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.
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.
Having said all that, it's worth noting that the Oculus Quest is going to be replaced by the Oculus Quest 2. That headset will have an updated design and more powerful specs. It will be released on October 13 and will cost $299. So it might be worth holding out for that. Here's how you can pre-order the Oculus Quest 2 if you're interested in it.
All 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 original Oculus Rift was one of the best VR headsets around for connecting to a PC and enjoying immersive gaming. The Oculus RIft S builds upon that. The headset itself is a lot sleeker than before and it now has a 1280 x 1440 resolution display with a fast 80Hz refresh rate. And it’s rather light as well, which makes it ideal for long sessions of VR gaming, whether you’re sitting at your desk or enjoying VR in a larger space. It also has a rather neat feature in the form of speakers that are integrated in the headband, avoids the need to use the original Rift’s onboard headphones;the audio results are fairly impressive.
Thanks to Oculus Insight tracking tech, the Oculus Rift S can deliver room-scale VR without the need to place external sensors around the place. And it comes with the impressive Touch Controllers that nearly track movements and help make VR feel a lot more kinetic and immersive.
And the Oculus Rift S comes with an impressive library of games all on the Oculus Store, with notable highlights including Beat Saber, Superhot, Job Simulator. 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.
If you want to play VR games on a console then the PlayStation VR system is your best, and pretty much only bet. It combines a neat headset that looks semi-futuristic and is surprisingly comfortable, with a superb range of games that’s been slowly expanding. You can play games like Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing Mission, Eve: Valkyrie, and Batman: Arkham VR, as well as Astro Bot Rescue Mission - one of the more interesting recent VR games.
If you have a PS4 or PS4 Pro, then PlayStation VR is one of the more affordable ways to play VR games, especially given that you don’t need an expensive gaming PC. Yet with the initiative Move controllers and movement tracking, you are still getting a rather high-end VR experience. Granted, it won’t quite deliver the resolution of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but it can deliver a 120Hz refresh rate in some games.
But you don’t just have to use if for games as it can also be used to make watching movies more immersive. You can set it up so that you are in a virtual theatre, which makes watching Blu-ray movies quite an experience. As such, if you’re a PlayStation fan and want to get into VR games, the PlayStation VR is highly recommended.
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.
Valve is no stranger to VR, with its work on the HTC Vive just when VR was beginning to have a resurgence. But the game maker turned game platform giant split from HTC and developed its own VR headset in the form of the Valve Index. And if you’re after a no-holds-barred VR system, then this is the one for you.
While it’s very expensive, the Valve Index has some of the best controls and movement tracking out of all the high-end VR headsets. The controllers can be customised to your hand shape and come with pressure-sensitive controls for deeper immersion in VR games. And then there’s the LCD display with its variable refresh rate to best match the output of your gaming PC. It’s also a very well-made headset with comfortable cushioning and built-in speakers that sit by the wearer’s ears.
The only downside is that the headset can be very heavy and doesn't come with a USB-C cable in the box to charge its various components. And we encountered a few technical problems, but not enough to put us off this stellar VR 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.