Some people bought into VR as soon as Oculus revived the category back in 2012. Others jumped in at various times as the tech slowly matured after that. While we don’t consider VR to be ready for primetime even at this current moment, it is currently in a very good place. By that, we mean the current crop of headsets have come a long way from the numerous VR headsets (and DIY kits) that came out in the wake of Facebook’s $2-billion purchase of Oculus.
In what way are these modern VR headsets better? For one, they offer better ergonomics than the clunky, heavy headsets of old. They also have better screens with higher resolutions and wider field of views, making for even more immersive visuals. And while having to press buttons on a handheld controller still ruins some of the immersion, headways like Valve’s finger tracking controls are greatly advancing the tech forward.
If you’ve been toying around with the idea of investing in VR gear, now is as good a time as there has been. While it’s not as good as it’s going to be (far from it), the hardware tech has advanced and the range of content available has increased in a way that investing in VR is now well worth the money. As long as you don’t mind strapping a computer on your face to enjoy a VR experience, chances are, you’re going to find yourself lost in the various options out there, whether you’re exploring the streets of City 17 in Half Life: Alyx, flying an X-Wing in Star Wars: Squadrons, or watching a movie in a virtual theater.
These are the best VR headsets out there today.
Oculus Quest 2
Not only is the Quest 2 so much better than its predecessor, it’s also more affordable – a combination that makes it the most accessible option out there for someone new to VR. Equipped with LCDs sporting 1832 x 1920 resolutions, 90Hz refresh rates, and a 100-degree field of view, it delivers satisfying visuals, while an onboard processing system allows it to run virtual experiences right on the headset, with no need to connect to an external device. That’s right, it’s completely standalone, with self-contained motion tracking and full six degrees of freedom, as well as up to 256GB of onboard storage for any apps you want to keep on hand.
Want to run more robust VR experiences on PC? Not a problem, as you can simply hook it via a USB connection and use it as a standard PC VR headset through Oculus Link. Is it the best VR experience on the market? It’s close, but not quite. It is, however, the most versatile, as you get both a standalone VR rig and a PC-compatible headset, opening up a wide range of VR experiences.
If you want the best VR quality at any cost, there’s no consumer headset better than the HTC Vive Pro 2. Designed to deliver high-end visuals, it uses screens that deliver 5K resolution (2048 x 2448 pixels per eye), a 120Hz refresh rate, and a 120-degree field of view, complete with access to the Display Stream Compression (DSC) tech typically used in high-end monitors. It has a well-balanced design, too, complete with plush cushioning, making it comfortable enough for extended virtual experiences, although it does get a bit hot on occasion, which can compromise the comfort some bit.
Set up requires having two base stations in strategic sections of the room, as well as running a couple of cables, so it’s takes a bit of work to get going, but that’s, pretty much, par for the course with any PC-based VR headset. There are a couple of on things we’d like to see improved for the next iteration, though: the audio (currently via on-ear headphones instead of near-field speakers) and the controller, which retains the large and clunky control system of its predecessor.
Valve’s VR headset is, pretty much, on par with the best consumer VR hardware out there, with a 2880 x 1600 resolution (1440 x 1600 per eye), a 144Hz refresh rate, and a 130 degree field of view. Yes, we still prefer the 5K resolution on the Vive Pro 2, but the visual quality is excellent enough that it’s no less satisfying. Audio is delivered using near-field speakers, too, which is, more likely than not, the direction this category will be headed going forward.
Set up is just as much work as any PC-based headset and the size is a bit too big for our liking. It also requires plugging in to a wall outlet, so it’s far from the most convenient rig. For all that trouble, though, you get a really good VR experience with arguably the best consumer-grade controller out there, which delivers pretty accurate finger tracking once you get the hang of how to properly grip the controls.
Want a PC-based headset, but don’t quite feel too great about spending a thousand bucks or more? You’ll want to check out HP’s mixed-reality headset, which puts a 2160p display on each eye, with a 90Hz refresh rate and a 114-degree field of view, allowing it to provide even more visual detail than the Valve Index at the expense of a lower refresh rate and an (admittedly) below-average field of view. Truth be told, it’s not that bad of a compromise. In fact, some folks might even prefer it for the increased pixels alone. Oh yeah, we also like seeing the Index’s near-field speakers in a more affordable rig.
Instead of using base stations, it relies on four onboard tracking sensors, which are pretty good at detecting movement and even predicting them whenever you’re beyond the tracking area. It’s very comfortable to wear, too, with plenty of cushioning and a very supportive harness. On the downside, the controller is the biggest sticking point here, with its reliance on traditional elements like buttons and analog sticks. Suffice to say, they break the immersion pretty hard. With all that said, though, it still remains the best Windows Mixed Reality headset out there, which makes it one of the interesting consumer VR options.