Virtual reality is a wonderful method to travel that relies only on technological advancements. VR allows you to view around a virtual world as if you were truly there, or play a game as if you were in it, using a headset and motion tracking. VR has gained popularity in recent years as a result of fascinating games and experiences, but it still appears to be in flux, with headsets appearing and departing at a quick pace. Here, we’re keeping track of the finest of what’s currently available.
Oculus is concentrating its efforts on the Quest 2, a standalone VR headset with the option of connecting it to a PC. HTC’s Vive Cosmos and Vive Pro 2 are Steam-friendly tethered VR headsets. Sony has a PlayStation VR headset that is compatible with the PS4. Valve has their own Index headset, which is somewhat pricey. Even Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform is (sort of) supported by a few third-party headsets. Here’s all you need to know about each one.
The Big Question: What Is the Best VR Headset?
Modern VR headsets can be classified as either tethered or independent. The HTC Vive Pro 2, PlayStation VR, and Valve Index are tethered headsets that are physically linked to PCs (or in the case of the PS VR, a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5). They’re a little bulky due to the cord, but placing all of the visual processing in a box that you don’t have to strap to your face means your VR experience may be a lot more complicated. Thanks to motion-sensing controllers, either external sensors or outward-facing cameras enable comprehensive 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) movement tracking for both your head and hands.
The cheapest tethered choices are now over $400, and that’s before you consider the processing requirements: the Valve Index, Vive Cosmos, and Vive Pro 2all all rather strong PCs to work, whilst the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4.
Standalone headsets provide the most physical flexibility by eliminating all cords and eliminating the need for an additional device to conduct processing. The Oculus Quest 2 has 6DOF motion tracking and controls using comparable outward-facing cameras as the now-discontinued Oculus Rift S. Although the Quest 2 lacks the processing capability of a dedicated gaming PC, its high-end mobile CPU can nevertheless deliver vivid, fluid visuals.
1. Oculus Quest 2
The Oculus Rift was the first big brand in the current wave of virtual reality, and the company is still a prominent participant. However, Oculus is abandoning the tethered VR headset, cancelling the Rift S in favour of focusing solely on the standalone Quest 2. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of using PC VR with the company’s new headset; you’ll simply need an auxiliary cord.
The Oculus Quest 2 is a $300 standalone VR headset that runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor, which is a significant improvement over the original Quest’s Snapdragon 835 processor. It gives a complete VR experience in a single container, requires no connections (except to charge the headset), and has the greatest resolution of any consumer VR headset at 1,920 by 1,832 per eye. It contains two motion controllers for complete 6DOF head-and-hand motion tracking, plus an inbuilt shop with a surprising amount of VR applications.
This isn’t to say that the Quest 2 can’t be used with tethered VR. The $79 Oculus Link connection is a five-meter USB-C cable that connects the Quest 2 to your PC and allows you to play PC-specific VR games like Half-Life: Alyx much like the tethered Rift S. The cable is pricey, but since the Quest 2 costs $100 less than the original Quest, it still outperforms the original Quest in terms of value.
2. Valve Index
The Valve Index, Valve’s own PC-tethered VR headset, is one of the most expensive. If you buy everything you’ll need to make it work, it’ll set you back $999. (except the computer, of course). Even though the Index has a 120Hz refresh rate, which is far greater than most of its competitors, that’s difficult to accept (with an experimental 144Hz mode). The Valve Index, on the other hand, is now our favourite tethered VR headset.
Although the headgear itself isn’t particularly outstanding, the controls are. They can track individual finger motions, making games that use them far more immersive than games that use normal controller trigger grips. It’s an outstanding piece of technology that has convinced us to suggest this headset. The Index’s faster refresh rate also results in smoother action, which is a great plus. If you already own an HTC Vive or Vive Cosmos Elite, as well as their base stations (not the ordinary Cosmos), you may upgrade your VR experience by purchasing only the controllers for $280 instead of the entire Valve Index system.
3. HTC Vive Pro 2
The HTC Vive Pro 2 is the headset to acquire if you want the highest-resolution VR experience. With the finest picture possible at 2,448 by 2,448 pixels per eye, this high-end PC VR headset addresses both amateurs and pros. It has without a doubt the greatest images we’ve seen in virtual reality so far. It’s also somewhat costly, starting at $799 for just the headset; the base stations and controllers must be purchased separately (but on the bright side, you can use the Valve Index controllers with it).
Like the Oculus Quest 2, the Vive Pro 2 (and Vive Cosmos below) works with SteamVR and has its own VR software store, Viveport. Instead of a la carte software sales, Viveport offers the Viveport Infinity membership, which enables infinite access to VR experiences via a subscription service.
4. HTC Vive Cosmos
HTC’s Vive Cosmos is an improved version of the original Vive, as well as the company’s more economical VR option. It has a better resolution and uses outward-facing cameras for motion tracking instead of external base stations. It’s a full solution for whole-room VR, and at $699, it’s one of the more economical PC-tethered configurations.
The Vive Cosmos Elite adds other base stations to supplement how it tracks your head and motion controllers for even greater motion tracking, however it’s more pricey at $899.
5. Sony PlayStation VR
The PlayStation VR is appealing due of Sony’s support, as well as the PlayStation 4’s cost and accessibility when compared to gaming PCs. All you’ll need is a PlayStation 4, as well as a PlayStation Camera (now included with most PlayStation VR bundles). PSVR is also compatible with the PlayStation 5, however to use the PlayStation Camera, you’ll need to acquire a free adaptor from Sony.
Moss, Rez Infinite, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Five Nights at Freddie’s: Help Wanted are some of the best PS VR titles. Many PlayStation VR games operate with the DualShock 4, so motion controls aren’t required. The PlayStation VR, on the other hand, falls behind in terms of motion controls; the headset still employs PlayStation Move wands from the PlayStation 3 era, which aren’t quite as competent or comfy as the Oculus Touch controllers. They’re also pricey, and not all PlayStation VR packs contain them.
Sony is developing a new PlayStation VR system for the PlayStation 5, complete with new controllers. Although the new headgear has yet to be introduced, the firm has provided a sneak peek at the new controllers.
6. Windows Mixed Reality
For the last few years, Microsoft has promoted its relationship with numerous headset makers to create a series of Windows 10-ready “mixed reality” headsets. Although the difference between virtual reality and mixed reality is debatable, it shows the use of augmented reality (AR) technology via the helmet’s cameras. The technology is sound and the setup is straightforward in the several headsets we’ve tried, but location tracking isn’t as accurate as tethered headsets with external sensors or the Quest 2 with its outward-facing tracking cameras. Also, unlike the Rift and SteamVR storefronts, the Windows Mixed Reality store lacks as many appealing VR experiences, while SteamVR titles may be played on Windows Mixed Reality headsets with some software wrangling.
Despite the fact that multiple third-party manufacturers have worked on Windows Mixed Reality headsets in recent years, the HP Reverb G2 is the only current-generation consumer Windows Mixed Reality headset.
What Has Happened to Phone-Based Virtual Reality?
VR headsets that use your smartphone as the system’s brains and display were once widespread, with Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR allowing anybody with a compatible phone to obtain a VR experience for about $150.
The production of these headsets has ground to a halt, with Google discontinuing its Daydream View headset and Samsung failing to upgrade the Gear VR since the Galaxy S9’s release. Although inexpensive shell headsets are still available, the software environment and support for them is essentially non-existent. For the time being, phone-based virtual reality is virtually dead.
Augmented Reality Headsets at Their Finest
Other well-known visual headsets, such as the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap One, have made appearances in recent years. They’re not on our list for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that they’re augmented reality (AR) headsets rather than virtual reality headsets. Yes, there is a distinction.
These AR headsets, in essence, feature clear lenses that allow you to see around rather than fully replacing your vision with a computer-generated image. They display visuals on top of whatever you’re looking at, but the images are meant to compliment and interact with the environment. You may, for example, make a web browser appear in the centre of the room or watch animals scamper around your coffee table. It’s an intriguing technique that might foreshadow computing’s future.
The focus is on the future, as in many years from now. The HoloLens and Magic Leap One aren’t on my list for the second most important reason: they aren’t consumer items. Both devices are designed only as development hardware, allowing AR applications to be developed for their respective platforms. Given that each headgear costs several thousand dollars, don’t anticipate a vast library of augmented reality experiences for some time. AR headsets are an early adopter playground at best, and not for most users, outside of particular corporate and education usage.
With that in mind, we’ll keep track of the finest new VR headsets as they become available, so stay tuned.