritizing the base stations.
After setting it the base stations, the roomscale setup can be a pain. With the Quest 2, the headset’s cameras give you a digital view of your surroundings to draw your play area in seconds. But the Index’s setup has to be done via Steam on your computer, before you even put the headset on. After calculating floor height, you click the trigger at four corners of your available space, which Steam then measures in order to determine your best play area. After using the Rift S, it just feels old-fashioned—like having to start your car with a crank.
And all those premium features come at a price. It’s the best VR headset on the market… if you don’t consider the value proposition. At nearly a thousand dollars, the complete Index package costs as much as three Quest 2s.
The best display in a mainstream VR headset so far, but it’ll cost you
Resolution: 4896 x 2448
Refresh Rate: 120Hz
Field of View: 120 degrees
Controllers: HTC Vive
Connections: DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Takes time to setup
Gets hot in use
The HTC Vive Pro 2 brings with it a number of updates on the display front to make it one of the most impressive mainstream options around. The native resolution of 2448 x 2448 pixels per eye is incredible, and when coupled with the 120Hz refresh rate and 120-degree field of view, makes for one of the best viewing experiences around.
The Vive Pro 2 is one of the highest resolution mainstream headsets you can drop your money on and offers a significant edge over the Quest 2 as well, which settles for 3664 x 1920. It’s great for high fidelity games, but a less obvious upgrade in more cartoony titles—meaning you really need high-resolution textures and models to truly enjoy the benefits this headset brings.
There’s no obvious screen door effect either, and at this resolution it feels like the hardware side of VR has been solved.
Of course, at these kinds of resolutions, you’ll need a high-end machine to get the most from this headset, with HTC recommending an Nvidia GeForce RTX 20-series or Radeon RX 5000-series GPU to maintain a smooth experience. For testing, we hooked up the headset to our high-end test PC, which is home to a GeForce RTX 3080 (opens in new tab) and an AMD Ryzen 9 5900X (opens in new tab). We had no problems running any of the games on this setup, but, yeah, it’s well up there in terms of specs.
It’s very much a tethered experience, and while the cable that connects you to your PC is generous, there are still times when it gets in the way and yanks you out of your virtual world. If you pine for cable-free gaming, then the headset is compatible with the HTC Vive wireless adapter, but that costs an extra $349 (£359) and also limits the refresh rate to 90Hz—not exactly ideal.
The headset itself is comfortable to wear, although I did find myself getting hot after a while. There’s plenty of foam padding to help keep things comfortable, although this acts as an insulator as well. It’s not the lightest headset around, but it is really well-balanced, and so doesn’t feel overly heavy.
At this resolution it feels like the hardware side of VR has been solved.
As for the software side of getting the Vive Pro 2 up and running, that’s handled by HTC’s setup app, which goes through the proceedings in a logical way before handing over control to Steam VR for the final configuration. This works well and highlights any issues as you go.
HTC has stuck with the satellite setup for the Vive Pro 2 to ensure you get accurate controller tracking, which means you’ll need plenty of power sockets to get everything up and running. The full starter kit comprises the headset, two first-generation controllers, and a pair of Base Station 2.0 satellites.
Setup is still a bit of a pain, and requires mounting the satellites in a way so that they’re not bouncing around in response to your own virtual shenanigans. They come with wall mounting brackets, which is probably the best solution. You’ll need to place them near power sockets too, as each satellite needs plugging in, and you’ll need an extra socket for the headset breakout box too.
It’s not plug-and-play is what I’m saying.
The headset is available on its own, which is useful if you’re upgrading from a first-generation setup. That full-kit is surprisingly pricey at $1,399 (£1,299), while the headset on its own will set you back $799 (£719). It’s a pricey upgrade over the Valve Index and doesn’t do enough beyond the improved display to really justify that cost. Still, if you’re looking for the very best display around, particularly as an upgrade, there’s certainly a case to be made for the Vive Pro 2. It’s a shame the starter kit is so expensive really.
The HP Reverb G2 has won a place here with the best VR headsets, thanks in no small part to its fantastic resolution. If future-proofing your setup in terms of image fidelity is your main concern, it will not disappoint. With 2160p per eye, the Reverb G2 manages to completely alleviate the screen door effect that can cause issues with some lower resolution headsets—provided you have a powerful enough GPU to handle it.
You are able to step down the resolution per eye with relative ease if it surpasses the limitations of your hardware, though. And even playing in lower resolutions, you get to take advantage of great features like the highly inclusive, physical IPD toggle on the underside of the headset, the range of which is impressive compared to other options on the market.
The use of standard Mixed Reality controllers is a little disappointing, though. While they’re battery operated for quick juice swaps, they forgo a lot of the more advanced features found in other designs like the Valve Index’s finger-tracking knuckle controllers.
The Reverb G2’s tracking solution does mean no base stations are necessary, and that means simpler setup, but also comes with some drawbacks. Visible light tracking means surrounding lighting conditions can really affect your experience. Don’t expect it to work particularly well in a Sunroom, or in the dark, as the headset relies on a very particular lighting requirement to position you properly in physical space.
The hand tracking is a little limited without base stations, too, but HP counters this with fantastic IMU gyro sensors will predict movements beyond the tracking area, as long as they are fluid motions. Holding your hands still tells a different story, but this shouldn’t make a difference in most in-game situations. It’s possible to land steady sniper shots even when prone, as long as you don’t pull the controllers too close to your face.
The Reverb G2 might not have all the fancy greebles of some of the other headsets on the list, but it has enough great features that do make it worth a look.
And speaking of invading your headspace, the headset is a snug fit. The Velcro strap gets caught in my hair a fair bit, but its a comfortable solution. It needs to be quite tight on to prevent slippage and, although it’s not the heaviest VR headset around, there’s a noticeable pressure on the cheeks. After extended periods of play this can make you feel strange due to interference with the sinuses. Either way it doesn’t put any pressure on the bridge of the nose itself, and there’s enough room to wear glasses inside comfortably.
Some users have complained of trouble with the curvature on the face gasket being too extreme, but there are 3D printed solutions out there if it doesn’t fit right. Still, the Reverb G2’s tether at least is a step up from the G1, in that it’s now a singular cable as opposed to two adjacent cables. At 19.5 foot (6m), it’s a little longer than a lot of other top VR headsets, but the jelly feel means it catches on itself, making it a little awkward to untangle.
The off-ear, BMR powered headphones are brilliant, however. Not only is the sound quality incredible, it also helps with keeping you cool and immersed without anything more pressing up against the side of your face. They’re similar to the headphones used on the Index, and hopefully we’ll see more headsets utilise the tech going forward.
The HP Reverb G2 works seamlessly with Steam VR, though I do have some gripes with its reliance on Windows Mixed Reality. Essentially there is no way to stop it from opening on startup if you’ve left the headset plugged in, aside from uninstalling it—which I don’t want to do because it does include some cool features. Other than that, I’ve no real complaints on the software front when it comes to actually using the set on a day-to-day basis.
The Reverb G2 might not have all the fancy greebles of some of the other headsets on the list, but it has enough great features that do make it worth a look for the money.
HTC goes back to base stations for improved accuracy
Resolution: 2880 x 1700
Refresh Rate: 90Hz
Field of View: 110 degrees
Controllers: 1st-gen Vive Controllers
Connections: DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0
Reasons to buy
High resolutions displays
Includes Half-Life: Alyx and Viveport Infinity
Reasons to avoid
First-gen controllers and base stations
Not massively innovative
The HTC Vive Cosmos Elite is attempts to address some of the problems with the original HTC Vive Cosmos, while maintaining the core specifications of that model. Chiefly the dual 4.3-inch 1440 x 1700 displays running at 90 Hz.
it comes bundled with the Half-Life: Alyx and 6-months of Viveport (opens in new tab) Infinity subscription, which at the very least means there are lots of things to try out with your new headset.
The Cosmos Elite is essentially the original Cosmos, with the first generation base stations and controllers, but a different faceplate attached to the headset. If you’ve already bought the Cosmos, you can upgrade it with a new faceplate for $200, although you’ll need to buy your own base stations separately to use it. The modularity means you can even add the wireless adapter (opens in new tab), although at $350 for that alone, this solution can get expensive quickly.
The Cosmos Elite replaces the inside-out tracking of the original Cosmos, returning to base stations in order to improve accuracy. It’s added to the price, and made the setup a little trickier—each one needs its own power connector, and should be mounted above head height, but angled downwards so as to encompass the floor. They have standard fittings for attaching to tripods and light stands, and the bundle even includes wall mounting brackets (complete with wall plugs and screws).
The best of virtual reality
You’ll also need a 6 x 6 ft space as a minimum, which can be difficult to set aside.
You don’t need to plug absolutely everything in to use the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite, but if you’re trying to recharge both controllers at the same time, that equates to a total of five power plugs, against the Cosmos Elite’s three necessary sockets. You can use spare USB ports from your PC, though.
The main cable (the one you’ll be tripping over the most) needs power connects to your graphics card via DisplayPort and connects to your machines via USB 3.0. It’s a long, sturdy 16 ft cable, but I found it twisted easily, and it’s weightiness has a tendency to disrupt the immersion.
The headset is a little heavy at 2lbs, but the foam padding makes for comfortable experience, bar a little forehead pressure, but the headband attaches firmly. The fact that you can easily flip the display up away from your face is also useful for reorienting yourself and for cooling off since it runs a little hot.
General hand tracking works well apart from the odd hurdle, and the controllers—which are the same as that of the original Vive—are comfortable enough. The trackpad is great and the buttons that have a satisfying click to them, though the two side buttons that detect when you squeeze the controller took a bit of getting used to. All in all the lack of innovation tends to hold the headset back.
The original launch price of the Cosmos Elite was prohibitively high at $899, which is one reason it didn’t fare better in our review. Still, if you’re looking for a premium VR gaming experience, you’re going to have to pay a chunk for it, whichever solution you go for.
To keep track of your movements, your VR headset needs to use some method of sensing both the headset itself as well as the controllers in your hands. The first VR headsets used what are known as lighthouses, individually placed sensors, or positional trackers, which plugged into your PC.
This is the most accurate method of tracking but is cumbersome, and unless they’re permanently installed in a room, you’ll need to set them up each time you want to play, and that includes calibrating them anew every time.
What is inside-out tracking in VR?
Inside-out tracking means you don’t need external sensors as the headset can keep track of both itself and the controllers around it. Originally this method wasn’t as effective, wasn’t quite as responsive, and broke immersion in-game. But with the best VR headset, the Oculus Quest 2, the tech is almost on par with the lighthouse in terms of responsiveness now. And is certainly far more convenient.
Are there wireless PC VR headsets?
The Quest 2 is a wireless headset, but you officially need to plug it into your gaming PC via a USB Type-C cable to enjoy the best VR headset experience with your rig. But there are now easily accessible ways to do that wirelessly. However, you do need to have a Wi-Fi 6 router to deliver the level of throughput you require not to spend the entire time vomiting your guts up due to incessant lag.
The old Vive did have a wireless module you could add to the system, which was almost effective, though, in our experience, the connection dropouts would not be something we could put up within the long term.
The field of view refers to the amount of an environment that’s visible to an observer; in VR, it’s the extent of the game world that’s visible in the displays. A broader FOV in a headset is integral to a feeling of immersion.
Head-mounted display (HMD)
Broadly any wearable mounted on the head with graphical capabilities but often used to refer to VR headsets specifically.
Systems used to track a user’s movements in VR that originate in the headset, as opposed to outside-in tracking, where external sensors are used to track movement. Tracking, and the method used, is crucial to enable either three degrees of freedom (being able to look around in any direction in VR) or six degrees of freedom (being able to look around and move your body in any direction in VR).
The delay between an input and a response, in VR, the delay between user input through a controller, moving your head, or other methods, and the response on the headset displays. Low latency is vital to reducing nausea in VR, which is most intense when there’s a delay or stuttering between moving or looking and the display reacting.
Resolution is the measurement in pixels, horizontal and vertical, of an image or display. Higher resolution in VR is essential because the displays are so close to the user’s eyes, which emphasizes jagged lines, pixelation, and the screen door effect.
The number of images a display is capable of displaying per second, measured in hertz. The high refresh rate is essential for VR similarly to latency, as a low refresh rate can cause stuttering (or even the appearance of freezing), which can cause nausea.
Screen door effect (SDE)
The fine mesh-like effect of viewing an image rendered in pixels at close range, where the grid between pixels is visible. Higher resolutions (or proprietary solutions like that built into the Odyssey+) mitigate this effect.