Waiting for VR technology to advance before diving in? Your patience has paid off. Since the debut of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive six years ago, the evolution of headsets has been remarkable. The Meta Quest 2, for instance, has established itself over the past two years as a robust mobile VR solution. For those seeking an even richer, more immersive journey, top-tier PC headsets are not only dropping in price but also more accessible through leading retailers. Even though the broader VR market has seen modest shifts from the previous year, with the Meta Quest Pro not quite living up to expectations, there’s no shortage of compelling VR content to explore.
A great VR headset is distinguished by its comfort, visual experience, and interaction capabilities. It’s relatively simple to mount a smartphone screen within a plastic shell and fasten it with basic straps. Yet, crafting a device that remains comfortable even after prolonged use demands careful design and attention to detail.
The depth of the visual experience in VR hinges on sharp, high-resolution displays complemented by rapid refresh rates. This ensures that the imagery is both crisp and fluid. The field of view (FOV) is crucial too – a broader FOV engulfs you in the virtual world, amplifying the sensation of “being there.” In contrast, a restricted FOV might feel like peering through a tunnel, disrupting the immersive experience. The pinnacle VR devices deliver an extensive FOV, allowing you to truly lose yourself, whether you’re soaring in Google Earth or navigating another virtual realm.
Lastly, controllers play a pivotal role. The best are ergonomic, providing intuitive handling and precise motion tracking. While many have drawn inspiration from Meta’s commendable touch controllers, innovative strides like Valve’s finger-sensing gamepads are pushing boundaries and enhancing the interactive VR experience.
Best VR headset for most people: Meta Quest 2
The Meta Quest 2, formerly branded as the Oculus Quest 2, has proven to be the premier choice for most VR enthusiasts even two years after its launch. This wireless headset, celebrated for its comfort during extended sessions, stands out from the competition. However, recent economic factors and supply chain challenges prompted Meta to bump up its price to $400, marking a notable rise from its earlier price tag. This adjustment means that while it remains an outstanding device, its value proposition isn’t as compelling as before.
That said, its merits are undeniable. The Quest 2 boasts an expansive collection of VR games and applications, offering users the freedom to indulge in immersive experiences on the go. Coupled with Meta’s superior motion sense controllers and the flexibility to tether to a gaming PC for advanced VR content, its versatility is clear.
Visually, it excels with its fast-switching LCDs, showcasing a per-eye resolution of 1832×1920, a milestone for Meta. It smoothly operates at a 90Hz refresh rate, which is remarkable for a device relying solely on mobile components. Although its field of view (FOV) is roughly estimated at 90 degrees – not the widest in the industry – it remains satisfactory for the majority of VR adventures. For those looking to slightly expand the FOV, alternate face pads can be utilized. And for those prioritizing comfort, the Elite headstrap is available, with options that include an integrated battery and case.
In response to feedback, Meta recalled the foam inserts from its original model, offering silicone covers as a replacement. This move was initiated after a series of user complaints, though our assessment and subsequent year-long use didn’t reveal any issues. Another plus is the base model’s 128GB storage, a substantial upgrade from its predecessor, ensuring ample space for VR content.
In summation, while the Quest 2 might not epitomize the zenith of VR immersion, it remains the most user-friendly and accessible VR headset in today’s market. We are eager to see what Meta might introduce as its successor, possibly in the coming year.
Best console VR: PlayStation VR2
The PlayStation VR2 (PS VR2) has established itself as a frontrunner in our roster of tested VR headsets. What sets it apart is its stunning visual presentation, boasting dual 2K OLED HDR displays, effectively translating to 4K visual clarity. This results in a breathtakingly immersive VR journey. Beyond its visual prowess, it earns top marks for comfort, making extended gaming sessions a pleasure.
Some of its innovative features are truly game-changing: the incorporation of eye-tracking technology and the unique headset haptics. The latter, in particular, can give users the sensation of movement or “shake” directly through the headset, enhancing immersion levels even further. A significant advantage of the PS VR2 is its accessibility for console gamers. Unlike many high-end VR experiences which often necessitate a pricey gaming PC, the PS VR2 seamlessly integrates with the PlayStation 5, making high-quality VR accessible to a wider audience.
However, potential buyers should be mindful of a few aspects. Priced at $550, the PS VR2 rings up more expensive than the PlayStation 5 console itself. Additionally, its gaming library, at least initially, may not be as expansive as some might hope. At launch, only a limited number of exclusive titles, like Horizon VR and Gran Turismo 7, are available. Despite these considerations, the PS VR2 stands as a monumental improvement over its predecessor, the original PS VR. For those aligned with the PlayStation ecosystem, it offers an unmatched avenue to dive into premium VR experiences.
Best PC VR headset under $600: HP Reverb G2
The HP Reverb G2 emerges as a top pick for those keen on a high-quality tethered PC VR experience without breaking the bank. Priced at $599, it positions itself as a compelling middle ground for those who don’t require the wireless feature but desire something superior to the budget options.
One of the standout features of the Reverb G2 is its collaboration with Valve, a prominent name in theHP VR space. This partnership brings to the table some of the stellar features found in Valve’s more premium Index headset, notably the near-field speakers that offer an immersive audio experience.
In the visuals department, the Reverb G2 doesn’t disappoint. It boasts crisp displays, delivering a resolution of 2,160 by 2,160 pixels per eye. Complemented by a smooth 90Hz refresh rate and an expansive 114-degree field of view, it ensures a thoroughly captivating VR journey.
Tracking accuracy, often a concern for VR enthusiasts, is commendably addressed in this model. As the first in the Windows Mixed Reality line-up to sport four sensors, it promises enhanced tracking precision, a feature particularly beneficial for fast-paced gaming scenarios.
Comfort is another feather in its cap. HP has done an impressive job crafting a headset that, despite being tethered, feels comfortable for extended use. This is primarily due to the plush cushioning enveloping the eye region and the strap at the back.
A slight hiccup comes in the form of its motion controllers. While they mark an improvement from HP’s earlier iteration, they might not be everyone’s favorite. However, there’s a silver lining. For those craving an elevated experience, there’s an option to upgrade to Valve’s finger-tracking controllers. This would require acquiring SteamVR sensors and a bit more elbow grease during setup, but for many, the enhanced immersion might be worth the effort. Overall, with the Reverb G2, HP offers a rich VR experience, pairing quality and affordability.
Best PC VR headset for gamers: Valve Index
For the hardcore PC gamer with a penchant for immersive VR experiences, the Valve Index stands out as a prime choice. At a price tag of $999, it isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who demand the absolute best in terms of VR fidelity and features, the investment is entirely justified.
The Index headset, bundled with Valve’s innovative finger tracking controllers and a pair of SteamVR base stations, forms a package that promises unparalleled immersion. Even though there’s been a slew of higher-resolution headsets gracing the market, the Index holds its ground. With a resolution of 1,440 by 1,600 pixels, the visual experience is crisp. But where it truly excels is its staggering 144Hz refresh rate combined with an expansive 130-degree field of view. These specs aren’t just numbers on paper; they translate to a VR experience where motion is exceptionally fluid, and your virtual surroundings feel genuinely enveloping.
Being a product rooted in the SteamVR ecosystem, setting up the Index does demand a bit more effort. You’ll need to position two sensors diagonally across your play space, and the headset necessitates a wired connection to your PC. While this might sound cumbersome, especially in an era where wireless solutions like the Quest 2 are gaining popularity, the fidelity offered by the Index more than compensates for this minor inconvenience. After all, when diving into high-end VR, a few extra setup steps can be a small price to pay for an unrivaled experience.
Valve’s finger tracking controllers are another highlight. These controllers don’t just register button presses; they detect individual finger movements, delivering a level of immersion that’s hard to find elsewhere. With straps that securely fit them to your hands, they provide an intuitive and tactile experience, most evident when playing titles like Half-Life: Alyx. It is a tad disappointing that the broader VR game market hasn’t leveraged this finger tracking to its fullest potential yet.
In conclusion, the Valve Index is a testament to what’s possible in VR gaming when you’re willing to invest in the best. It might not be the simplest or the most economical, but for the avid gamer, it’s a beacon of immersive excellence.
Best VR quality, no matter the cost: HTC Vive Pro 2
For the ultimate in VR visuals, the HTC Vive Pro 2 stands unmatched in the current market. Boasting a dazzling 5K display combined with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, the Vive Pro 2 is a masterclass in visual fidelity. However, high quality comes at a high price. The complete kit, encompassing the headset, two SteamVR sensors, and wand controllers, will set you back a whopping $1,399. Alternatively, if you’re an owner of the original Vive Pro or the Valve Index, the headset alone is available for purchase at $799.
Despite the steep price, HTC ensures you’re paying for premium quality. The Vive Pro 2, meticulously designed, is not only visually impressive but also remarkably comfortable to wear. Its design and execution are a testament to HTC’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of high-end VR hardware. However, it’s not without its minor flaws. The wand controllers, identical to those that debuted with the HTC Vive in 2016, leave room for improvement. Although functional, they lack the ergonomic sophistication found in offerings like the Oculus Touch Controllers.
While the controllers may not be its strongest suit, it’s the headset itself that truly shines. With the Vive Pro 2, you’re essentially investing in unparalleled visual quality in the VR realm.
For the discerning VR aficionados who seek only the best, a worthy consideration might be to acquire the standalone Vive Pro 2 headset. Pair it with SteamVR base stations and the sophisticated finger-tracking controllers from Valve, optimizing for the finest VR experience. Such a setup promises not only visual brilliance but also enhanced immersion, particularly when diving into titles like Pistol Whip.
How do VR headsets work?
Virtual Reality (VR) headsets provide an immersive experience by creating a simulated environment that users can interact with in a seemingly real or physical way. Here’s a breakdown of how VR headsets accomplish this:
1. Display: At its core, a VR headset has a display, usually one for each eye. These displays show slightly different angles of the same scene, creating a stereoscopic effect which gives the illusion of depth. The perception of depth, combined with the large field of view in the headset, creates the sensation that you are “inside” the virtual environment.
2. Sensors: VR headsets are equipped with a range of sensors. Common sensors include gyroscopes, accelerometers, and magnetometers. These track the movement and orientation of your head, allowing the virtual view to change as you look around.
3. External or Internal Tracking: For position tracking (knowing where you are in space, not just the direction you’re looking), some VR setups use external cameras or sensors. Other, newer systems (like the Meta Quest 2) use onboard cameras to track the environment around you, a system often referred to as “inside-out tracking”.
4. Motion Controllers: To allow interaction with the virtual environment, most VR systems come with specially designed controllers that are tracked in 3D space, either by the headset itself or by external sensors. This tracking allows you to use your hands in the virtual space, pick up virtual objects, and more.
5. Lenses: The screens in a VR headset are very close to the eyes. To make the screens viewable and to create the illusion that things are further away than they really are, VR headsets use special lenses. These lenses also help to expand the perceived field of view.
6. Software: At the software level, VR applications are rendered at high frame rates (usually at least 90Hz) to ensure smooth motion. Special algorithms predict where you’ll be looking next to reduce latency and make the experience as fluid as possible.
7. Audio: Some VR headsets also offer spatial audio, or 3D sound, to enhance immersion. This means if you hear a sound in your virtual environment coming from the left, it’ll sound like it’s coming from the left in your headphones or built-in speakers.
8. User Interface: VR requires a unique approach to UI and UX design. Traditional mouse pointers and touch gestures don’t apply. Instead, interactions are based on gaze direction, hand controller inputs, and sometimes even voice commands or hand tracking.
Together, all these components and features work in harmony to trick your brain into believing you’re in a different reality, be it a video game, a virtual tour, a training simulation, or any other virtual environment.
What VR headset is best for full-body tracking?
Even as the anticipation for a top-notch haptic VR bodysuit continues, users can tap into precise body tracking with the majority of Steam VR-compatible PC headsets. Both the Valve Index and HTC Vive Pro 2 utilize room-based tracking systems that offer superior body mapping compared to their rivals. Enhancing this, users can equip themselves with HTC Vive Trackers on wrists, legs, and belts for more detailed tracking. While the Meta Quest 2 lacks built-in solutions for comprehensive body tracking, connecting it to a PC and incorporating Vive trackers offers a comparable experience to a Steam VR setup.
Currently, only a select few applications, such as VRChat, utilize the potential of full body tracking. While PlayStation VR and VR2 lack native body tracking capabilities, Sony’s Mocopi body trackers, recently introduced in Japan, show promising potential in this area.
What VR headsets are better than Oculus?
Previously known as Oculus, Meta’s current VR lineup includes the Meta Quest 2 and Quest Pro, both of which are standalone wireless headsets. As mentioned earlier, PC VR headsets often deliver superior VR experiences due to their reliance on high-performance graphics hardware.
What VR headsets work with Xbox?
As of now, Microsoft’s Xbox consoles do not offer compatibility with any VR headsets.