Selecting one of the best VR headsets is a bit of a challenge. Virtual reality for the PC, games consoles and smartphones is still a fairly niche prospect, albeit a growing one. And that’s not exactly helped by the need to have a different headset for those aforementioned devices. There are now standalone VR headsets to consider as well, further complicating matters.
But choice is a fine thing, and it makes selecting the best VR headset for you a case of figuring out what device you want to use the headset for and what type of VR experience you wish to have. But before you dive headlong into some research, Tom’s Guide has a round-up of the best VR headsets you can buy right now.
- The best VR games
- Best gaming laptops right now
- Just in: Half-Life: Alyx review roundup: A new standard for VR gaming
These VR headsets vary in price and requirements, from all-in-one standalone goggles to systems that allow for room-scale virtual reality, providing you have a suitably powerful PC to run the headset and accompanying sensors. There’s also a wider range of apps and games you can now use with different VR headsets, ranging from simple mobile apps to fully-fledged triple-A games. Valve's Half-Life: Alyx is one such high-end VR game and is pretty much a must-have for anyone willing to invest in a more expensive PC-linked VR headset.
What are the best VR headsets?
The Oculus Quest is our pick for the best VR headset you can currently buy. That’s thanks to the ability to play some of the best VR games without needing to attach the headset to PC or use a powerful smartphone to power it; you don’t have to set up external movement sensors either. And with hand tracking thrown into the mix, the Oculus Quest is a headset that presents one of the best ways to experience high-fidelity virtual reality experiences without the faff of setting up separate controllers.
That being said, if you want the top-end VR experience and have a powerful PC to connect a VR system to, the Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive, and Valve Index will do that very well. Just bear in mind that the Index headset is very expensive, and to get the most out of these headsets you’ll need a good bit of floor-space.
If you have a PS4 or PS4 Pro handy, then the PlayStation VR is a good option. Its simple setup means you’ll be playing games like Batman: Arkham VR and Star Trek: Bridge Crew in no time. Just make sure you have a PlayStation Camera handy.
If you’re on a strict budget then a smartphone-based VR headset could be a good option, but it’s not the best way to experience proper VR. However, if you want to go this route then we’d recommend the $149 Oculus Go, as that delivers a smartphone VR experience without needing to have a decent phone to power it.
The best VR headsets you can buy today
1. Oculus Quest
Best VR headset overall
The Oculus Quest is the best VR headset overall and the company’s second VR standalone headset, which means there’s not a wire in sight. Thanks to the integrated sensors and computer algorithms, you can walk around in your designated play space without worrying about running into a wall or a piece of furniture.
The system launched with 50 games, but is rapidly expanding its repertoire. The cherry on top is the casting ability, which lets you share your VR experience with others via smartphone or TV.
Oculus’ Touch Controllers are still the best in the business. They're comfortable and lightweight, which means no undue hand cramps during long sessions. And with the hand tracking feature, you can go controller-free with some titles.
Oculus is also really leaning into the social aspect of VR, launching cross-buy and multiplayer titles. Without a doubt, the Oculus Quest is the best VR headset.
See our full Oculus Quest review.
2. Oculus Rift S
Best VR headset for PC
The Oculus Rift S makes the best VR headset for PCs even better. This sleek headset sports a crisp 1280 x 1440 resolution (up from 1200 x 1080 for the original) as well as a speedy 80Hz refresh rate. Its one-pound design makes it comfortable to wear for hours of VR gaming, and it ditches the original Rift's onboard headphones for surprisingly impressive integrated audio that comes right out of the headband.
The Rift S packs Oculus Insight tracking, which allows for room-scale tracking without the need for setting up any pesky external sensors. Oculus' latest PC headset packs in the company's excellent Touch Controllers, which make it easy to virtually climb mountains, battle with swords and create art in virtual reality.
The Rift S also benefits from what's become a very impressive library of games on the Oculus store, including big hits like Beat Saber, Superhot, Job Simulator and Vader Immortal. Overall, the Oculus Rift S is the best VR headset for folks looking for a PC-based system that plays a huge library of great games for a decent price.
See our full Oculus Rift S hands-on review.
3. Playstation VR
The best VR headset for consoles
The PlayStation VR is the best VR headset for consoles, and it features one of the best VR game libraries we've seen. Sony's stylish and cozy headset already offers exclusive heavy hitters like Batman: Arkham VR and Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing Mission, as well as established VR hits such as Eve: Valkyrie and Job Simulator.
In our full review, we praised the PlayStation VR's ease of use, intuitive Move controllers and impressive publisher support. If you already have a PS4, PlayStation VR is far and away the most affordable high-end VR option out there — heck, you can get the console and the headset for the price of an HTC Vive. The PS VR has a lower lens resolution compared with those of the Vive or the Rift, but depending on the game, the PS VR can deliver a 120-hertz refresh rate — one of the highest available.
When you aren't playing games in VR, you can watch movies. The headset has a Cinematic mode that allows you to watch movies and TV in a theater-like setup at 120 Hz. We suggest you try it out with a 4K Blu-ray movie. PS VR also has a Social Screen so people who aren't wearing a headset can still watch the action.
See our full PlayStation VR review.
4. Oculus Go
A great standalone VR headset for the money
For an affordable $149, the Oculus Go is one of the best VR headsets because it cuts the cord and preserves your smartphone's battery life. This standalone VR headset is teeming with intriguing apps and games. In our testing, we appreciated the clear detail, lovely color and immersive spatial audio.
As evidenced by its game-heavy library, the Go is still very much a headset for those looking to fight virtual baddies. But thanks to Facebook's influence, Go has a larger focus on entertainment and social. For instance, you can use Oculus Rooms to create your own virtual apartment, where you can invite up to three friends to join and play games, watch movies on Netflix or Hulu or share your own 360-degree videos.
Aside from cutting the cord, the major differences between the Go and the Oculus Rift is the built-in speakers and microphones, the higher resolution lenses and a built-in Qualcomm processor. The Go is outfitted with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU with a 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 WQHD fast-switch LCD display. That translates into 1280 x 1440 per eye, which is better than the 1080 x 1200 per eye (2160 x 1200) of the Rift and Vive.
What you don’t get from the Oculus Go is six degrees of freedom, so you can’t dodge or duck in games. However, the Go offers a lot of apps and games at over 1,000 and counting.
See our full Oculus Go review.
5. HTC Vive
Best VR headset for immersive experiences
One of the best VR headsets for PC use, the HTC Vive stands out for a number of key features, including room-tracking capability right out of the box. With the Oculus Rift, you have to pay $59 extra for that level of immersion. HTC also gives you the ability to access your phone while in VR as well as the pass-through camera, which delivers a peek at the real world when necessary.
The Vive has also debuted a number of innovative accessories, including the Vive Trackers, which let you bring real-world items, like a tennis racket, into the virtual plane. The $299 TPCast add-on lets you take the Vive totally wireless, eliminating the nagging fear of tripping over that 6-foot cable tethering you to your laptop or desktop. If you're looking for more immersive audio, check out HTC's $99 Deluxe Audio Strap, which adds a pair of adjustable headphones.
The Vive is still trying to catch up with Oculus in terms of content, but its 375-plus games and apps aren't too shabby. In addition to letting you purchase individual apps and titles, HTC has its Viveport subscription service. Starting at $6.99 per month, Viveport allows you to pick five games or apps from a curated list of content to use each month.
See our full HTC Vive review.
6. Valve Index
The best controls and tracking in VR
Valve ought to know a thing or two about gaming experiences, and the company’s experience working with HTC and its work on Lighthouse tracking technology have all fed into the Index. From the moment you wear the headset, you can appreciate the high-quality construction, built-in ear speakers, and comfortable cushions, although it is noticeably heavier than other VR headsets on the market.
The controllers are one of the highlights. Since they strap onto your hand, you don’t need to keep a grip on them at all times, plus they’re customizable to your own hand shape and include pressure-sensitive controls, adding extra immersive potential to games that support it. The display is an LCD panel which offers a range of refresh rates to suit your computer’s processing power, plus it offers images just as high-res and sharp as its rivals. There’s also a pair of cameras and a USB expansion slot on the front, which can theoretically allow the Index to be upgraded in the future without needing to replace the whole headset.
The headset can suffer from technical problems, is heavy to wear, and for some unfathomable reason there’s no included USB-C cable to charge up the components, but don’t let this put you off the benefits the Index will have for your in-game enjoyment.
See our full Full Valve Index review.
7. Pansonite 3D VR Glasses
Best cheap VR headset
The Pansonite is as close as you can get to a high-end virtual-reality headset without paying an exorbitant price. It features a cloth design in front, similar to Google's Daydream, along with an adjustable plastic headband that's reminiscent of the PlayStation VR. Pansonite's headset also packs built-in headphones with an aux input — which is great if your phone still sports a headphone jack or if you have an adapter on hand — and a dial on top for adjusting the focus.
In front, the headset features a small flap for holding your phone in place, leaving the camera uncovered for any AR-based mobile apps. Despite all that open space, the Pansonite manages to block out almost all external light for a pretty immersive experience.
Playing Roller Coaster VR on this headset was exhilarating, and a 360-degree shark experience was a blast. Even a fan-created Star Wars VR video on YouTube was fun to watch through the Pansonite. Nothing about the headset detracted from any of these experiences, making the Pansonite one of the best overall VR headsets at this price.
See the Pansonite review on our best Cheap VR headsets page.
How to choose the best VR headset for you
There are two major factors to consider when choosing a VR headset: Your existing hardware and your price range.
If you have a powerful gaming PC that you've bought or built within the last three years or so, you can buy a tethered headset, such as HTC Vive. A headset like this will take advantage of your existing hardware, and leverage your PC's power to provide some of the most authentic and immersive VR experiences on the market. If you have a PS4, you can buy the PlayStation VR. If you don't have either a PC or a PS4, then a standalone headset is your best bet, even though the hardware is generally not quite as powerful.
Price is your second consideration, although this is pretty self-explanatory. Oddly enough, a VR headset's price is not primarily determined by whether it's tethered or standalone; there are cheap and expensive options in either category. Generally speaking, you can expect to spend between $150 and $600 for a VR headset, but this number can vary, depending on how intricate you want your setup to be. Stay in your price range, and don't go super-cheap; shoddy headsets that essentially just put a smartphone close to your face are a dime a dozen.
How we test VR headsets
There are a number of factors we consider when reviewing virtual-reality headsets, such as setup; design and comfort; interface; controllers and accessories; and content selection.
We also evaluate each device's respective controllers, head tracking and interfaces, to see how easy it will be for the average user to jump in and start playing.
The first step in reviewing any virtual-reality headset is setup. For PC and console-powered devices, we examine how much space is needed to use the headset and any bundled accessories. For mobile VR headsets, we focus on software installation time and how securely the phone fits into its enclosure.
A product can look great but still be uncomfortable to use. Aside from testing out all the various content, we spend at least 30 minutes wearing each headset. We test to make sure any embedded air vents are keeping things cool. And if it does get sweaty, we see how well the face guard wicks away moisture. We also weigh the headsets, because even the lightest gadget can feel heavy after long periods of use. Finally, we test how adjustable the head straps are and how secure they feel.
As the de facto face of your virtual experience, the interface is vitally important. We test how responsive and intuitive the home page and subsequent menus are, as well as test special features, like voice commands and gesture control.
Whether it's a traditional gamepad or something more elaborate, like the Rift's Touch Controllers, we're checking to see if the input devices are ergonomically designed; after all, no one wants hand cramps. We also test tracking and responsiveness in a number of games.
Hardware without great software is just an expensive paperweight. We not only examine the size of a device's library but also scour the listings and test out some of the higher-end apps and titles. At this point, a good library should feature a number of games, apps, movies and other experiences.