Think all VR headsets are the same? There are actually three major categories of VR headsets on the market: affordable options that’ll attach to a smartphone, standalone VR headsets, and considerably pricier high-end devices that require a powerful gaming PC to deliver a highly immersive experience.
The easiest and most affordable way to experience virtual reality is Google Cardboard — a VR headset that’s literally made of folded cardboard. You put it together yourself, insert your smartphone into it, and hold it up to your eyes. Google Cardboard is a cheap and easy option for determining if you’ll like VR and are willing to invest in it to experience it more than just a handful of times.
We previously recommended Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View VR headsets because they’re much more powerful, comfortable, and durable than Google Cardboard while still being reasonably priced — especially considering other options cost close to the $500 mark. It appears as though Gear VR and Daydream View VR have both been discontinued since the two companies’ latest smartphones do not support the platforms, and neither headset is available for purchase directly from Samsung or Google.
We also omitted Valve’s Index headset from this guide since the headset is backordered until February 2020. And the Samsung HMD Odyssey+ didn’t make the cut either — since it isn’t as ergonomic as Oculus’ headsets, and it doesn’t offer tracking areas as large as HTC’s headsets do.
HTC, Oculus, and Valve’s full-fledged headsets are considerably pricier than mobile-powered VR headsets, but they are capable of delivering a much more immersive experience. All of these options require high-end gaming PCs in order to work. If you don’t want to buy or build a gaming PC, consider getting PlayStation VR, which is powered by the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro console, which you may already have. Or instead opt for a standalone VR headset like the Oculus Go or Oculus Quest, which have a wider game selection than Lenovo’s Mirage Solo standalone VR headset.
Take a look below at all the best options available on the market today and find the best one for your needs and budget.
Oculus Rift S VR Gaming Headset
The Oculus Rift S features a high-res display, two Touch controllers, and integrated motion tracking so you don’t have to mount any sensors to your walls. Like the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift S requires sufficient room, as well as a powerful gaming PC, in order to deliver the best user experience. Oculus has listed a number of compatible options in various price points on its website. We found the Oculus Rift S to be much more comfortable and easier to set up than HTC’s options. Plus, it has a wider content selection since it supports SteamVR — the same platform for downloading games on the HTC Vive. Our biggest complaint is that it doesn’t have integrated headphones like its predecessor did. Regardless, it delivers an incredibly immersive and fun experience.
Sony PlayStation VR Headset Bundle
The Sony PlayStation VR is the best option to experience quality virtual reality content in its price range. Unlike the pricier HTC Vive and Oculus Rift S that require even more expensive gaming computers to work, all the PlayStation VR needs is one of the tech giant’s PS4 or PS4 Pro gaming consoles. Easy to set up and operate, the headset features a quality OLED display with a zippy refresh rate and low latency. There are plenty of games, experiences, and videos to soak in, too. Sony even includes two games, two controllers, and the PlayStation Camera with this exclusive bundle!
Merge VR Headset
The Merge VR headset is the best way to experience virtual reality on the cheap without investing in an expensive gaming PC. A Wirecutter top pick, the device is made of durable and flexible foam material that’s comfortable, easy to wipe clean, and packed with adjustable lenses. The headset is compatible with screens between 4.85 and 6.2 inches, which means it’ll work with most modern smartphones, including your iPhone. It’s not as powerful or premium-feeling as the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream headsets. It has a lower resolution and offers fewer experiences than those two headsets do, too. Unfortunately, both the Gear VR and Google Daydream View headset have been discontinued, so it’s the next best thing.
Oculus Go Standalone Virtual Reality Headset
The Oculus Go is one of the few VR headsets that doesn’t need additional hardware to power it. That’s because it already has a built-in screen, battery, and hard drive of its own. The headset is incredibly easy to setup, it has a wide selection of games and apps, and it is comfortable to wear. We think that its controller is better than the one that’s included with the now-discontinued Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream View headsets. Compared to the Oculus Quest, this headset is less powerful and it doesn’t doesn’t feature the same body- or hand-tracking features. This one offers a much more budget-friendly price, though. We think it’s a good alternative to phone-based VR headsets and makes for a good device for watching videos.
HTC VIVE Pro Virtual Reality System
The HTC Vive Pro is a PC-powered high-end headset that delivers a higher resolution over the competition. More resolution means a more realistic experience. It’s also one of the few headsets that supports eye tracking. As crazy as it sounds, some games will allow you to move objects by just staring at them. Compared to the HTC Vive Cosmos, this headset offers better graphics, improved audio via integrated headphones, more precise tracking, and a more comfortable fit. At $1,400, it doesn’t run cheap. The only reason we recommend it over the highly praised Valve Index, is because Valve’s headset is frequently backordered. We think the Oculus Rift S is better for most people for its lower price, easier setup, and its extensive library of games. Regardless, this headset lets you create up to a 15-by-15-foot virtual world you can walk around in. It uses two mounted sensors to track your positioning, and you can interact with the virtual world using its two included motion controllers. It’s definitely one of the most immersive headsets money can buy.