Virtual reality headsets became hot property again thanks to the scramble to buy the best VR headset for Half-Life: Alyx. Thanks to Valve’s remarkable new Half-Life game raising the bar for VR, many more gamers are taking the plunge into virtual reality. Half-Life: Alyx has naturally been a driver of sales for the impressive Valve Index VR kit, but that’s not the only attractive option out there.
For years PC gamers looking to use their powerful graphics cards for VR were faced with a binary choice. You could either get the original Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. These older models are still fine for bargain hunters but are hard to get hold of nowadays. The VR hardware scene has broadened considerably with a range of offerings that all have some advantages or disadvantages. If you’re looking to take the plunge from pancake PC gaming to exploring immersive VR worlds, these are the best VR headsets you can buy right now.
All prices are listed in USD.
The Valve Index is king when it comes to PC-connected VR, boasting high-fidelity graphics and accurate tracking. You’re looking at 1440 x 1600 RGB LCD screens with a 130° FoV (field of view) and a 144Hz refresh rate. The display boasts a greater pixel density and a wider field of view than the competition, offering a sharp, clear and overall comfortable experience for your eyeballs. The built-in headphones hover just over the ears without touching them but still deliver excellent audio.
The knuckle controllers are also a fascinating piece of kit, being pressure-sensitive and able to track individual fingers. That’s of…limited practical use in games right now unless you really need to flip the bird to Combine soldiers in Alyx. More importantly, they are ergonomic and comfortable.
The Valve Index also offers full-body tracking with the Index base stations, which can, in theory, cover a play area of up to 1,076 square feet (100 square meters). Valve doesn’t compromise on this tracking accuracy, the base stations are required to use the Index. If this doesn’t sit well with your sense of interior decor, or if you’re worried about pets or kids knocking them around, a VR headset with inside-out tracking might be the better choice.
The premium choice for PC-tethered VR is quite demanding in terms of price and required space. The buy-in for the whole kit: headset, controllers and base stations is around $1,000. Still, you get the best PC-tethered VR experience money can buy, and Half-Life: Alyx thrown in for free, too.
Oculus Rift S
Oculus is an established name in VR and the original Rift was a pioneering device. The Oculus Rift S is an improvement over its predecessor in many respects and sold at the same $399 price point. The latest Oculus headset boasts a higher resolution display at 1560 x 1600 and integrated headphones. It also features inside-out tracking technology built right into the headset. This means that it can track your head and hands without placing base stations in the room. This is more convenient but usually less accurate than the alternative, especially if you put your hands behind your head.
The Oculus Touch controllers were the best in the business until knuckles showed up, but they are still better than the rest. One more advantage of going Oculus is access to the library of games on the Oculus Store, which include exclusives like Asgard’s Wrath. The original Oculus Rift is showing its age in places, especially when it comes to screen resolution. Nevertheless, the OG Rift has OLED panels and a faster refresh rate than its successor. At a reduced price it can still be worth getting for the VR gamer on a budget.
HTC Vive Cosmos (Elite)
HTC Vive had a fruitful partnership with Valve but the Taiwanese company’s latest-gen VR headsets need to compete with the Valve Index. The Vive Cosmos + Elite VR headsets are basically the same, sporting dual LCD panels with 2880 x 1700 resolution and 110° FoV. The headset is also much more ergonomic than the original HTC Vive + Pro, which always felt kind of clunky and heavy. As a bonus, the visor flips up for when you quickly need to switch to the real world.
The Vive Cosmos leans towards convenience with inside-out cameras and more ergonomic controllers, whereas the Elite requires base stations and the older Vive Pro controllers for more accurate tracking. The most attractive thing about the Cosmos is that it offers options. It uses a modular system that allows you to improve your VR kit with a range of add-ons gradually instead of going all-in upfront. One such add-on is a wireless adapter that will let you cut the cord for an altogether more comfortable experience. If the modular aspect doesn’t appeal to you, then the price the Cosmos can be awkward. The $699 Cosmos is much pricier than the Rift S, while the $899 Elite is still outclassed by the Index.
Samsung HMD Odyssey +
Several manufacturers make VR headsets for Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality platform. The Samsung HMD Odyssey+ is the best consumer-oriented headset of the bunch. The display is impressive — AMOLED panels at 2880 x 1600 resolution with a 90Hz refresh rate. Samsung’s proprietary “anti screen door effect” also reduces the ‘grid’ appearance from visible pixels typical on headset displays. The result is picture clarity a head above the competition, save for the Index.
The Samsung Odyssey + is perfectly capable of high-end VR games and experiences (I used it to review Half-Life: Alyx). It uses inside-out tracking, so no need for external sensors. With integrated AKG headphones and well-built controllers, the Odyssey+ offers a strong package for a good price. It’s also frequently on sale for around $499. One issue to be aware of is that Windows Mixed Reality can sometimes be neglected by developers who prioritize Oculus/Vive. As such, you may occasionally run into compatibility issues.
The Oculus Quest isn’t strictly the best VR headset for PC, since it’s primarily a mobile device. The $399 standalone VR headset is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. Yes, nerds, that’s a chipset for mid-range smartphones. The Oculus Quest isn’t supposed to play demanding high-end VR games. BUT…with the introduction of Oculus Link, everything changes.
Still in its beta stage, Oculus Link is a rendering tech included with the Oculus PC app that allows you to connect the Quest to your PC and access the same library of games as the Oculus Rift S. The Quest’s display actually has a higher resolution than the Rift S, albeit with a slower refresh rate of 72Hz.
In essence, the Quest can be a two-in-one VR solution, serving both as a PC-tethered headset for higher-end games as well as its original purpose as a standalone device. And it is an excellent standalone device. Uncabled six degrees of freedom with inside-out tracking. Even on its own, the Oculus Quest is comfortable, convenient, and has a library of great games you can play basically anywhere.