Virtual reality is epic to the serious gamer. You can step inside the game and often manipulate your surroundings. Placing a VR headset on is stepping into another world, and your game world will be as real as your non-game world.
Choosing the best headset for you depends on several factors. In this review, we discuss which headsets are the most affordable, easiest to use, and perfect for your level of gaming. This is the reality of the virtual experience.
We tested all the major VR headsets, evaluating them on performance, usability, and important features. Virtual reality may need more development before it goes truly mainstream, but the Oculus Quest is the most mainstream headset we’ve seen yet.
The best VR headsets at a glance
- The best VR headset: Oculus Quest
- The best VR headset for gaming: Valve Index
- The best cheap VR headset: Oculus Go
- The best VR headset for iPhone: Merge VR
- The best console VR headset: PSVR
The best VR headset: Oculus Quest
Why you should buy this: It’s an accessible, high-quality VR headset.
Who’s it for: Just about anyone. High-end PC gamers should look elsewhere.
Why we picked the Oculus Quest:
One of the biggest hurdles for virtual reality adoption is the ease of use. The Oculus Quest solves almost all of the problems that previously discouraged potential VR explorers. It doesn’t require any exterior sensors. It includes motion controllers, all the onboard processing it needs, and a full six-degree freedom-of-movement. Best of all, there are no wires tethering you to a PC.
The Quest is also designed for easy installation. Establishing the “Guardian” boundary is simple and intuitive, allowing you to jump right into fun scenarios — like batting ping-pong balls and grabbing blocks — that introduce new visitors to the virtual realm.
The Oculus Quest does have a couple of drawbacks, however. It isn’t as powerful as a PC-connected headset. Moreover, its exclusive use of headset tracking sensors (often called inside-out tracking) means that it can lose sight of your hands if they’re held behind your back, or if you lean in too close to objects.
It’s very affordable, though. While the first-generation Oculus Rift has the same price but requires a tethered PC, the Quest is a standalone, non-tethered headset. That, combined with all of its innovations, makes it the best VR headset you can buy.
Oculus announced in August 2020 that as of October that year, any new Oculus headset buyers would need to login with a Facebook account to make the most of it. That will extend to all Oculus headset owners in January 2023.
Read our Oculus Question review
The best VR headset for gaming: Valve Index
Why you should buy this: It’s the best all-around virtual reality system for playing games on your PC.
Who’s it for: People who are deeply excited for VR games and want some of the best experiences available.
Why we picked the Valve Index:
You may have already heard the buzz about Half Life: Alyx, and there’s no better way to experience the game — or any other compatible VR game — than with Valve’s own latest VR headset, the brilliantly designed Index. It is lightweight, comfortable, and sturdy when worn, with two off-ear speakers that complete the immersion. The front “face gasket” is designed to be interchangeable and uses an anti-microbial fabric that’s gentle on the skin. Head fit, FOV, face angle, IPD, and speaker position can all be adjusted so you get the exact fit you need for gaming in comfort. The double-element lenses help you focus on the dual 1,440 x 1,600 resolution displays with a high 120Hz refresh rate — big improvements on previous models.
The full Index setup comes with two controllers and two base stations (and there’s no wireless option), but there is a variety of packages you can get to bundle them together or buy separately. This is great news for VR gamers, because the Index is also compatible with any controllers with SteamVR tracking, including Vive wands, making this an excellent option if you are upgrading from a Vive and want to save some money. That said, the Index controllers do have an improved finger-tracking design and for many represent a big upgrade over previous VR controller options.
The Index is also moddable, a trend we are seeing in the newest VR headsets and a great sign for both buyers and developers. In this case, there’s an expansion slot in the front for face gasket replacements, and compatibility with additional cameras for those who like to tinker. That means whether you want the very best PC gaming experience, or you’re looking to develop some VR experiences of your own, the Index is a great option. The downside is that it’s also one of the most expensive models on the market, especially when buying the full kit. Check Valve’s website for complete PC recommendations before buying.
The best cheap VR headset: Oculus Go
Why you should buy this: It’s a solid entry-level virtual reality experience at a great price.
Who’s it for: New VR users who don’t want an expensive price or a tethered PC.
Why we picked the Oculus Go:
Many VR headsets for mobile require a specific smartphone family — such as Samsung’s Gear VR — inserted behind the lenses. Phones serve as the display and computing components while the headset itself merely merges the experience in front of your eyes. That’s not the case with the Oculus Go.
This budget-friendly headset has everything you need for a smartphone-free, untethered VR experience — including a built-in rechargeable battery. Simply turn it on, grab the single-handed controller, and download a few experiences through the built-in Go Store. If you previously purchased games and apps on the Gear VR, they should work on the Go as well.
The Go’s only real limitation is the three-degrees-of-freedom. That means it doesn’t detect walking forward or backward, squatting or standing. Instead, it only tracks head movement, like tilt and orientation, making it perfect for seated VR experiences and watching 360-degree videos. It’s well designed and a comfortable fit, giving you a lot for your money.
While there are better headsets you can buy (like the Lenovo Mirage Solo), none offer the same functionality at this price. Sure, the Oculus Go has its limitations, but it gives users a streamlined VR experience that acts as a great jumping-off point for newcomers.
Read our full Oculus Go review
The best VR headset for iPhone: Merge VR
Why you should buy this: It’s a simple, affordable starting point for mobile VR.
Who’s it for: Smartphone users who want an economical taste of VR.
Why we picked the Merge VR:
Virtual reality, at its heart, is one or two screens strapped a few inches from your eyes. Grabbing a headset that easily cradles your smartphone is a great and affordable entry point into VR. Merge VR is one of many companies that offer such a headset, but at this price and durable quality, there aren’t many that can compare.
Merge VR offers a headset that’s compatible with both iPhones and Android devices, supporting anything that measures between 123mm and 158mm. If you’re still unsure, you can always use VRTestNinja to find out.
This headset ships with left and right button inputs, a head strap, an adjustable IPD for the bundled lenses and a 96-degree field of view. Made from a flexible, rubberized material, Merge VR is also incredibly durable, water-resistant, and is easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
You’ll find far better VR experiences using other headsets listed in this guide. However, the Merge VR headset is a great way to catch a quick glimpse into VR’s potential, or if you simply like watching 360-degree videos.
The best console VR headset: PSVR
Why you should buy this: You want VR on your console, and you want it to be ready for the latest console generation.
Who’s it for: PlayStation fans who want to up their game with high-quality VR options available for the PS4 and PS5.
Why we picked the PSVR:
The PSVR hits the sweet spot between affordability and great performance for consoles, and it’s guaranteed to work with the PS5 too, so you know it will be ready for the latest VR games on PlayStation. It’s also easy to set up, since you just need a PlayStation camera, with the bundles including two Move controllers (many games are also compatible with traditional controllers). The simple design can also fit a wide variety of head sizes without much tinkering, great for slipping on and off quickly during play sessions. It also has a unique social screen option: A mirrored version of what the user is seeing that can be shown on the TV so nearby friends can also enjoy the experience.
The display is a 5.7-inch single OLED panel with excellent color and a total 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. The FOV is about 100 degrees, and depending on your settings and game choices, this headset can support either a 90Hz or 120Hz refresh rate. Movement is monitored with a six-axis internal motion-sensing system that does not require any peripherals beyond the camera — although that is limited to 180-degree tracking.
Sony tends to rotate between different PSVR bundles that include different games — one bundle for Iron Man, one bundle for Blood & Truth, and more. Look at all options and pick the bundle with your preferred game for some substantial savings on your VR game library.
Research and buying tips
- Which VR headset has the best resolution?
- Is VR bad for your eyes?
- Is HTC Vive better than Oculus Rift?
- What phones work with VR headsets?
- Will VR ever get cheaper?
Which VR headset has the best resolution?
Of the VR headsets on our list, the HTC Vive Pro, Oculus Quest, and Valve Index are both tied for the highest resolution, at 1,440 x 1,600 pixels per eye. However, there are alternative options that are comparable, like the Valve Index.
Of the VR headsets not on our list, the Pimax 5K Plus has a super-high resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 per eye.
Is VR bad for your eyes?
In theory, no. Virtual reality headsets allow your eyes to focus on an imaginary horizon, letting them remain far more relaxed than when viewing a 2D monitor a few feet from your face. That said, VR headsets can cause eye strain for some while others experience headaches after long use.
Almost all VR headsets also have a minimum age of 13 due to concerns that repeated use could harm eye development.
The truth is, virtual reality is a new consumable technology and therefore the long-term health implications — if any — are unknown at this point. We recommend a time limit of two hours at the most just to play safe.
Is HTC Vive better than Oculus Rift?
Both headsets and their motion controllers are comparable on paper. Their prices aren’t too distinct. If we had to pick one, however, we’d choose the HTC Vive due to its superior tracking technology which provides better support for room-scale experiences.
What phones work with VR headsets?
It depends on the headset. Some, like Samsung’s Gear VR, are only designed to work with Samsung’s Galaxy-branded phones. Others, like Merge VR, work with anything as long as it can fit. Check the headset’s specifications to verify that it supports your phone before making a purchase.
Will VR ever get cheaper?
It already has and will continue to do so as VR technology improves. The original HTC Vive launched in 2016 for $800 but now costs a lower $500. The Oculus Quest is the best VR headset on our list, and it’s only $400 for the base model. There are other decent headsets available for just $200. Prices will come down in the years to come.