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
When Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014, we were left wondering what would happen next for the company that arguably kickstarted a new interest in virtual reality. We needn’t have worried as Oculus under Facebook’s wing has gone on to produce some excellent VR headsets and the Oculus Quest is the best of them.
As the second standalone headset from Oculus, the Quest comes with integrated sensors and uses them in tandem with algorithms to set up a safe VR space in your room of choice without leaving you to worry about bumping into any objects or walls. And with 50 games at launch, it has plenty of VR entertainment to get stuck into.
As for the hardware itself, the Oculus Quest has some of the best controllers out of all the VR headsets, and while the headset isn’t exactly lightweight, it’s still comfortable to wear and is glasses-friendly. This means you can use the headset for a good amount of time without drenching your face in sweat or getting cramp in your hands.
All combined this makes the Oculus Quest our top pick for the best VR headsets and is definitely worth the slightly steep price tag.
See our full Oculus Quest review.
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.
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.
While the Oculus Rift S might take care of high-end VR that needs a powerful PC connected to it, the Oculus Go is targeted at people who want a cheaper VR headset without needing to put a smartphone in it either. Equipped with a Snapdragon 821 chipset, the Oculus Go is an all-in-one VR headset that comes with a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 WQHD fast-switch LCD display; that converts to 1280 x 1440 per eye, which is impressively sharp for a lower-end headset.
Cutting the wires to a PC or gaming laptop might mean the very highest-fidelity VR gaming is out of reach for the Oculus Go. But it still delivers plenty of crisp details, solid color and spatial audio, as well as provide asses to an expansive suite of apps and games. Thanks to Facebook’s influence, there’s a keen focus on social and entertainment features, such as the ability to create your own virtual apartment in the Oculus Rooms app.
So all things considered, as an affordable self-contained VR headset, the Oculus Go is pretty impressive. But you’ll need to hurry and snap one up as soon as possible as Facebook’s Oculus division is discontinuing the headset in order to focus on other VR headsets
See our full Oculus Go review.
If you have a proper gaming PC then the HTC Vive, which was first developed through a collaboration between HTC and games giant Valve, is one of the best VR headsets you can get. Its most notable feature is you get room-scale VR tracking included in the package, whereas it’s a tricky $59 extra if you go for an Oculus Rift. And it’s one of the best features of the HTC Vive, as room-scale VR is very impressive, providing you have space.
While the HTC Vive isn’t exactly flush with content on its own platform, there are plenty of VR games it works with that you can access through SteamVR. But for $6.99 a month, you can get access to the Viveport service, which provides a suite of games and apps to use each month.
And with clever features like a camera that allows you to effectively see through the VR headset when you want to look at the outside world, it’s a pretty slick VR headset. There’s also a suite of add-ons, such as the $99 Deluxe Audio Strap that provides a pair of adjustable headphones to add to the headset.
See our full HTC Vive review.
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.
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
VR has been around for a while now, but choosing the best VR headset can still be a tricky task. To simplify things, there are two areas to consider: how much you want to spend and what hardware you currently have.
If you’re brand new to VR and want to merely dip your toes into the world of virtual reality, then a cheap headset that you can slot a compatible smartphone in will effectively be your gateway to VR. Standalone headsets without the need to plug in any other devices are also systems to consider, as these can still deliver immersive experiences for a reasonable price.
The ultimate home VR setups, within reason, are still VR headsets and systems that rely on a connection to a reasonably powerful PC; one that’s been built in the past few years. For such a setup, you’ll not only need a powerful computer, but also a reasonably high-end VR headset, such as the Oculus Rift S or HTC Vive; the Valve Index is for people really wanting one of the best VR headsets money can buy.
You’ll also need to figure out how much space you want to dedicate to a VR setup. Going ‘room-scale’ requires a decent amount of clear floor space, which might be a problem if you live in a small flat or have limited space for a gaming PC setup. But immersive VR experiences can still be had from a sitting position, especially if you’re into space sim games where you’ll be spending a lot of time in a ship’s cockpit.
And there’s also the PS VR headset to consider, which is Sony’s dedicated headset for the PS4 and PS4 Pro. This can offer a reasonably straight forward way into VR gaming, but it’s also limited to the games the console can support, which aren’t exactly prolific.
How we test VR headsets
Identifying the best VR headsets takes a suite of things to consider, from the hardware itself to the software the headsets will work with. We test and consider how easy it is to set up a VR headset and system, how well designed and comfortable the headset is, how well its interface works, and take a look at the accessories the VR headset can use.
We also take a look at how specific VR headsets work such and how easy the interface to use, as well as how head tracking performs and the quality of the controllers with the headsets.
A major part of initial testing involves evaluating how much space is needed to set up one of our picks for the best VR headsets to get the most out of them. This doesn’t apply to headsets that use a smartphone to power them, but in this case, we look at how easy they are to get working with an Android phone and well as how much software one needs to download and how well the phone fits inside the headset’s 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.